Expectancy Violations Theory


Personal Space Expectations

  1. Intimate Distance 0-18 inches
  2. Personal Distance 18 inches to 4 feet
  3. Social Distance 4 feet to 10 feet
  4. Public Distance 10 feet to infinity
Hall maintained that effective communicators adjust their nonverbal behaviour to conform to the communication rules of their partners.

Burgoonís original nonverbal expectancy violations model was concerned only with spatial violations. Burgoon believed that crossing over the threat threshold that forms the boundary of the intimate distance causes physical and psychological discomfort, (Griffin, 2000).

Noticeable deviations from what we expect cause a heightened sense of arousal and spur us to review the nature of our relationship with the person, (Griffin, 2000).

But by the mid-1980ís, Burgoon realized that proxemic behavior is part of an interconnected system of nonlinguistic cues. It no longer made sense to study personal distance in isolation.

She began to apply the model to a host of other nonverbal variables - facial expression, eye contact, touch, and body lean for example. She has now expanded her word to emotional, marital and intercultural communications as well, (Griffin, 2000).

She also dropped the concept of threat threshold and substituted an orienting response, or a mental alertness or arousal.

Expectancies exert significant influence on peopleís interaction patterns, on the impressions they form of one another and on the outcomes of their interactions, (Griffin, 2000).

Violations of expectations in turn arouse or distract their recipients, shifting greater attention to the violator and the meaning of the violation itself, (Griffin, 2000).


EVT offers a soft determinism rather than a hard core covering law. Terms like may, can be, more likely and relatively, reflect the belief that too many factors affect communication to allow us a simple cause and effect relationship, (Griffin, 2000).


  1. Context includes cultural norms. All cultures have a similar structure of expected communication behaviour. However, the context of those expectations differs. For example, three feet is too close in England or Germany but too far removed in Saudi Arabia, where you cannot trust people unless you are almost nose to nose, (Griffin, 2000).
  2. Relationship factors include familiarity, relative status, age and station in life. For example, lower-status people will keep their distance.
  3. Communicator factors include characteristics such as age sex, demographic information asked on forms.
Violation Valence is the perceived value of breech of expectations. Once we deal with someone who pushes the limits of expected behavior, we switch into an evaluation mode. For example prolonged eye contact. Puzzling violations force victims to search for the social context for clues to their meaning, (Griffin, 2000).

Communicator Reward Valence is the sum of the positive and negative attributes that the person brings to the encounter plus the potential he or she has to reward or punish in the future. Status, ability, and physical looks enhance anotherís reward potential, (Griffin, 2000).

EVT is not the only theory to describe our human tendency to size other people in terms of potential rewards they have to offer. Burgoon uses the term communicator reward valence to label the results of our mental audit of likely gains and losses, (Griffin, 2000).


Griffin, Em. (2000). A First Look at Communication Theory. Fourth Edition. The McGraw-Hill Company, USA.

McClish, Glen. And Bacon, Jacqueline. (1997). "Instructor's Manual to Accompany EM Griffin's: A First look at Communication Theory. 3rd edition The Mcgraw-Hill Companies Inc.