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Seeking closure is normally a good thing, but it also has a dark side. And if you’re not careful, chasing after it could set you up for some pretty bad decisions.

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There are a lot of good things to say about closure. Roughly defined, it's this at-peace feeling that comes when you're ready to move on from something — and it's a great feeling to have when you're getting over a break-up or graduating.

Research even suggests that those who feel closure about something often have less regret about it. But, that being said… seeking closure has a dark side, too. And if you're not careful, chasing after it could set you up for some pretty bad decisions.

Before you ask, no, this episode is not about rebound relationships. It's about what psychologists call need for closure, or need for cognitive closure. It's a trait that exists on a sliding scale, meaning that some people have a higher NFC, and some people have a lower one.

Where you fall on this scale can change with the situation, but people do tend to have some kind of fundamental preference. And generally, that preference depends on how comfortable you are with uncertainty. If you have a really low NFC, you probably prefer ambiguity and leaving things unresolved.

Like, you might not want to know why that person broke up with you, or you might not feel like putting in the effort to find out. Meanwhile, if you have a high NFC, you most likely prefer solid, certain answers and quickly tying up loose ends. This can obviously apply to romantic relationships, but it can also apply to just about anything that involves decision-making.

And while there's nothing wrong with having a high or low need for closure, a high NFC is associated with a number of pitfalls. Because if your goal is to feel closure as fast as possible, that could lead to mistakes. For example, multiple studies have found that a high NFC can cause someone to make rash decisions — especially when they already have prior knowledge about a subject.

Like, imagine your friends are arguing about where to get takeout. If you have a high NFC, it might feel more satisfying to just hurry up and pick a place you already know instead of debating the pros and cons — even if another option could be better. And that makes sense.

If your goal is to get a quick, satisfying answer, it might not matter as much if you're picking the objectively best choice. That's a pretty harmless example, but this idea can also come into play when you're picking a college, choosing where to work, or deciding how to vote on political issues. Additionally, having a high NFC can also lead to biases, like one called correspondence bias.

This is where you make a generalization about someone based on a specific situation. Like, if you met a coworker right after their big performance review, you might assume they're just a fundamentally nervous, stressed-out person. Which isn't necessarily true.

Now, that totally isn't to say that having a high need for closure is bad, or that a low need is all sunshine and rainbows. Research does suggest that those with a low NFC tend to be less prone to bias, and to make more thoughtful choices and analyses, because they're not rushing to get closure. But avoiding closure entirely can also lead to missed opportunities.

Like, if your Tinder match didn't text you back after that first meet-up, you might not want to know why. But maybe that info could help you on your next first date. Or maybe they were just a jerk.

Point is, you don't know, so you can't really learn from the experience. And, a high NFC also has some significant benefits. For example, in situations where people have to make a choice using no prior knowledge, those with a high NFC seem to spend more time researching their options.

One study that examined this was published in 2015 in the journal Motivation and Emotion. It asked 115 participants to take a survey that measured their need for closure, examining things like their preference for order and discomfort with ambiguity. Then, the researchers had participants do a decision-making task involving a grid of squares.

All the squares started out gray, but if you clicked on one, it would turn one of two colors. The goal was to figure out which color was dominant underneath all the gray, and you could click as many gray boxes as you wanted before you made your choice. The results showed that those with a higher NFC tended to take advantage of that: When there was no penalty, they clicked more boxes and gathered more evidence before making their decision.

This suggests that this group isn't necessarily opposed to exploring their options. If they don't have any background knowledge to rely on, the best way to be certain of their decision is to do more research. The quick decision-making likely comes in when they do have prior knowledge that they can draw from to get a satisfying answer — basically, a short-cut to that sense of closure.

And outside of studies, these effects could mean that someone with a high NFC is willing to put more effort into something like a new work project, or the first assignment in a new class. Understanding this trait and where you fall on that NFC spectrum can reveal a lot about how you make decisions. And depending on where you rank, it can help you become more thoughtful, more decisive, or avoid biases.

But those aren't the only benefits: Understanding where you and others fall on this scale can help you succeed and avoid conflict, too. Take the results of a 2015 study that observed 90 nurses. It found that employees seemed to do best when their need for closure matched their boss' management style.

For those with a low NFC, having a boss that encouraged autonomy was negatively associated with stress and burnout. And the same was true for those with a high NFC who had more assertive managers. The scientists didn't say much about why, but this could be because assertiveness gives an employee a more certain idea of what they're supposed to be doing and how.

Autonomy, on the other hand, allows more room for uncertainty and creative brainstorming. Research like this could help organizations match up mentors and mentees. Or it could help them figure out which team to assign someone to.

But of course, this study also doesn't mean you have to be exactly like your boss to succeed at work. Mainly, it just shows how understanding things like need for closure could help you out. And really, that applies to most traits.

Whether you're looking to succeed at life or love, having an awareness of how you operate — in regards to closure, or anything else — can make things a bit less stressful. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow Psych — and special thanks to all our patrons on Patreon for your help making it. Your support means a lot to us!

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