Do you ever find yourself getting frustrated after the Netflix show you have been binge watching ends on a cliffhanger? For some of us, we may look up the internet for any possible theories for what might happen next or we may check when the upcoming season will be up. If we are lucky enough, we might even find another source for a continuation of the series.

This seemingly innate motivation to seek out answers to ambiguous situations is called the Need for Closure. 

Cognitive Closure

Cognitive closure refers to the motivation to achieve finality and absoluteness in decisions, judgments, and choices, often prematurely [1]. A person with a high need for closure will often have a low tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty. Hence sometimes, we may turn to pseudoscience or religion to try to answer questions that science cannot [2]. For example, we may have heard of family or friends turning to “feng shui” — a traditional Chinese practice to create harmony in our environment through energy forces in the materials around us — to maximise blessings and fortune. It is also common to understand our current situations and our possible futures through practices such as tarot reading.

A high need for closure is often associated with discomfort towards ambiguity and closed-mindedness, the need for decisiveness and order, as well as a preference for predictability [3]. Webster & Kruglanski (1994) found that the need for closure is also moderately correlated to other individual behavioural tendencies such as a need for structure, impulsivity and fear of invalidity [4]. 

Additionally, they found that while all individuals have a need for closure, certainty-oriented individuals are more resistant to novel information, while uncertainty-oriented individuals are able to cope with information that may be inconsistent with what they know previously [4]. 


Another related concept to cognitive closure is effectance, which refers to the intrinsic motivation to search for an explanation to our environment. It stems from a human basic need: We need to make sense of our world and ensure that it operates in causal and predictable ways. According to White (1959), effectance motivation begins with a desire for understanding, predictability, and control over one’s environment in order to be efficient, and competent in our environment [5]. 

Conversely, our world is constantly changing and it is something you cannot predict. This can be threatening for some of us, physically and mentally. Imagine that you are unable to know whether or not a car will crash into you as you cross the road, or if you will ever be served your food after you’ve paid for it. These uncertainties call for rules and regulations such as traffic regulations, and laws to ensure justice. 

The ability to achieve closure

While the need for closure indicates people’s preferences for processing information quickly to avoid uncertainty, we must also consider one’s ability to do so. The ability to achieve closure refers to whether a person is capable of processing new information confidently. Indeed, Gendi et. al (2023) found that a higher need for closure is often associated with a lower ability to achieve closure [6]. 

Closure in our Daily Lives

While the concepts of the need for closure and effectance may seem abstract, they actually manifest in our daily lives quite frequently.


There are many instances in our lives when we need to make decisions, ranging from daily, mundane decisions such as deciding what to eat for lunch, to monumental decisions such as deciding whether to enter a long-term relationship with someone. Since the need for closure broadly refers to the need of certainty and absoluteness, the decisions we make can be potentially affected to fulfil this need.

Individuals with a high need for closure and low ability to achieve it experience the greatest difficulties in decision-making. The more complex and more conflicting the decisions presented to them, the longer they take to make the decision [7].

Discounting Information

Kruglanski and Freund found that individuals with a high need for closure tend to engage in discounting [8]. Discounting refers to individuals disregarding other information, often conflicting from their values or beliefs, even if it is a good explanation for a certain phenomenon or observation [9]. Individuals with a high need for closure may tend to deem information contradicting their perceptions as “less credible”, especially when presented with more information that aligns with their current beliefs [8]. 

This pattern of discounting can lead to the formation of stereotypes and can lead to the spread of misinformation. It can be harmful when these personal opinions and inferences cause people to deny systematic data and scientifically-proven evidence [10]. One prominent example is the surge of anti-vaccination conspiracies during the Covid-19 pandemic. Individuals may have come across articles detailing the ill effects of the vaccine, and regard contradictory information on the effectiveness of the vaccine as “irrelevant” or even “false”. 

Attachment Styles

Mikulincer (1997) also found some associations between the need for closure and attachment styles. He found that securely attached individuals have a lesser preference for cognitive closure [11]. 

Secure persons are found to have a more positive attitude toward new information, and they are quick to adapt to ambiguity, willing to revise their beliefs and strive to have a sense of mastery [11]. Meanwhile, avoidant people often cope with their insecurities and any uncertainties by avoiding it. They may dismiss the importance of new information and repress their curiosity. On the other hand, anxious people cope with ambiguity at the expense of close relationships. They have the same tendency to be curious about new information as securely attached individuals do, but often suppress it for fear of jeopardising the relationship. In essence, insecure persons are more likely to rely on previously learnt information than accept new information [11]. 

Closure and Wellbeing

The concept of the need for closure is also important in understanding our wellbeing. In the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, White (2022) found that persons with a higher need for cognitive closure faced higher levels of stress and anxiety in the face of uncertainty [12]. Furthermore, research also seems to suggest that a need for closure may be associated with susceptibility to psychological conditions and disorders. This is most prominent when there is a large difference between the need for closure, and the ability to achieve the closure [13]. 

We can see this in the relationships that we have with those around us. For instance, we can get distressed when we lose a close friendship, or when a relationship doesn’t turn out as we have expected [14]. The lack of ability to deal with these changes can be extremely difficult for individuals with a high need for closure. During these periods of uncertainty, we may be thinking: ‘Why did this person treat me this way?’ or ‘How could this have happened to me?’. We may feel threatened, disappointed or upset from not having concrete answers to these situations. However, while we cannot control our environments or people around us, we can most certainly learn to control our own thoughts and actions.

Achieving Emotional Acceptance

One way that we can cope with the uncertainties in life is through emotional acceptance. Emotional acceptance involves us taking a step back and viewing our emotions without judgement or ascribing meaning to it. It also informs us that whatever we feel is temporary, and that we shouldn’t work to remove that feeling quickly and immediately [15]. While it may be upsetting to not have any explanation to something that is negatively affects us, emotional acceptance also reminds us that it is okay to not to know. 

Additionally, it is important to keep in mind that even when we do try to achieve some closure by coming up with plausible explanations to our ambivalent situations, it is all based on our own point of view of the situation and our existing beliefs [16]. Therefore, unhelpful thoughts such as “They must really hate me because I said something wrong”, or “I didn’t deserve them because I am just not good enough for them” can be dangerous when we buy into these reasons without any definitive proof especially when it puts unnecessary blame on ourselves. 

In conclusion, everyone has varying needs for closure. When we understand our own needs for closure, we can become more aware of how we can better manage uncertainties, and our reactions to new information that may challenge our prior knowledge and beliefs. It can also allow us to learn about our coping strategies to adverse situations. For those of us with a high need of closure, practising emotional acceptance can be a good first step in coping with our negative emotions arising from a lack of closure.


[1] American Psychological Society. (n.d). Need for Closure. Retrieved September 25, 2023 from

[2] Piejka, A., & Okruszek, Ł. (2020). Do you believe what you have been told? Morality and scientific literacy as predictors of pseudoscience susceptibility. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 34(5), 1072-1082.

[3] Roets, A., & Van Hiel, A. (2007). Separating ability from need: Clarifying the dimensional structure of the need for closure scale. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 33(2), 266-280.

[4] Webster, D. M., & Kruglanski, A. W. (1994). Individual differences in need for cognitive closure. Journal of personality and social psychology, 67(6), 1049.

[5] Waytz, A., Morewedge, C. K., Epley, N., Monteleone, G., Gao, J. H., & Cacioppo, J. T. (2010). Making sense by making sentient: effectance motivation increases anthropomorphism. Journal of personality and social psychology, 99(3), 410

[6] Gendi, M., Rubin, M., & Sanatkar, S. (2023). Understanding the relation between the need and ability to achieve closure: A single paper meta-analysis assessing subscale correlations. New Ideas in Psychology, 69, 101007.

[7] Bar‐Tal, Y. (1994). The effect on mundane decision‐making of the need and ability to achieve cognitive structure. European Journal of Personality, 8(1), 45-58.

[8] Kruglanski, A. W., & Freund, T. (1983). The freezing and unfreezing of lay-inferences: Effects on impressional primacy, ethnic stereotyping, and numerical anchoring. Journal of experimental social psychology, 19(5), 448-468.

[9] The Decision Lab. (n.d). Discounting. Retrieved October 2, 2023 from 

[10] Cox, W. T., Xie, X., & Devine, P. G. (2022). Untested assumptions perpetuate stereotyping: Learning in the absence of evidence. Journal of experimental social psychology, 102, 104380.

[11] Mikulincer, M. (1997). Adult attachment style and information processing: individual differences in curiosity and cognitive closure. Journal of personality and social psychology, 72(5), 1217.

[12] White, H. A. (2022). Need for cognitive closure predicts stress and anxiety of college students during COVID-19 pandemic. Personality and Individual Differences, 187, 111393.

[13] Roets, A., & Soetens, B. (2010). Need and ability to achieve closure: relationships with symptoms of psychopathology. Personality and Individual Differences, 48(2), 155-160.

[14] The Happiness Blog. (n.d). Why Closure Matters: Navigating The End of Relationships. Retrieved October 2, 2023 from

[15] Very Well Mind. (2022). How Accepting Emotions Can Improve Emotional Health. Retrieved October 2, 2023 from

[16] Psychology Today. (2021). Why You Don’t Actually Need “Closure”. Retrieved October 2, 2023 from,can%20never%20hurt%20anyone%20again