UNCERTAINTY REDUCTION THEORY

Charles Berger believes it is natural to have doubts about our ability to predict the outcome of initial encounters.

The beginning of personal relationships is fraught with uncertainties

Unlike social penetration theory which tries to forecast the future of a relationship on the basis of projected rewards and costs, Berger’s uncertainty reduction theory focuses on how human communication is used to gain knowledge and create understanding.

Central to the theory is that when two strangers meet, their primary concern is one of uncertainty reduction or increasing predictability about the behavior of both themselves and others in the interaction.

Analogy of two dogs meeting, we are animals who use symbols instead of smells to reach our conclusions

UNCERTAINTY REDUCTION: TO PREDICT AND EXPLAIN:

Often there are accepted procedural protocols to ease the stress that behavioral uncertainty can cause. Good manners go beyond common sense.

When you first meet a person, your mind may conjure up a wild mix of potential traits and characteristics. Reducing cognitive uncertainty means acquiring information that allows you to discard many of these possibilities.


THE AXIOMATIC THEORY: CERTAINTY ABOUT UNCERTAINTY

Berger proposes a series of axioms to predict and explain the connection between his central concept of uncertainty and eight key variables of relationship development.

1.   verbal communication

2.   nonverbal warmth

3.   information seeking

4.   self-disclosure

5.   reciprocity (re-ci-pro-city-affecting each in the same way, one is equivalent to other)

6.   similarity

7.   liking

8.   shared networks

CLIP DRIVING MISS DAISY Scene in the car to the Piggly Wiggly

AXIOM 1: As the amount of verbal communication between strangers increases, the level of uncertainty decreases.

AXIOM 2: As nonverbal afffiliative expressiveness increases, uncertainty levels will decrease in an initial interaction situation,

AXIOM 3: High levels of uncertainty cause increase information-seeking behavior. As uncertainty levels decline, information-seeking behavior decreases.

AXIOM 4: High levels of uncertainty in a relationship cause decreases in the intimacy levels of communication content. Low levels of uncertainty produce high levels of intimacy.

AXIOM 5: High levels of uncertainty produce high rates of reciprocity. Low levels of uncertainty produce low levels of reciprocity.

AXIOM 6: Similarities between persons reduce uncertainty, while dissimilarities produce increases uncertainty.

AXIOM 7: Increases in uncertainty level produce decreases in liking; decreases in uncertainty produce increases in liking.

AXIOM 8: Shared communication networks reduce uncertainty, while a lack of shared networks increases uncertainty.

CLIP DANCES WITH WOLVES Scene from one of the first encounters

THEOREMS: THE LOGICAL FORCE OF UNCERTAINTY AXIOMS

Once we grant the validity of the eight axioms, it is tempting to pair two of them together to produce additional insight into relational dynamics.

IF A = B

AND B = C

THEN A= C.

Berger does this for all possible combinations, thereby generating 28 theorems. E.g.

If similarity reduces uncertainty (AXIOM 6)

and reduced uncertainty increases liking (AXIOM 7)

then similarity and liking are positively related (THEOREM 21)

Not exactly earth shattering but viewed as a whole these 28 logical extensions sketch out a rather comprehensive theory of interpersonal development - all based on the importance of reducing uncertainty in human interaction.

ADDED THOUGHT ON THE QUEST TO KNOW:

CLIP SWINGERS   Scene with Lorraine

http://chadwick.jlmc.iastate.edu/theory/ur.html

http://www.venturalink.net/~swingers

Berger first proposed the axiom and theorem system of uncertainty reduction in 1975. Since then, he has grouped three additions to significantly expanded the theory. These three strategies is how we all cope with certain uncertainty.

1. Most social interaction is goal-driven; we construct cognitive plans to guide our social interaction.

2. Uncertainty is central to all social interaction

3. Strategies for removing doubt and limiting risk when deploying messages.

Passive Strategy: We unobtrusively observe others as they live their     lives

        Active Strategy: We ask a third party for information

        Interactive Strategy: We ask other people to talk about themselves

CULTURE IS THE ULTIMATE SHARED COMMUNICATION NETWORK:

Intercultural theorists have seized on uncertainty reduction for its possible insights into the communication differences that are glaringly evident when east meets west or north meets south

When we leave the comfort of the familiar and become strangers in a strange land, uncertainly soars.

Although some of Berger’s axioms may not perfectly reflect the acquaintance process, his focus on the issue of reducing uncertainty is at the heart of communication inquiry.


What could be more basic to the study of communication that the propositions that

(1) adaptation is essential for survival

(2) adaptation is only possible through the reduction of uncertainty and

(3) uncertainty can be both reduced and produced by communication activity

SOURCES:

McClish, Glen. (1997). Instructor's Manual to Accompany EM Griffin's A First Look at Communication Theory McGraw-Hill Companies Inc.

Griffin, EM. (1997) A First Look at Communication Theory. McGraw-Hill Companies Inc.

Film “Driving Miss Daisy”

Film “Dances with Wolves”

Film “Swingers”

Film “Jerry McGuire”

Film “As Good As It Gets”

http://chadwick.jlmc.iastate.edu/theory/ur.html

http://www.venturalink.net/~swingers