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Defining and Measuring Tolerance of Uncontrollability



Life is filled with situations that remain completely beyond our control. Yet, some people seem better able to tolerate this uncontrollability than others. To date, little research has focused on understanding how people feel about the uncontrollability of life (i.e., tolerance of uncontrollability).


This article introduces and describes tolerance of uncontrollability while distinguishing it from other related constructs, including intolerance of uncertainty, perception and level of control, learned helplessness, and global beliefs, such as religion and spirituality, optimism and pessimism, mindfulness, and distress tolerance. To measure an individual’s tolerance of uncontrollability, we developed the Tolerance of Uncontrollability Questionnaire (TOUQ) and administered it, together with other measures on possibly related constructs, to 300 individuals (data were analyzed from 226 participants).


After running exploratory factor analysis, the final version of the TOUQ consists of 19 items that load onto one factor, with excellent internal consistency (α = 0.97). Scores on the TOUQ were moderately related to intolerance of uncertainty and optimism, and weakly related to specific mindfulness factors.


The TOUQ measures a unique construct and shows evidence of reliability and validity.

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Fig. 1

Data Availability

The datasets generated during and analyzed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.


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This research did not receive any specific grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.

Author information




Conceptualization [AH, ALB, SGH]; Data curation [ALB]; Formal Analysis [ALB]; Funding acquisition [SGH]; Investigation [AH, ALB, SGH]; Methodology [AH, ALB, SGH]; Project administration [AH, ALB]; Resources [SGH]; Software [n/a]; Supervision [SGH, AH]; Validation [AH, ALB, DMM, SGH]; Visualization [AH, ALB]; Writing—original draft [AH, ALB, DMM, SGH]; Writing—review & editing [AH, ALB, DMM, SGH].

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Aleena Hay.

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Conflict of Interest

Dr. Hofmann receives financial support from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (as part of the Humboldt Prize), NIH/NCCIH (R01AT007257), NIH/NIMH (R01MH099021, U01MH108168), and the James S. McDonnell Foundation 21st Century Science Initiative in Understanding Human Cognition – Special Initiative. He receives compensation for his work as editor of Cognitive Therapy and Research from SpringerNature and the Association for Psychological Science, and as an advisor from the Palo Alto Health Sciences, Otsuka Pharmaceuticals, Jazz Pharmaceuticals and for his work as a Subject Matter Expert from John Wiley & Sons, Inc. and SilverCloud Health, Inc. He also receives royalties and payments for his editorial work from various publishers. Dr. Aleena Hay, Ms. Abigail L. Barthel, and Ms. Danielle M. Moskow do not have any interests or activities to report.

Ethical Approval

The data were collected in an ethical manner in accordance with Boston University’s Institutional Review Board and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. Boston University’s Internal Review Board reviewed the presented study and the study was granted exemption.

Informed Consent

All participants completed the informed consent process before participating in the research study presented.

Research Involving Human and Animal Participants

No animal studies were carried out by the authors for this article.

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Tolerance of Uncontrollability Questionnaire (TOUQ)

The following statements are rated using the following scale: 1—Strongly disagree, 2- Disagree, 3- Slightly disagree, 4—Neither agree nor disagree, 5—Slightly agree, 6—Agree, 7 -Strongly agree.

Instructions Please rate your agreement with the following statements. There are no right or wrong answers.

  1. 1.

    I am generally okay when I cannot control the outcome of things.

  2. 2.

    I do not have complete control over how life turns out and that’s okay with me.

  3. 3.

    I can’t always control what happens to me and that’s okay.

  4. 4.

    I accept the uncontrollability of life.

  5. 5.

    It’s sometimes important to let go of our attempts to control the uncontrollable.

  6. 6.

    The fact that life is uncontrollable.

  7. 7.

    Life is often difficult to control and I’m okay with that.

  8. 8.

    It’s okay that sometimes things happen outside of my control.

  9. 9.

    Things will happen the way they happen and that’s okay.

  10. 10.

    I usually don't mind when I have to give up control.

  11. 11.

    Not having control over things doesn't bother me too much.

  12. 12.

    Many things in life are outside of my control, and that’s okay.

  13. 13.

    I am generally okay with not having control over what will happen in the future.

  14. 14.

    I can’t always control things in life and that’s okay

  15. 15.

    I am tolerant of uncontrollability.

  16. 16.

    Whatever happens, happens.

  17. 17.

    Some things in life are uncontrollable, and I am okay with that.

  18. 18.

    Nobody is in complete control over one’s life and that’s okay.

  19. 19.

    I am not too bothered when things happen outside of my control.

Scoring: 1pt: strongly disagree; 2pts: disagree; 3pts: slightly disagree; 4pts: neither agree/disagree; 5pts: slightly agree; 6pts: agree; 7pts: strongly agree.

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Hay, A., Barthel, A.L., Moskow, D.M. et al. Defining and Measuring Tolerance of Uncontrollability. Cogn Ther Res (2021).

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  • Loss of control
  • Tolerance of uncontrollability
  • Uncontrollability