Understanding The Idea of Uncertainty Reduction Theory by Charles Berger

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Words: 2093 |

Pages: 5|

11 min read

Published: Jan 15, 2019

Words: 2093|Pages: 5|11 min read

Published: Jan 15, 2019

The uncertainty reduction theory, developed by Charles Berger, states how communication is used to gain knowledge, create understanding, and reduce uncertainty (Griffin, 1991, p.136). Both articles used in the research for this assignment, incorporate many views or points seen in the uncertainty reduction theory. Article #1, Interrogative Strategies and Information Exchange in Computer Mediated Communication, uses uncertainty reduction processes to relate to relationship development, which naturally, is facilitated by the use of questions. The relationships being studied are those, which take place over the Internet through e-mail (Pratt, Wiseman, Cody, Wendt, 199, p.46). Article #2, Uncertainty Reduction and Communication Satisfaction During Initial Interaction: An Initial Test and Replication of a New Axiom, states that communication satisfaction associates positively with uncertainty reduction during initial interaction (Neuliep, Grohskopf, 2000, p.67). This article focuses on interpersonal communication, whereas article number one focuses on computer mediated communication. Either way, both articles prove certain aspects of URT to be compatible with the studies that were conducted.

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Uncertainty reduction theory (URT) was originally proposed by Berger and Calabrese in 1975 as an account of the strategies employed to reduce uncertainty in order to better understand others (Pratt et al., 1999, p.49). Bergers uncertainty reduction theory focuses on how human communication is used to gain knowledge and to create understanding (Griffin, 1991, p.136). Berger believes that its natural to have doubts about our ability to predict the outcome of initial encounters. Berger also believes that beginning relationships are full of questions, anxiety and confusion. URT focuses on predictability, which is straight from Shannon and Weavers information theory. As the ability of persons to predict which alternative or alternatives are likely to occur next decreases, uncertainty increases (Griffin, 1991, p.137).

Berger says that there are two different kinds of uncertainty that a person may face when they encounter their first meeting with someone. Because not everyone is 100% sure on how they should act, one kind of uncertainty seals with behavioral questions, which are questions that are used to ease the stress that behavioral uncertainty can cause. The second kind concentrates on cognitive questions, which are focused on discovering who the other person is as an individual (Griffin, 1991, p.137). Some assumptions of URT are as follows; all social interaction is goal driven, uncertainty is central to all social interaction, interpersonal communication reduces uncertainty and it is possible to predict peoples behavior (Garard, 2001).

The uncertainty reduction theory is one that is based on a series of axioms. Axioms are self evident truths that require no additional proof. Bergers eight truths that about initial uncertainty are based on: verbal output, non-verbal warmth, information seeking, self-disclosure, reciprocity, similarity, liking, and shared networks (Griffin, 1991, p.137). Once the validity of the eight axioms was granted, pairs of them were put together to produce more insight into relational dynamics. All together, the axiom pairs generate 28 different theorems (Griffin, 19991, p.140-41). Berger mentions three strategies we can use to reduce uncertainty; the passive strategy, which is to simply observe the other person, the active strategy is when a third party is asked for information and the interactive strategy, which is face-to-face self disclosure (Garard, 2001). Critique of this theory mainly includes doubts about theorem 17, which predicts that the more you like people, the less youll seek information about them. Even though some aspects of Bergers theory may be questionable, URT is praised for its originality and also for its major contribution to communication scholarship (Griffin, 1991, p.145).

Article #1, Interrogative strategies and information exchange in computer-mediated communication, reports on a content analysis of interrogative strategies used in E-mail messages exchanged over six months between intergenerational sets of senior citizens and youngsters. A large portion of relationship development is made possible by the use of questions, which are a major part of the uncertainty reduction process (Pratt et al., 1999, p.46).

This study incorporates aspects of URT, which deals mainly in interpersonal communication, into relationships that are created through computer-mediated communication (CMC). The researchers state that, We naturally seek to form social and personal relationships with others and have shown remarkable adaptation in accomplishing this goal via differing media (Pratt et al., 1999, p.46). The chosen form of media used in this study is e-mail, which is said to be one of the most popular and ever-present forms of online communication according to Rafter (1997).

In this study the researchers decided to examine a specific component of natural messages exchanges between email pen pals (e-pals) as they occurred over a five to six

Month period. In particular, nature and use of questions and/or needs for information between e-pals is a key feature of the investigation. Questions are seen as primary means of seeking information to reduce relational uncertainty and to facilitate relational development, both of which desirable outcomes that help meet our human social needs. Just as face-to-face engagements need a fountain of shared information in order to grow, if relationships develop in cyber society, they also require a foundation of shared information to support relational growth (Pratt et al., 1999, p.46-47).

The main theory that this investigation centers around is the uncertainty reduction theory; the researchers are trying to prove that there are aspects of the theory that fit in to CMC as well as interpersonal communication. Many researchers argue that CMC should be seen an interpersonal medium stating that, as long s two humans are using a CMC medium, even if it is limited in channel capacity to written forms, they will find ways to make the medium interpersonal(Pratt et al., 1999, p.47-48). Recently Walther argued that CMC should be considered interpersonal when users have time to exchange information and share values that provide a foundation for making impressions(Pratt et al., 1999, p.48).

A content analysis on hard copies of email messages between e-pals was the primary analytic method. The various types of questions asked, the politeness of interrogatory expressions, and the e-pal responsiveness to questions asked of them in prior messages were the man focuses of coding operationalizations in the content analysis of the e-mail transcripts (Pratt et al., 1999, p.50). The participants included adult senior citizens and school aged youth throughout various locations in the U.S. 109 pairs of junior-senior e-pals were employed for the final analysis. A total of 2,526 messages were generated by the e-pals, although each set of e-pals produced a variable number of messages over the duration of the project (Pratt et al., 1999, p.51).

2 out of 4 of the hypotheses were supported, (1&3). H1 predicted that politeness in questions would be greater during earlier stages of interaction than in later stages of interaction, which is proved true in the URT also. H3 predicted that the number of questions asked by e-pals will be higher during the initial interaction stage than the number of questions asked during any of the subsequent stages, this hypothesis proved to be true for the URT also (Pratt et al., 1999, p.54-55). The remaining research questions, 1-3, sought to examine the effects of time on the flow of e-pal communication. R1 indicated that a shorter time lapse between messages is associated with a higher likelihood that an e-pal will eventually offer a delayed response to a question asked. R2 revealed that there was no significant relationship between the length of time that separates messages and the total or type of questions asked (Pratt et al., 1999, p.55-56).

Some of the results that were presented in the article provided support or portions of URT, and some others did not. Greater levels of politeness occurred more in the first stage of interaction and then spiraled downward as the relationships matured. This statement matches up with one of the main assumptions of uncertainty reduction mentioned earlier, which states that people are motivated to reduce their uncertainty in order to make possible good relations with others. URT also predicts that more questions will be asked in the initial stage of the relationship, this statement was supported by evidence found in H3. Cognitive questions about attitudes, opinions, and/or preferences were very strong in stage one, and they occurred more frequently than demographic questions which goes against one of the basic assumptions of URT, questions in initial interaction should be about matters external to the dyad (Pratt et al., 1999, p.58). The results of this study incorporated URT into the understanding of communication via email.

Article #2, focuses on uncertainty reduction, and communication satisfaction during initial interaction. It involves an initial test and the replication of a new axiom. The two studies performed support the hypothesis that communication satisfaction associates positively with uncertainty reduction during the initial interaction between two people interpersonally (Neulip, Grohskopf, 2000, p.58). In the first study, the participants engaged in the initial interaction for a short time, then they completed measures of communication satisfaction and uncertainty. As the researchers predicted, a positive and significant correlation was observed between the two concepts.

The second study replicated then extended study one by changing the nature of the experiment and by adding measures of communication competence. In the second study, the participants were asked to interview candidates for a teaching assistantship. The participants completed the same measures of communication satisfaction and uncertainty reduction that were used in study. The results of study 2 replicated those of study 1 (Neulip, Grohskopf, 2000, p.68). The most important finding in this study demonstrates that in initial interaction situations, uncertainty and communication satisfaction are linearly related. Job applicants who are successful at reducing uncertainty are perceived as communicatively competent, which leads to more favorable hiring decisions. The overall proposition that uncertainty reduction leads to positive communication outcomes is once again supported by this study (Neulip, Grohskopf, 2000, p74). The overall goal of this study was to study aspects of URT related to communication satisfaction during initial interaction, and to perform two tests to introduce the idea of a new axiom for the uncertainty reduction theory. The following axiom was proposed as an addition to Berger and Calabreses original seven axioms and Berger and Gudykunsts addition of an eighth axiom. Axiom #9: During initial interaction, as uncertainty decreases, communication satisfaction increases (Neulip, Grohskopf, 2000, p.75).

Article #1 sought to include computer mediated communication as an interpersonal medium and to examine different components of relationship message exchange through e-mail pen pals. Pen pals provide opportunities to exchange information and opinions with each other, and also supply social and emotional support between participants (Pratt et al, 1999, p.46). This article did a great job of explaining URT, and it found that it was only partially effective when placed in a computer-mediated environment. The results of this study did suggest that the interrogative strategies that we engage in interpersonal relationships are sometimes different than in CMC. This research helped to realize that the uncertainty reduction theory is consistent with mostly interpersonal relationships and not computer-mediated ones.

The second article sought to link communication satisfaction in an initial relationship into the original uncertainty reduction theory. The studies that were conducted did support the hypothesis that communication satisfaction associates positively with uncertainty reduction during initial interaction. Generally, the research on URT indicates that uncertainty reduction is associated with positive communication outcomes, while increased uncertainty is related to negative communication outcomes. It is then stated in the research that, many of the communication outcomes associated with uncertainty reduction are theoretically linked to communication satisfaction. Berger and Calbrese have argued that during initial interactions, reducing uncertainty is a primary goal of interactants. They also suggested that the main way people reduce uncertainty during the initial interaction is via verbal and nonverbal communication strategies. In addition, if the interactants can attain the goal of reducing uncertainty, then they more than likely to experience communication satisfaction (Neulip, Grohdkopf, 2000, p.70).

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Uncertainty is something that exists in all aspects of human communication, whether through computer mediated communication or through face-to-face communication. Both of the articles that were used in writing this paper incorporated the uncertainty reduction theory into them. Article #2 even sought to add a ninth axiom to the original theory. It proved that communication satisfaction is achieved during the initial interaction of a relationship and in my opinion it makes a great addition to the original theory. Article #1 showed that some the results did provide support for some portions of URT, and others did not. CMC is a part of everyday communication for many people, which means that uncertainty is something that will undoubtably exist, but that does not necessarily mean that URT is the theory to explain the phenomenon.

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Understanding the Idea of Uncertainty Reduction Theory by Charles Berger. (2019, January 03). GradesFixer. Retrieved December 5, 2023, from
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