Need for Closure Definition
Need for closure refers to the desire or motivation to have a definite answer or knowledge instead of uncertainty or doubt. The need for closure is resolved by any answer, and the answer is accepted simply because it is available. Thus, need for closure does not refer to knowledge or decisions regarding a specific question, nor does it refer to the need for accuracy. The need for closure can arise from within the person, as a personality trait—or from the situation, such as when it is urgent to make a decision quickly.
Need for Closure History and Modern Usage
Early psychologists used ideas similar to need for closure, such as openness to experience and intolerance of ambiguity, to refer to broad personality traits and an often dysfunctional style of thinking. Today, need for closure is described as a broader motivation that may affect how a person thinks or reacts in a situation. In addition, need for closure is described as both a stable personality trait and as something that can be provoked by the situation.
Situations that may trigger need for closure include those in which failing to decide has harmful consequences, as well as situations in which the act of thinking about or working on the task is unpleasant. For example, pressure to make quick decisions, boring tasks, and uncomfortable environments (e.g., extreme heat or noise) tend to increase need for closure. In contrast, individuals may avoid closure when the task is enjoyable or the answer is obviously wrong. In addition, individuals vary in their need for closure. Across situations, some individuals prefer to have firm answers quickly, whereas others are more comfortable with uncertainty.
One consequence of need for closure is urgency, or the desire to come to an answer quickly. Urgency leads to a tendency to quickly seize upon the first information that provides an answer. A second consequence of need for closure is permanence, or the tendency to stick to an answer. Permanence leads to a tendency to freeze upon the answer or decision once it is reached. Thus, need for closure may lead individuals to focus only on the initial information provided and to be less likely to change their answers when confronted with new evidence.
The urgency and permanence tendencies of need for closure have been shown to affect how individuals consider information. Need for closure results in focusing on initial information when forming impressions of others, searching for fewer alternative explanations, and using more stereotypes. Need for closure may result in less empathy and perspective taking because these may challenge one’s own judgment. Need for closure may also result in being less persuaded by other people’s arguments and a preference to interact with people who are more susceptible to persuasion. During group interaction, need for closure may also result in less tolerance of group members who disagree with the majority or who may hinder task completion.
- Webster, D. M., & Kruglanski, A. W. (1998). Cognitive and social consequences of the need for cognitive closure. In W. Stroebe & M. Hewstone (Eds.), European review of social psychology (pp. 133-173). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.