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Refinement of the concept of uncertainty


Janice Penrod, School of Nursing, Pennsylvania State University, 201 Health and Human Development East, University Park, PA 16802, USA. E-mail:


Refinement of the concept of uncertainty

Aims. To analyse the conceptual maturity of uncertainty; to develop an expanded theoretical definition of uncertainty; to advance the concept using methods of concept refinement; and to analyse congruency with the conceptualization of uncertainty presented in the theory of hope, enduring, and suffering.

Background. Uncertainty is of concern in nursing as people experience complex life events surrounding health. In an earlier nursing study that linked the concepts of hope, enduring, and suffering into a single theoretical scheme, a state best described as `uncertainty' arose. This study was undertaken to explore how this conceptualization fit with the scientific literature on uncertainty and to refine the concept.

Design/Methods. Initially, a concept analysis using advanced methods described by Morse, Hupcey, Mitcham and colleagues was completed. The concept was determined to be partially mature. A theoretical definition was derived and techniques of concept refinement using the literature as data were applied.

Findings. The refined concept was found to be congruent with the concept of uncertainty that had emerged in the model of hope, enduring and suffering.

Conclusions. Further investigation is needed to explore the extent of probabilistic reasoning and the effects of confidence and control on feelings of uncertainty and certainty.