Chapter 8-10

Uncertainty Reduction Theory
– based on research of Charles Berger and Richard Calabrese
– also called “Initial Interaction Theory”
– goal: explain how communication is used to reduce uncertainties between strangers engaging in their first conversation together
– believes strangers concerned primarily with increasing predictability in an effort to make sense out of their communication experience
– ability to forecast one’s own and others’ behavioral choices
– ability to interpret the meaning of behavioral choices
cognitive uncertainty
– degree of uncertainty related to cognitions (beliefs and attitudes, etc.)
behavioral uncertainty
– degree of uncertainty related to behaviors
– personal messages about the self disclosed to another
– violation of ritual of communication (engaging in inappropriate self-disclosure, or ignoring each other) = behavior uncertainty increased
proactive reaction process
– comes into play when a person thinks about communication options before actually engaging with another
retroactive reaction process
– consists of attempts to explain behavior after the encounter itself
7 concepts in communication and relational development related to uncertainty
1. verbal output, 2. nonverbal warmth (pleasant vocal tone and leaning forward, etc.), 3. information seeking, 4. self-disclosure, 5. reciprocity of disclosure, 6. similarity, 7. liking
assumptions of URT
1. people experience uncertainty in interpersonal settings and it generates cognitive stress
2. when strangers meet, their primary concern is to reduce their uncertainty and increase predictability
3. interpersonal communication is a developmental process that occurs through stages, and it is the primary means of uncertainty reduction
4. the quantity and nature of information that people share change through time (interpersonal communication is developmental, key element is initial interactions)
5. it’s possible to predict people’s behavior in a law-like fashion
entry phase (assumption 3)
– beginning stage of an interaction between strangers
– guided by implicit and explicit rules and norms, such as responding in kind when someone says, “Hi! How are you?”
personal phase (assumption 3)
– stage in a relationship when people begin to communicate more spontaneously and personally
– can occur during the initial encounter, but more likely to begin after repeated interactions
exit phase (assumption 3)
– stage in a relationship when people decide whether to continue or leave
– truisms drawn from past research and common sense
– require no further proof than the statement itself
– each present a relationship between uncertainty and one other concept
Axiom 1
– given the high level of uncertainty present at the onset of the entry phase, as the amount of verbal communication between strangers increases, the level of uncertainty for each interactant in the relationship decreases.
– as uncertainty is further reduced, the amount of verbal communication increases
– INVERSE relationship between uncertainty and verbal comm.
Axiom 2
– as nonverbal affiliative expressiveness increases, uncertainty levels decrease in an initial interaction situation
– decreases in uncertainty level will use increases in nonverbal affiliative expressiveness
– INVERSE relationship
Axiom 3
– high levels of uncertainty cause increases in information-seeking behavior
– as uncertainty levels decline, information-seeking behavior decreases
– POSITIVE relationship
Axiom 4
– 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
– INVERSE relationship between uncertainty and levels of intimacy
Axiom 5
– high levels of uncertainty produce high rates of reciprocity
– low levels of uncertainty produce low levels of reciprocity
– POSITIVE relationship
reciprocity (Axiom 5)
– communication that mirrors the previous communication behavior
Axiom 6
– similarities between people reduce uncertainty, whereas dissimilarities increase uncertainty
– INVERSE relationship
Axiom 7
– increases in uncertainty levels produce decreases in liking
– decreases in uncertainty produce increases in liking
– INVERSE relationship
Axiom 8
– uncertainty is negatively related to interaction with social networks
– the more people interact with the friends and family members f their relational partner, the less uncertainty they experience
Axiom 9
– there is an inverse relationship between uncertainty and communication satisfaction (“an affective response to the accomplishment of communication goals and expectations”)
– iMPORTANT BECAUSE: relates uncertainty to a specific communication outcome
– theoretical statements derived from axioms, positing a relationship between 2 concepts
– axiomatic theories constructed by pairing 2 axioms to produce a theorem (deductive logic)
antecedent conditions when seeking uncertainty reduction
1. occurs when the other person has the potential to reward or punish
2. when the other person behaves contrary to expectations
3. when a person expects future interactions with another
passive strategies
– reducing uncertainties by unobtrusive observation
reactivity searching (passive)
– involving watching a person doing something
disinhibition searching (passive)
– involving watching a person’s natural or uninhibited behavior in an informal environment
active strategies
– reducing uncertainties by means other than direct contact
– ex: asking 3rd party for information about someone
inactive strategies
– reducing uncertainties by engaging in conversation
– ex: conversations that may include self-disclosures, direct questioning, and other information-seeking tactics
Social Exchange Theory (SET)
– based on notion that people think about their relationships in economic terms
– tally up the costs of being in a relationship and compare them to the rewards
– provides an overarching view of human beings that might be taken up by other specific theories like Social Penetration Theory
– also called “Theory of Interdependence”
– elements of relational life with negative value
– elements of relational life with positive value
– influenced by the worth of a relationship; determines whether people continue in a relationship or terminate it
Assumptions of SET
1. (human nature), humans seek rewards and avoid punishments
2. (human nature), humans are rational beings
3. (human nature), the standards that humans use to value costs and rewards varies over time and from person to person
4. (nature of relationships), relationship are independent
5. (nature of relationships), relational life is a process
SET as Game Theory
– wished to stress that social exchange is a function of interdependence
– Prisoner’s Dilemma
comparison level (CL)
– standard for what a person thinks he or she should get in a relationship
– based on past experiences with specific type of relationship
comparison level for alternatives (CLAlt)
– how people evaluate a relationship based on what their alternatives to the relationship are
– provides measure of stability rather than satisfaction
relative value of Outcome, CL, CLAlt
– satisfying and stable: Outcome>CL>CLAlt, Outcome>CLAlt>CL, CLAlt>Outcome>CL
– unsatisfying and unstable: CLAlt>CL>Outcome, CL>CLAlt>Outcome
– unsatisfying and stable: CL>Outcome>CLAlt
behavior sequences
– series of actions designed to achieve a goal
– when people engage in these behavior sequences they are dependent to some extent on their relational partner (noted in Game Theory)
– at heart of what Thibaut and Kelley conceptualize as social exchange
– degree of dependence a person has on another for outcomes
– 2 types; fate control and behavior control
fate control (power type)
– ability to affect a partner’s outcomes
behavior control (power type)
– power to change another’s behavior
given matrix
– constraints on your choice due to the environment and/or your own skill levels
– “the hand you are dealt” representation
effective matrix
– transformations you are able to make by your given matrix, by learning a new skill, for example
dispositional matrix
– beliefs you have about relationships
– guides the transformations people make to their given matrix that lead to the effective matrix
direct exchange
– exchange where two people reciprocate costs and rewards
– one social actor provides value to another and the other reciprocates (direct exchange)
generalized exchange
– exchange where reciprocation involves the social network and isn’t confined to two individuals
– ex: one person gives to another and the recipient responds, but not the first person (indirect exchange)
productive exchange
– exchange where both partners incur costs and benefits simultaneously
– both people incur benefits and costs simultaneously (direct exchange)
– Communication tradition: socio-psychological
– Communication context: interpersonal, intra-personal
– Approach to knowing: positivistic/Empirical
Social Penetration Theory
– relationships move from non-intimate to intimate
social penetration
– process that moves a relationship from superficial to more intimate
– more than just physical intimacy
– pathway to closeness
– relationships follow some particular trajectory
– relationships are somewhat organized and predictable in their development
Assumptions of SPT
1. relationships progress from non-intimate to intimate
2. relational development is generally systematic and predictable
3. relational development includes de-penetration and dissolution
4. self-disclosure is at the core of relationship development
de-penetrate (assumption 3)
– slow deterioration of a relationship
transgression (assumption 3)
– violation of relational rules, practices and expectations
public image (onion analogy)
– outlier layer of a person; what is available to others/the naked eye
reciprocity (onion analogy)
– the return of openness from one person to another
– research shows the other person is likely to reciprocate similar levels of sensitive information when one person divulges personal information
2 dimensions of penetration
– breadth
– depth
– number of topics discussed in a relationship
breadth time
– amount of time spent by relational partners discussing various topics
– degree of intimacy guiding topic discussion
reward-cost ratio
– balance between positive and negative relationship experiences
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