SELECT AN EDITION:
9th EDITION   10th EDITION   11th EDITION
A First Look at Communication Theory Reveal main menu
 

CHANGE TO: View by Type

Resources
by Theory

 VIEW BY THEORY HOME
For the full list of resources
see View by Type

Instructors can get additional
resources. Read more












Archived chapters (PDF)
from previous editions are
available in Resources by
Type. See list

New to Theory Resources?
Find out more in this
short video overview (3:01).


Uncertainty Reduction Theory
Charles Berger

INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION: RELATIONSHIP DEVELOPMENT


Chapter Outline 11th Edition

  1. Introduction.
  1. No matter how close two people eventually become, they always begin as strangers.
  2. Charles Berger noted that the beginnings of personal relationships are fraught with uncertainties.
  3. Uncertainty reduction theory focuses on how human communication is used to gain knowledge and create understanding.
  4. Any of three prior conditions—anticipation of future interaction, incentive value, or deviance—can boost our drive to reduce uncertainty.
  1. Uncertainty reduction: To predict and explain.
  1. Berger’s emphasis on explanation (our inferences about why people do what they do) comes from the attribution theory of Fritz Heider.
  2. There are at least two types of uncertainty.
  1. Behavioral questions, which are often reduced by following accepted procedural protocols.
  2. Cognitive questions, which are reduced by acquiring information. Cognitive uncertainty is what Berger is addressing.
  1. An axiomatic theory: Certainty about uncertainty.
  1. Berger proposed a series of axioms to explain the connection between uncertainty and eight key variables.
  2. Axioms are traditionally regarded as self-evident truths that require no additional proof.
  1. Axiom 1, verbal communication: As the amount of verbal communication between strangers increases, the level of uncertainty decreases, and as a result, verbal communication increases.
  2. Axiom 2, nonverbal warmth: As nonverbal affiliative expressiveness increases, uncertainty levels will decrease.  Decreases in uncertainty level will cause increases in nonverbal warmth.
  3. Axiom 3, information seeking: High levels of uncertainty cause increases in information-seeking behavior.  As uncertainty levels decline, information-seeking behavior decreases.
  4. Axiom 4, self-disclosure: High levels of uncertainty in a relationship cause decreases in the intimacy level of communication content.  Low levels of uncertainty produce high levels of intimacy.
  5. Axiom 5, reciprocity: High levels of uncertainty produce high rates of reciprocity.  Low levels of uncertainty produce low levels of reciprocity.
  6. Axiom 6, similarity: Similarities between persons reduce uncertainty, while dissimilarities produce increases in uncertainty.
  7. Axiom 7, liking:  Increases in uncertainty level produce decreases in liking; decreases in uncertainty produce increases in liking.
  8. Axiom 8, shared networks: Shared communication networks reduce uncertainty, while a lack of shared networks increases uncertainty.
  1. Theorems: The logical force of uncertainty axioms.
  1. Through pairing axioms, Berger creates 28 theorems.
  2. These 28 theorems suggest a comprehensive theory of interpersonal development based on the importance of reducing uncertainty in human interaction.
  1. Three intriguing issues raised by URT
  1. The restricted scope (initial encounters) and axiomatic form of his theory stimulated other communication scholars to explore three questions that might have also occurred to you.
  2. Does uncertainty reduction work the same way in intercultural situations?
  1. The greater the cultural gap, the greater the complexity and initial uncertainty for both parties.
  2. William Gudykunst proposed 47 axioms that describe the factors that impact uncertainty in intercultural encounters including motivation, expectations, empathy, self-esteem, tolerance for ambiguity, and ability to process complex information.
  3. Gudykunst’s most important contribution to interaction with strangers is to address reduction of anxiety as well as uncertainty.
  1. Can uncertainty wreak havoc in ongoing relationships?
  1. After the initial phase, Leanne Knobloch suggests that uncertainty in close relationships arises from whether we’re sure about our own thoughts, the other person’s thoughts, and our future.
  2. Partner interference (where we feel hindered in our goals by our partner) can increase uncertainty, 
  3. Uncertainty in ongoing relationships leads to relational turbulence, addressed through direct attempts to reduce it.
  1. When emotions run high, how do people manage uncertainty?
  1. Walid Afifi says that when an interpersonal issue is really important, most people first consider the gap between what they know and what they want to know.
  2. The emotions stimulated by this uncertainty gap force us to contemplate three questions of efficacy (coping, communication, and target).
  1. Seeking information to reduce uncertainty
  1. Theorists have outlined four approaches we can use to reduce uncertainty.
  2. Using a passive strategy, we unobtrusively observe others from a distance.
  3. In an active strategy, we ask a third party for information.
  4. With an interactive strategy, we talk face-to-face with the other person and ask specific questions.
  5. The extractive strategy involves searching for information online.
  1. Critique: Nagging doubts about uncertainty.
  1. Berger’s uncertainty reduction theory was an early prototype of what an objective theory should be and it continues to inspire a new generation of scholars today.
  2. Though numerous, the axioms and theorems offer specific, testable hypotheses, are simple to understand, and offer a pragmatic approach based on quantitative research.
  3. As Berger himself admitted, his original statement contained some propositions of dubious validity.
  4. Critics such as Kathy Kellermann consider theorem 17 particularly flawed.
  1. The tight logical structure of the theory doesn't allow us to reject one theorem without questioning the axioms behind it.
  2. In the case of theorem 17, axioms 3 and 7 must also be suspect.
  3. Kellermann and Rodney Reynolds challenge the motivational assumption of axiom 3.
  4. They also have undermined the claim that motivation to search for information is increased by anticipation of future interaction, incentive value, and deviance.
  1. Michael Sunnafrank challenges Berger’s claim that uncertainty reduction is the key to understanding early encounters.
  1. He believes that predicted outcome value more accurately explains communication in early encounters.
  2. Berger insists that you can't predict outcome values until you reduce uncertainty.
  3. Walid Afifi thinks both theories are too narrow. In his theory of motivated information management, he suggests we’re most motivated to reduce anxiety rather than uncertainty.
  1. Despite these problems, Berger's theory has stimulated considerable discussion within the discipline.

CHANGE TO: View by Type

Resources
by Theory

 THEORY HOME
For the full list of resources
see View by Type

Instructors can get additional
resources. Read more












Archived chapters (PDF)
from previous editions
are available in
Resources by Type.
See list

New to Theory
Resources?

Find out more in this short
video overview (3:01).


Uncertainty Reduction Theory
Charles Berger

INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION: RELATIONSHIP DEVELOPMENT


Chapter Outline 11th Edition

  1. Introduction.
  1. No matter how close two people eventually become, they always begin as strangers.
  2. Charles Berger noted that the beginnings of personal relationships are fraught with uncertainties.
  3. Uncertainty reduction theory focuses on how human communication is used to gain knowledge and create understanding.
  4. Any of three prior conditions—anticipation of future interaction, incentive value, or deviance—can boost our drive to reduce uncertainty.
  1. Uncertainty reduction: To predict and explain.
  1. Berger’s emphasis on explanation (our inferences about why people do what they do) comes from the attribution theory of Fritz Heider.
  2. There are at least two types of uncertainty.
  1. Behavioral questions, which are often reduced by following accepted procedural protocols.
  2. Cognitive questions, which are reduced by acquiring information. Cognitive uncertainty is what Berger is addressing.
  1. An axiomatic theory: Certainty about uncertainty.
  1. Berger proposed a series of axioms to explain the connection between uncertainty and eight key variables.
  2. Axioms are traditionally regarded as self-evident truths that require no additional proof.
  1. Axiom 1, verbal communication: As the amount of verbal communication between strangers increases, the level of uncertainty decreases, and as a result, verbal communication increases.
  2. Axiom 2, nonverbal warmth: As nonverbal affiliative expressiveness increases, uncertainty levels will decrease.  Decreases in uncertainty level will cause increases in nonverbal warmth.
  3. Axiom 3, information seeking: High levels of uncertainty cause increases in information-seeking behavior.  As uncertainty levels decline, information-seeking behavior decreases.
  4. Axiom 4, self-disclosure: High levels of uncertainty in a relationship cause decreases in the intimacy level of communication content.  Low levels of uncertainty produce high levels of intimacy.
  5. Axiom 5, reciprocity: High levels of uncertainty produce high rates of reciprocity.  Low levels of uncertainty produce low levels of reciprocity.
  6. Axiom 6, similarity: Similarities between persons reduce uncertainty, while dissimilarities produce increases in uncertainty.
  7. Axiom 7, liking:  Increases in uncertainty level produce decreases in liking; decreases in uncertainty produce increases in liking.
  8. Axiom 8, shared networks: Shared communication networks reduce uncertainty, while a lack of shared networks increases uncertainty.
  1. Theorems: The logical force of uncertainty axioms.
  1. Through pairing axioms, Berger creates 28 theorems.
  2. These 28 theorems suggest a comprehensive theory of interpersonal development based on the importance of reducing uncertainty in human interaction.
  1. Three intriguing issues raised by URT
  1. The restricted scope (initial encounters) and axiomatic form of his theory stimulated other communication scholars to explore three questions that might have also occurred to you.
  2. Does uncertainty reduction work the same way in intercultural situations?
  1. The greater the cultural gap, the greater the complexity and initial uncertainty for both parties.
  2. William Gudykunst proposed 47 axioms that describe the factors that impact uncertainty in intercultural encounters including motivation, expectations, empathy, self-esteem, tolerance for ambiguity, and ability to process complex information.
  3. Gudykunst’s most important contribution to interaction with strangers is to address reduction of anxiety as well as uncertainty.
  1. Can uncertainty wreak havoc in ongoing relationships?
  1. After the initial phase, Leanne Knobloch suggests that uncertainty in close relationships arises from whether we’re sure about our own thoughts, the other person’s thoughts, and our future.
  2. Partner interference (where we feel hindered in our goals by our partner) can increase uncertainty, 
  3. Uncertainty in ongoing relationships leads to relational turbulence, addressed through direct attempts to reduce it.
  1. When emotions run high, how do people manage uncertainty?
  1. Walid Afifi says that when an interpersonal issue is really important, most people first consider the gap between what they know and what they want to know.
  2. The emotions stimulated by this uncertainty gap force us to contemplate three questions of efficacy (coping, communication, and target).
  1. Seeking information to reduce uncertainty
  1. Theorists have outlined four approaches we can use to reduce uncertainty.
  2. Using a passive strategy, we unobtrusively observe others from a distance.
  3. In an active strategy, we ask a third party for information.
  4. With an interactive strategy, we talk face-to-face with the other person and ask specific questions.
  5. The extractive strategy involves searching for information online.
  1. Critique: Nagging doubts about uncertainty.
  1. Berger’s uncertainty reduction theory was an early prototype of what an objective theory should be and it continues to inspire a new generation of scholars today.
  2. Though numerous, the axioms and theorems offer specific, testable hypotheses, are simple to understand, and offer a pragmatic approach based on quantitative research.
  3. As Berger himself admitted, his original statement contained some propositions of dubious validity.
  4. Critics such as Kathy Kellermann consider theorem 17 particularly flawed.
  1. The tight logical structure of the theory doesn't allow us to reject one theorem without questioning the axioms behind it.
  2. In the case of theorem 17, axioms 3 and 7 must also be suspect.
  3. Kellermann and Rodney Reynolds challenge the motivational assumption of axiom 3.
  4. They also have undermined the claim that motivation to search for information is increased by anticipation of future interaction, incentive value, and deviance.
  1. Michael Sunnafrank challenges Berger’s claim that uncertainty reduction is the key to understanding early encounters.
  1. He believes that predicted outcome value more accurately explains communication in early encounters.
  2. Berger insists that you can't predict outcome values until you reduce uncertainty.
  3. Walid Afifi thinks both theories are too narrow. In his theory of motivated information management, he suggests we’re most motivated to reduce anxiety rather than uncertainty.
  1. Despite these problems, Berger's theory has stimulated considerable discussion within the discipline.

The screen on this device is not wide enough to display Theory Resources. Try rotating the device to landscape orientation to see if more options become available.
Resources available to all users:

  • Theory Overview—abstract of each chapter
  • Self-Help Quizzes—for student preparation
  • Chapter Outlines
  • Key Names—important names and terms in each chapter
  • Conversation Videos—interviews with theorists
  • Application Logs—student application of theories
  • Essay Questions—for student prepatation
  • Suggested Movie Clips—tie-in movie scenese to theories
  • Links—web resources related to each chapter
  • Primary Sources—for each theory with full chapter coverage
  • Further Resources—bibliographic and other suggestions
  • Changes—for each theory, since the previous edition
  • Theory Archive—PDF copies from the last edition in which a theory appeared

Resources available only to registered instructors who are logged in:

  • Discussion Suggestions
  • Exercises & Activities
  • PowerPoint® presentations you can use
  • Short Answer Quizzes—suggested questions and answers
  • Compare Texts—comparison of theories covered in A First Look and ten other textbooks

Information for Instructors. Read more


 

Copyright © Em Griffin 2022 | Web design by Graphic Impact