Probabilistic Thinking: A Principle-Based Concept Analysis in the Context of Uncertainty in Chronic Illness

Jasmin Meichlinger*, Andrea Kobleder, Hanna Mayer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal article (peer-reviewed)Journal article

1 Citation (Scopus)


Background and Purpose: The Reconceptualized Uncertainty in Illness Theory (RUIT) includes the concept of “probabilistic thinking” intending to explain the positive reappraisal of uncertainty in chronic illness. However, the description of the concept is vague, thereby limiting the understanding of the theory. Thus, the aim was to develop a theoretical definition of probabilistic thinking in order to increase the explanatory value of RUIT. Methods: We conducted a principle-based concept analysis by means of a conceptually driven literature search. Methods consisted of database, dictionary, lexicon, and free web searching as well as citation tracking. We analyzed the concept in terms of (a) epistemology, (b) pragmatics, (c) logic, and (d) linguistics. Results: The final data set included 27 publications, 14 of them from nursing. (a) Probabilistic thinking is a coping strategy to handle uncertainty. It involves a focus on either possibilities (in nursing) or probabilities (in other disciplines). (b) There is a lack of operationalization in nursing, though three measurements focusing the handling of probabilities are offered in psychology. (c) Nursing authors interpreting probabilistic thinking as accepted uncertainty lacked logical appropriateness, since probability negotiates uncertainty. (d) Probabilistic thinking is used synonymously with positive thinking and probabilistic reasoning. Implications for Practice: Nurses working with chronically ill patients should consider the findings for the application of RUIT. They should recognize whether uncertainty is perceived as a danger and encourage probabilistic thinking. Efforts are necessary to achieve a common language between nursing and other disciplines in order to avoid misunderstandings in clinical practice and research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)346-360
Number of pages15
JournalResearch and theory for nursing practice
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • chronic disease
  • principle-based concept analysis
  • probabilistic thinking
  • reconceptualized theory of uncertainty in illness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Research and Theory


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