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Uncertainty Reduction Theory

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Chapter 9

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Uncertainty Reduction Theory

  1. 1. UNCERTAINTY REDUCTION THEORY Of Charles Berger
  2. 2. BASIC IDEAS <ul><li>New relationships involve uncertainty </li></ul><ul><li>Communication reduces uncertainty </li></ul><ul><li>Motivation to reduce uncertainty increases where: </li></ul><ul><li>-we expect continued interaction; </li></ul><ul><li>-there are strong incentives; </li></ul><ul><li>-where the “other” is deviant </li></ul><ul><li>in some way. </li></ul>
  3. 3. TYPES OF UNCERTAINTY <ul><li>Behavioral uncertainty (how to behave?) – usually taken care of following accepted conventions or protocol </li></ul><ul><li>Cognitive uncertainty (who is this person?) – usually taken care of by acquiring more information about the other </li></ul><ul><li>Berger’s 8 axioms (see next slides) can be paired to produce 28 theorems </li></ul>
  4. 4. Berger’s axioms (1-4) <ul><li>Verbal comm’n reduces uncertainty and increases verbal comm’n </li></ul><ul><li>Nonverbal warmth reduces uncertainty, increases nonverbal warmth </li></ul><ul><li>Uncertainty causes information-seeking; as certainty increases, information-seeking declines </li></ul><ul><li>High uncertainty reduces intimacy </li></ul>
  5. 5. Berger’s axioms (4-8) <ul><li>5. High uncertainty produces high reciprocity </li></ul><ul><li>6.Similarities between people reduce </li></ul><ul><li>uncertainty </li></ul><ul><li>7. Decreases in uncertainty produce increases in liking </li></ul><ul><li>8. Shared communication networks reduce uncertainty </li></ul>
  6. 6. The Theorems <ul><li>By pairing different axioms, Berger produces 28 theorems : e.g.: </li></ul><ul><li>Theorem 21: similarity reduces uncertainty; and reduced uncertainty increases liking therefore , similarity and liking are positively related </li></ul><ul><li>Theorem 17: combines axioms 3 (high uncertainty increases information-seeking)+7 ( decreased uncertainty increases liking) and says that the more you like people the less you will seek information about them) </li></ul>
  7. 7. Strategies to Cope with Uncertainty <ul><li>Social interaction is guided by people’s overall strategies: mental representations of action sequences </li></ul><ul><li>Strategies become more concrete over time </li></ul><ul><li>Strategies include contingency plans for when things don’t work out </li></ul><ul><li>Hedging our bets increases plan complexity, requiring high mental effort </li></ul>
  8. 8. Strategies to reduce uncertainty <ul><li>1.Seeking information: observation, asking third party, talking face-to-face </li></ul><ul><li>2.Choosing plan complexity (level of detail, number of contingency or fall-back plans) </li></ul><ul><li>Hedging, providing ways for both parties “to save face” e.g. through ambiguity or humor </li></ul><ul><li>Amending plans (at lower levels, first of all) </li></ul>
  9. 9. Critique (1) <ul><li>Certain theorems flawed: 17 </li></ul><ul><li>Some axioms are flawed: 3 and 7 </li></ul><ul><li>Assumption that uncertainty reduction is important in early encounters has been challenged: predicted outcome value may be more important in explaining early comm’n. But Berger says you have to reduce uncertainty in order to predict outcome values. </li></ul>
  10. 10. Critique (2) <ul><li>Theory assumes fixed self, whereas constructionists would argue that in reducing uncertainty the self is changed </li></ul><ul><li>Assumes communication is very informational in content </li></ul><ul><li>Theory is insufficiently intercultural </li></ul>

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