The narrative emplotment of chance events, desire for control and tolerance of ambiguity in the experience of "meaningful coincidence"

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Hladkyj, Stephen
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"Desire for control" and "ambiguity tolerance" were hypothesized as two individual difference variables related to the tendency of some people to experience chance events and unusual coincidences as personally significant or to (narratively) "emplot" the events as important to their sense of personal meaning. It was predicted that desire for control (DC) would positively correlate with measures of emplotment and personal meaning (by "projecting order" onto chance), whereas ambiguity tolerance (MSTAT) would negatively correlate with these measures (based on the suggestion that ambiguity poses a "threat" to the clarity of experience). In Phase I of the study, 514 participants completed Burger's (1992) Desirability of Control (DC) scale and McLain's (1993) Multiple Stimulus Types Ambiguity Tolerance scale (MSTAT), along with three measures of emplotment and Reker's (1996) Life Attitude Profile-revised (LAP-R). Narcissism and stress data were collected as potential covariates. The DC hypotheses were mainly confirmed: DC was positively associated with the narrative emplotment of chance and scores on the Personal Meaning Index of the LAP-R. However, contrary to the ambiguity tolerance predictions, MSTAT scores were found to correlate 'positively ' with the dependent measures, suggesting that tolerance of ambiguity is 'conducive' to the creation of personal meaning, rather than being a threat to it. In Phase II, several weeks later, participants completed one or both of two emplotment tasks (writing a personal account of a meaningful coincidence and/or making meaningful matches between personal memories and randomly selected images). Both DC and MSTAT (controlling for narcissism and stress) were positively related to time-on-task, and MSTAT was positively related to the number of matched images. In Phase 191, several weeks after the task sessions, emplotment and the LAP-R were re-measured as a check for task effects. There was some indication that the form of the task may have had small short-term effects on emplotment ratings, but the results were not strong enough to be conclusive. Post-hoc reg essions showed that desire for control, narrative emplotment, and transpersonal interpretations of chance (all measured at the start of the study) were significant predictors of scores on the Personal Meaning Index measured 6-8 weeks later.