Uncertainty Reduction Theory

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Uncertainty Reduction Theory (URT)Authors: Originator, Charles Berger Later Collaborator, Richard Calabrese

Initial PremiseURT was first proposed to predict and explain initial interactions and relational development (or lack thereof) between acquaintances or strangers, based on self-disclosure

TodayURT is now used in research on various relationship types to explore methods to:

Reduce uncertainty and increase predictability about behavior for ourselves/others in an interaction

Uncertainty is perceived to be uncomfortable and dissonant, prompting individuals to do what is necessary in order to return to consonance

How do we cope with uncertainty with strangers or acquaintances, vs. relationships at deeper levels?

What are axioms?Tenets which reflect the connection between uncertainty and key variables (in the context of this theory)

Axiom 1Axiom 1: Verbal Communication As the amount of verbal comm. increases The level of uncertainty decreases, and As a result, verbal communication again increases.

Axiom 2Axiom 2: Nonverbal Warmth As nonverbal affiliative expressiveness increases Uncertainty levels will decrease. Decreases in uncertainty level will cause increases in nonverbal affiliative expressiveness.

Axiom 3Axiom 3: Information-Seeking High levels of uncertainty cause increases in information-seeking behavior. As uncertainty levels decline Information-seeking behavior decreases.

Axiom 4Axiom 4: Self-Disclosure High levels of uncertainty cause decreases in the intimacy level of communication content. Low levels of uncertainty produce higher levels of intimacy in the content of our communication.

Axiom 5Axiom 5: Reciprocity High levels of uncertainty produce high rates of reciprocity.

Low levels of uncertainty produce low levels of reciprocity.

Axiom 6Axiom 6: Similarity Important similarities between persons reduce uncertainty

While key dissimilarities produce increases in uncertainty.

Axiom 7Axiom 7: Liking Increases in uncertainty level prompt decreases in liking

Whereas decreases in uncertainty level produce increases in liking.

Axiom 8Axiom 8: Shared Networks Shared communication networks reduce uncertainty But a LACK of shared communication networks increases uncertainty.

Uncertainty is inevitable so what can I do??

Coping StrategiesPassive The uncertain individual observes the object of their uncertainty, watching for clues in the others reactions to stimuli (other people, events, etc.)Avoidance is a type of passive strategy

Active The uncertain individual talks to others about the object of their uncertainty Interactive The uncertain individual poses direct questions to, and/or otherwise directly addresses, the object of their uncertainty

Uncertainty AvoidanceThe degree to which members of a [coculture] feel threatened by ambiguous situations and how much they try to avoid [uncertain situations or people]

Adler, Rosenfeld, & Proctor, 2010, p. 48

How does uncertainty avoidance manifest in our verbal and nonverbal behaviors?

Lets conclude with a discussion of some of the more common arguments against URT.

Critique: Exceptions to the Rule

Axioms are Flawed

For example, there times when increased knowledge and proximity do NOT lead to increased liking, more communication, and deeper disclosures. Why?

Critique: Information-Seeking Never Stops

We seek information constantly!Therefore, according to the axiom, we should ALWAYS be in a state of both certainty and uncertainty; this would be a state of persistent dissonance

Critique: Other MotivatorsIn addition to uncertainty, what other factors drive/influence us? Anticipated future interaction Incentive value/motivation Liking/dislike Others?

Critique: Too Much of a Good Thing?

Too Much vs. Too Little

Is there such a thing as too much predictability (or too little uncertainty)? Keeping Things Interesting [Introducing too much new] uncertainty in long-term relationships usually impacts negatively on the relationship (Planalp & Honeycutt, 1985)

Critique: We Allow UncertaintyAre there times when (un)consciously allow ambiguity in our relationships?

Sometimes, there are high levels of uncertainty in interactions that no one wants to reduce (Kellerman & Reynolds, 1990) Examples

I dont want to know Is your room clean?

When might uncertainty be POSITIVE?