The Uncertainty Reduction Theory
The social context, in which communication is carried out, is the focus of the Uncertainty Reduction Theory, suggested by Charles Berger and Richard Calabrese in 1970s. This theory emphasizes the mutual interpersonal communication and claims that social consequences of communication are to reduce uncertainty. Several levels of uncertainty are allocated, the lowest of which is peculiar to ritualistic and everyday communication, because of the high level of their predictability. On the contrary, the higher is the level of uncertainty, the less it is possible for the individual to predict the behavior of the companion and its consequences. What Is Uncertainty?
The definition of uncertainty itself was introduced by “the fathers of information theory” – Claude Shennon and Warren Weaver, as a situation in which there are a large number of equally possible alternatives for the outcome of events. But Berger and Calabrese were able to apply the concept of uncertainty to interpersonal communication. They have defined uncertainty as the “number of alternative ways in which each interactant might behave” (Berger & Calabrese, 1975). The authors also note that the uncertainty has a contradictory nature: too much certainty and predictability make relationship dull and uninteresting, as well as an excess of uncertainty makes the communication unacceptable Thus, relationship building is a dialectic of stability and change, certainty and uncertainty (Heath & Bryant, 2000)
Types of Uncertainty
During further development of this theory, Berger and Bradac arranged uncertainty into two categories: cognitive and behavioral (Berger & Bradac, 1982). Any of these uncertainties generate communicative problems. Cognitive uncertainty is person’s qualms about anticipated (real or alleged) differences in beliefs and attitudes between interactants and about the purpose of communication – to reach higher intimacy level, to receive a response to some disturbing question, to collect information, etc. Behavioral uncertainty is related with plans or actions, interactants use to achieve their goals, including dynamic modification of the plan or even complete rejection of it.
Axioms of Uncertainty Reduction Theory
The theory itself is a set of axioms, which are supported by past research and describe different sides of relation between uncertainty and communication. The original list proposed by Berger and Calabrese in 1975 is available in (Breger & Calabrese, 1975) and is not included in this paper to avoid plagiarism. In 1982 Berger and Bradac proposed another six axioms, which increased the role of language in uncertainty reduction compared to the original list.
Criticisms and Influence
Of course, like any other attempt to understand human behavior, URT has inspired subsequent research and received some criticisms. Some researchers pay attention that a want to reduce uncertainty is not a primary motivation in initial communication. Axiom three is also doubtful: not only uncertainty, but a want for knowledge propels to info-seeking. Furthermore, the theory seems to be inapplicable for cultures with great uncertainty tolerance.The uncertainty reduction theory got its development in works of William Douglas, Sally Planalp, James Honeycutt and many other researchers. In addition, its influence extended to the study of communication in other contexts, …