A social network consists of interactive patterns among individuals and groups that are created by transmitting and exchanging messages through time and space. A central feature of intergroup settings is that group members are embedded in multiple, previously established, as well as emerging, communication networks that vary in their structure, the nature of the relationships, and the diversity of the links.
A network perspective extends and complements traditional social scientific approaches to intergroup communication. Rather than focusing on the attributes of individuals, a network perspective focuses on the causes and consequences of relations and connections between and among sets of people and groups. A network approach invigorates intergroup theory by focusing on the dynamic structures of connectedness, treating identity, social categorization, and representativeness as fluid rather than fixed factors within interactions.
A basic principle of network theory is that behavior can best be understood socially; every social unit stands at the nexus of a multitude of constraining and enabling alignments. Structural network dynamics include, but are not limited to, density, diversity, clustering, equivalence, and centrality of the network. These structural configurations combined with the strength and multiplexity of specific network linkages strongly influence social identities, values, attitudes, experiences, and behavior. Using graph-theoretic models, network analysts are able to identify specific types of structures that are highly effective in predicting ingroup and intergroup attitudes and behaviors above and beyond individual-level characteristics. Structural dynamics can further amplify intergroup principles through exploring the degree to which ingroup boundaries are loosely or tightly connected and the types and nature of linkages and communication exchanges within and between groups. For example, network theory suggests that the greater ingroup overlap across social contexts, the more likely group members perceive higher status for that particular ingroup than for other social categories to which they belong. It is also more likely the boundary between groups will be linguistically marked. In organizations, intergroup conflict and the capacity for successful adaptation and intergroup cooperation are strongly related to the extent and the alignment of intergroup “weak” ties across traditional communication channels and online. Identifying network structures can help explain a large set of multilevel intergroup outcomes such as linguistic accommodation and stereotyping, group level conflict, organizational productivity and innovation, political attitudes, and community resilience.
Daniel Angus and Cindy Gallois
Intergroup communication, given its interdisciplinary roots in communication and social psychology, has been eclectic in methodology. Earlier approaches tended to be quantitative and experimental. In the early 21st century, the full range of qualitative approaches—thematic analysis and grounded theory, discourse analysis, conversation analysis, and others—have come to prominence. A key issue has been how to reconcile the broad-brush aspects of surveys, tightly-controlled contexts in experiments, and very limited numbers of participants in qualitative research.
In the past decade or so, rapid improvements to the capabilities of computational technologies have brought forth a new generation of computational methods for communication research. Broadly known as visual text analytics, these methods provide communication scholars new ways to model, visualize, and analyze intergroup communication processes. They also allow larger scale in the detailed analysis of texts and discourse.
In spite of their great interest to intergroup communication, these new visual text analytic methods also present challenges. In presenting several newer visual text analytic methods, we articulate some ways to approach the tools to achieve maximum research benefit.
People can adjust their communication in a variety of ways for different contexts, audiences, and purposes. Although these adjustments often improve or facilitate interaction—that is, make it smoother, better, or easier—sometimes they do not. “Nonaccommodation” is a concept drawn from communication accommodation theory (CAT) and refers to adjustments in communication behavior associated with disaffiliation, expressing dissimilarity and/or obscuring information. Nonaccommodation can be defined and described in terms of either speakers’ or listeners’ experiences; it may also be intentional or unintentional on the part of a speaker. Researchers have studied nonaccommodation in terms of both its objective behavioral manifestations (e.g., linguistic divergence) and the subjective perceptions that relate to those behavioral manifestations (e.g., psychological divergence; over- and underaccommodation). Responding to nonaccommodation effectively can be challenging, and what constitutes the “best” or “most appropriate” response often depends on contextual factors and interactants’ goals. In line with the functions of accommodation described in CAT, nonaccommodation can influence communication effectiveness as well as the nature of interpersonal and intergroup relations. Generally, nonaccommodation hinders shared understanding and increases perceptions of social distance between individuals and their social groups. Often it is also associated with less positive evaluations of the people and groups involved, as well as lower levels of relational solidarity. Nonaccommodation occurs frequently across a wide variety of societally significant contexts, including intergenerational, medical/healthcare, police–civilian, family, and educational interactions. As such, it represents an important area for both theoretical and applied research.
Norms are regularized patterns of attitudes and behavior that characterize a group of individuals, separate the group from other groups of individuals, and prescribe and describe attitudes and behaviors for group members. Relying on social identity theory and self-categorization theory, the role played by group norms within groups and the processes by which such norms are promulgated within groups are discussed. Norm talk or the communication of normative information within groups is explored, as a major proportion of communication within groups is dedicated to clarifying ingroup identities and group attributes such as attitudes and behaviors that characterize the group. Group members can glean normative information by attending to norm talk for instance, by listening to the content of fellow group members’ communications, from their behavior, and from influential or prototypical sources within the group.
According to self-categorization theory, once individuals categorize themselves as members of a salient group or category, they represent normative information cognitively as ingroup prototypes. Prototypes are a fuzzy set of group attributes (such as attitudes and behaviors that characterize the group) and simultaneously minimize differences within groups while maximizing differences between groups. Thus, clear group prototypes help create distinct identities that are clearly demarcated from other groups. Group members should be especially attentive to information that flows from prototypical sources within groups—such as leaders and ingroup media sources—while efforts should be made to differentiate from marginal or deviant members who deviate from the prototype and reduce clarity of ingroup prototypes. The processes through which attending to information communicated by different sources within groups—both prototypical and non-prototypical—help group members seek normative information and clarification of ingroup prototypes are discussed.
Yair Amichai-Hamburger and Shir Etgar
People tend to divide the world into categories. One of them is the group of people I belong to (the ingroup) and the group I do not belong to (the outgroup). People have a tendency to stereotype the outgroup and behave toward it with prejudice and discrimination. In many cases these forms of behavior lead to intergroup conflict. One of the major proposals for resolving this situation was suggested by Gordon W. Allport and is called the Contact Hypothesis. According to this model, when a contact between the groups is held under certain conditions—equal status, institutional support, and cooperation between the rival groups toward the achievement of superordinate goals—people are likely to change their negative perception of the outgroup and improve their relationship with its members. Despite the success of the model, it has been shown to suffer from three major obstacles. First, it is logistically complicated to achieve the requisite conditions; secondly, the physical proximity to the rival group’s members is likely to cause high anxiety among participants, which may well prevent any positive change; thirdly, the contact, even if successful, is unlikely to be generalized to the groups as a whole. Online intergroup contact appears to overcome these challenges.
Becky R. Ford
The term political correctness (PC) has been used since the 1930s in Maoist China, where it meant fall in line with the Communist Party’s politics. In the 1980s, there was a revival of the use of the term. For some, PC now primes the prohibition of speech that is seen as derogatory toward historically marginalized groups, and well as the encouragement of more multicultural perspectives. Others see PC in a pejorative sense, thinking of liberal extremism. Since the start of the liberal PC movement in the 1980s, people ranging from sensationalist conservative politicians to serious and thoughtful academics have raised concerns about the negative consequences of PC. Those in support of PC claim that using more inclusive language representing more diverse voices in college classrooms helps improve the lives of members of marginalized groups. On the other hand, many professors and university health professionals have raised concerns that PC culture is too extreme, and the norms are preventing students from developing critical thinking skills. Despite the fact that the debate has being going on for nearly 30 years, little has been resolved.
Though many have written their opinions of PC, few have theorized about why it exists or how it functions. Furthermore, although empirical research has peripherally examined the effects of some PC-related issues, very little empirical research has explicitly tested the effects of PC. In order to encourage further theorizing and empirical research about this topic, a short history of the PC movement is presented, a background on social norms and ideology helps provide useful insight for understanding PC, and the small amount of empirical research that explicitly examines PC, such as research on language and the pressure to appear PC, is presented to help with ideas for future research.
João R. Caetano and Alexandra F. Martins
Politics is a field of interaction between a multiplicity of actors—both individual and collective—with different interests operating in the so-called public space and trying to influence the outcomes of the state’s (or groups of states’) action, typically public policies. In politics, people do not defend their interests alone but within groups and in relation to other groups, which presupposes a communication strategy and tactics. The diversity of political and social groups has not ceased to grow in recent decades throughout the world, particularly in democratic systems, with implications for the way politics and democracy are depicted by the media, as well as the way the make-up of public policies is analyzed. This important issue gets at the essence of politics and of society, in relation to communication processes, and is subject to new interdisciplinary approaches and developments in social science, particularly in political communication (the study of the connections between politics and citizens and the interactions connecting groups).
Political and social groups are groups composed of two or more people who interact and maintain relations of interdependence in order to obtain power, stay in power, or influence policy makers, in their own interest. Every day, people see the action of political and social groups when they watch television, listen to the radio, access the Internet, or simply talk with other people, in different situations. In fact, an isolated person would not need politics. Only the necessity of regulating relations between people in society explains the creation of politics and the action of political and social groups through the use of communication tools.
Political and social groups can be categorized in different ways, according to their structure, functions, and types of activity. According to a structural perspective, political and social groups can be classified as political institutions, political and social (nonstate or public) organizations, and social movements. One can distinguish between permanent and nonpermanent groups, depending on their expected or usual time of duration, and based on function there are: public and private groups, interest aggregation groups, and interest articulation groups. Lastly, according to their activities, there are institutional and noninstitutional groups, taking into account their role in political decision-making processes.
During the early 21st century, the use of technology has revolutionized the way people conceive of politics. Networks brought with them new social demands and forms of public scrutiny. As a result political and social groups have been experimenting with new ways of doing politics as they break with the past. These new facts require social scientists—facing a new and demanding scientific challenge—to rethink the politics of today in relation to society. Communication is important because it relates to many of these political dynamics.
Janet B. Ruscher
Prejudiced attitudes and stereotypic beliefs about outgroups can be reflected in language and everyday conversations. Explicit attitudes and beliefs may be expressed through use of group labels, dehumanizing metaphors, or prejudiced humor. More implicit attitudes and beliefs may be leaked through variations in sentence structure and subtle word choices. Empirical work shows that such prejudiced attitudes and stereotypic beliefs can spread within ingroup communities through one-on-one conversation as well as more broadly through vehicles such as news, the entertainment industry, and social media. Individuals also convey their prejudiced beliefs when communicating to outgroup members as message recipients. Outgroups who are members of historically disadvantaged groups, in particular, are targets of controlling or patronizing speech, biased feedback, and nonverbal behavior that leaks bias.
Mikaela L. Marlow
Discourse analysis is focused on the implicit meanings found in public discourse, text, and media. In the modern era, public discourse can be assessed in political or social debates, newspapers, magazines, television, film, radio, music, and web-mediated forums (Facebook, Twitter, and other public discussion). Research across a variety of disciplines has documented that dominant social groups tend to employ certain discursive strategies when discussing minority groups. Public discourse is often structured in ways that marginalize minority groups and legitimize beliefs, values, and ideologies of more dominant groups. These discursive strategies include appealing to authority, categorization, comparison, consensus, counterfactual, disclaimers, euphemism, evidence, examples, generalizations, rhetorical questions, metaphors, national glorification, and directive speech acts. Evoking such discourse often enables prevailing dominant groups to reify majority social status, reinforce negative assumptions about minorities, and maintain a positive public social image, despite deprecating and, sometimes, dehumanizing references.
Maggie J. Pitts
A researcher’s methodological approach is guided by his or her orientation toward three major philosophical assumptions: epistemological assumptions (i.e., what the nature of truth or knowledge is and how it can be pursued), ontological assumptions (i.e., what the nature of reality is and how it can be understood), and axiological assumptions (i.e., what the researcher’s position in the world is and responsibilities to it). Qualitative inquiry is largely guided by methodological beliefs that hold truth and reality as socially constructed, that value subjectivity over objectivity, that explore questions of “how” or “why” over questions of “what,” and that value participants’ voices and experiences. Broadly, qualitative inquiry seeks to describe the world as it is experienced and lived in by the participants under study. With respect to intergroup communication, qualitative inquiry takes an in-depth approach to understanding how members of a community or culture enact the behaviors of everyday life relevant to their group.
Qualitative inquiry comprises several methodologies or methodological approaches including ethnography, autoethnography, and ethnography of communication; narrative paradigm and narrative theory; grounded theory; phenomenology; and case studies. Each methodology employs one method or a combination of methods to collect qualitative data. Methods refer to the tools used to collect data for the purposes of informing research and answering research questions. Qualitative methods include tools for the collection of descriptive, largely non-numeric data, including several types of interviews, observations, and interactions, and the collection of meaningful texts, documents, and objects. The collection of qualitative data often requires the researcher to establish a trusting relationship (rapport) with participants and gain an insider’s (emic) perspective of the context for study. In many cases, this is established through prolonged engagement in the field and carefully crafting interview questions that encourage detailed disclosures. Qualitative data are analyzed through a process of dissection, up-close examination, contrast, and comparison between units of data and then putting pieces back together in a synergetic way that represents data holistically. Most qualitative data analysis involves some form of coding: a process of identifying units of data that are relevant to the research questions, assigning them a short label or code, then clustering similar codes into increasingly abstract thematic categories. Researchers establish trustworthiness in qualitative reports through descriptive writing that preserves the voices of the participants, that reflects the social realities of the participants, and that contextualizes results within broader scholarly discourse by tying findings to previous theory or research. Qualitative research reports can take many forms that range from creative forms of writing and representation including poetry and photographs to more conventional forms of writing that fit expectations of social scientific academic journals. When applied to intergroup contexts, qualitative inquiry can make evident the language and communication patterns and social behaviors that distinguish one group from another. Field observations can reveal identity performance and group behavior. Interviews can solicit information from participants about in-group or out-group perceptions and experiences. And the collection and analysis of texts and documents can establish the means through which group identity is preserved and transferred.
Refugees and diasporas are part and parcel of today’s accelerating global diversity and domestic diversity changes that we encounter in social interactions. These terms conjure up images in our mind of individuals who belong to certain social groups in host environments. Basically, their social identities define who they are and how they are treated by others in social interactions. While there is extensive research on refugees and diasporas in three separate but interrelated domains—refugee studies, diaspora studies, and immigrant studies, less scholarly attention has been paid to the conceptual distinctions between refugees and diasporas, among other things. The complexity of refugees and diasporas is explored along with some implications. Most studies are atheoretical in nature, and an intergroup perspective can provide insights into how they engage in identity negotiation and intergroup communication adaptation to host environments. Thus, a theoretical discussion is provided of how refugees and diasporas face the challenges to preserve, maintain, and further their distinctive social identities, and also adapt to the new environment by way of negotiating their social identity complexity using intergroup communication strategies.
Ursula Hess and Agneta Fischer
What is the role of emotional mimicry in intergroup relations? There are different theoretical accounts of the function and underlying processes of emotional mimicry. A review of research on emotional mimicry suggests that, in general, emotional mimicry reinforces existing group boundaries, rather than breaking or dissolving them. Specifically, there is consistent evidence that people tend to mimic similar others more than dissimilar others. Given that ingroup members are by definition more similar to each other than to outgroup members, this implies that the former are more likely to be mimicked than the latter. In turn, mimicry improves social bonds with others, which then facilitates ingroup relations.
The most primitive and implicit pathway for mimicry is via embodiment, and it can only take place when there is an actual interaction between group members. To the degree that such processes are presumed to be automatic, it is likely that they tend to reinforce social exclusion of outgroup members. By contrast, the most explicit pathway to mimicry is via perspective taking, in which one deliberately tries to take the other’s perspective. This process does not require the actual presence of members of other groups, but some form of empathy when judging or expecting to meet other group members. This process is more amenable to top-down influences. The research on mimicry also converges on the notion that when mimicry (or in fact other forms of behavior matching) is present, interactions can be expected to be more affiliative. Thus, with effort, mimicry can also be a tool for improving intergroup relations. As always, however, it requires more effort to cross group boundaries than to stay within them.
Benjamin K. Johnson
Media users exercise control over their information and entertainment environments. Selective exposure to media allows individual to choose channels and messages that satisfy their interests and motivations. A variety of selective exposure studies have assessed selective exposure to messages about ingroup versus outgroup members. Relevant theoretical perspectives include information seeking, confirmation bias, informational utility, self and affect management, reinforcing spirals, boundary expansion, exemplification, and social comparison. Each of these theories of selective exposure identifies an attitudinal or self-conceptual basis for media use yet also allows for the role of social identity or beliefs about intergroup members and interactions. In addition, the distinction between selective exposure and selective avoidance is critical for understanding intergroup media contact, as is the distinction between positive and negative portrayals of relevant social groups. Applicable findings from survey and experimental studies illustrate that age identity, sex and gender identity, and race and ethnicity all produce patterns of selective exposure in which ingroups are generally favored. Information about outgroups is more likely to be selected if it suits the situational or dispositional needs of the individual. Partisan selective exposure is also examined from an intergroup perspective, as is selective exposure to information about aspirational future selves and self-expansion. Depictions of persons that exemplify social groups or allow for social comparison are also discussed, yet little direct evidence exists about exposure to outgroup members in these processes. Finally, interpersonal new media are considered with regard to intergroup contact. Immersive media such as virtual reality provide interactive contact with outgroups, and social identity plays an important role in the distribution of user-generated content, the cultivation of online social networks, and the ongoing convergence between mass and social media. Selective exposure researchers are increasingly considering intergroup contact as an important type of media content relevant to their theories, and intergroup contact researchers are increasingly accounting for the selectivity factor in media processing and effects. Integrating key findings and building a more programmatic approach to this topic will enhance the understanding of individuals’ self-selected exposure to media about (and produced by) outgroups. Indeed, for intergroup media contact to be successful in producing less stereotyping, more positive attitudes, and more intergroup harmony, media users must first choose to come into contact with messages about outgroup members, specifically messages that can convey and produce beneficial effects for intergroup relations.
Caleb T. Carr
Social media are increasingly ubiquitous communicative channels, used to create and maintain groups. Bearing several commonalities with computer-mediated communication more broadly, social media afford users opportunities to present both their social and personal identities, often concurrently, which can respectively activate intergroup and interpersonal communicative processes. Moreover, social media provide groups and their members some unique properties and opportunities for communication, which can both build and blur boundaries among groups. Thus, as individuals increasingly interact via services like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, QQ, and other social media channels, it is important to consider the recursive relationships and effects among intergroup communication and the use of these tools: What about social media may affect the nature of group communication, and what about groups may affect how members use social media channels? Exploring the processes and effects of activated social identities, this chapter explores the potential for social media to both silo and span disparate groups, and for group communication within social media to spill over into other channels, including offline.
Katharine H. Greenaway, Cindy Gallois, and S. Alexander Haslam
Communication and social psychology have much in common. Both fields seek to answer basic questions about human behavior: how do we persuade and influence others? How do we develop and maintain social connections? When and why do relationships break down? But despite overlap in the questions they ask, social psychology and communication have remained remarkably separate disciplines, with vastly different research philosophies, methods, and audiences. It is important to interrogate the theoretical threads connecting communication and social psychology in the arena of intergroup communication, in order to bring the lenses of both fields to this arena. In particular, the construct of identity is woven through communication and social psychology research, and connects both fields to intergroup relations and communication. Paradoxically, issues of identity—how it is created, shaped, and signaled by the social contexts we inhabit—are frequently overlooked in both fields; in the future, there should and will be much more emphasis on the impact of identity in intergroup communication.
Michael Chouinard and Daniel Cronn-Mills
The words speech and debate hold a variety of connotations. For some, they refer to the dissemination or exchange of ideas in a general sense, while others will be more familiar with speech and debate as co-curricular activities, commonly referred to using the umbrella term forensics. Not to be confused with the modern understanding of forensic science, the term forensics stems from the Latin forensis, which relates to assembly in public forums. Forensic programs can be found at a broad range of secondary and post-secondary institutions. Students prepare speeches, performances, or arguments for tournaments where they can win individual and team awards. Despite the individual nature of many speech and debate events, teams play a vital role in forensics. In fact, numerous studies have indicated critical thinking is a necessary component to succeed in our fast-paced society. According to Allen, Berkowitz, Hunt, and Louden, education in communication enhances critical thinking by 44%. Forensics involvement is the activity most identified for advancing critical thinking abilities. Both in and out of competition, team membership is widely understood to be a key component of forensic participation.
In many ways, speech and debate serve as laboratories for the study of small groups. For scholars of group dynamics and intergroup communication, forensics provides a plethora of avenues for exploration, related to such key group concepts as integration, group identity, team culture, conflict management, leadership, administration, and competition. The competitive nature of forensics plays a vital role in shaping the activity, and contributes to a unique opportunity for the study of groups. While some scholars (such as Burnett, Brand, Meister, Wood, and Rowland-Morin) perceive tension between the competitive and educational objectives of the activity, others remain adamant that much education comes through competition, and as such, the two are harmonious rather than dissonant ideals. Both philosophies acknowledge the important role of competition in forensics. For scholars of group communication, the features of competitive speech and debate teams make them unique and insightful subjects for examination.
Andrew C. Billings and Fei Qiao
Sports are often the source of our greatest—and clearest—group affiliations; yet, sports are often the most evident examples of outgroup derogation as well through the magnification of differences with rivals and opposing teams. The formation and fusion of sport-based groups explore the core internal issues of leadership and followership as well as issues such as hazing, fanship, and the psychology of difference. The concepts of Basking in Reflected Glory (BIRGing) and Cutting Off Reflected Failure (CORFing), as embodied within sporting circumstances, can be understood using social identity theory and self-categorization as a lens of examination. Moreover, there are many ways in which sport-based groups inform societal structures that are interpersonal, intergroup, and global in nature, along with the theoretical and applied implications of such structures.
Allison E. Betus, Michael K. Jablonski, and Anthony F. Lemieux
Terrorism employs violence or the threat of violence to diffuse and amplify messages to an audience beyond the immediate target or victim of an attack. Violent acts initiate media coverage, as well as word-of-mouth transmission, functioning as a gateway that draws attention to the terror group and its messages in a manner that increases the salience of the communication; then media provides additional information contextualizing the original act. Media coverage may make the group initiating the communication look more dangerous or powerful than is warranted.
Terrorist communication strategy involves a noteworthy violent act, or threat thereof, that secondarily communicates with multiple audience groups. One audience may be supporters of the terror group who construct identity from the violent act as well as from grievances that the group seeks to advertise. Another may be outgroups sympathetic with the substance of communicated messages. Still another may be foreign countries, which may provide a sense of legitimacy to the actions of the group.
A violent group successfully portrayed as victimized will solidify ingroup cohesion and outgroup hostility while justifying the use of violence as a moral consequence of circumstances. Terrorists often dehumanize the outgroup by stereotyping them in ways they argue will justify violence. People sympathetic with the dehumanization of the outgroup may provide support without actually joining in the perpetration of terror. Some may be radicalized by communication produced by terrorists, such as on social media, to become actors themselves. Counter-terror tactics may disrupt intergroup communication, thus interfering with recruitment or operational capabilities of those supporting or engaging in terrorism.
Uncertainty regarding the self—about who we are, our place in the world, and our future is typically an unsettling and aversive state. It is a state that we are motivated to reduce in order to gain predictability over events in the world around us. One of the most effective ways of managing uncertainty regarding the self is by seeking group memberships and belonging to groups. Thus, uncertainty reduction can be construed as a drive, such that we join and identify with groups in order to manage uncertainty about and related to the self; this is the core tenet of uncertainty-identity theory, which discusses uncertainty reduction as one of the motives for seeking group memberships.
Previous work in uncertainty-identity theory has shown that when uncertain about the self, individuals seek highly entitative groups to identify with. Such groups are characterized by clear, distinct boundaries—a clear sense of what the group stands for while spelling out who we are versus who we are not. Highly entitative groups have interdependent members and a clear sense of identity that is distinct from those of other groups. According to uncertainty-identity theory, identifying with such groups can reduce self-uncertainty, as individuals can define the self in terms of a clear, distinct prototype and manage uncertainty regarding who they are. Research in uncertainty-identity theory shows that when uncertain, group members perceptually polarize their group away from the outgroup in order to enhance the perceived entitativity and distinctiveness of their group prototype relative to other groups. Thus, the group moves to an extreme and polarized position that is far removed from that of an outgroup with the need to fashion a distinctive identity. The preference for a clearly defined and highly entitative social identity that helps delineate who we are versus who we are not when group members are self-uncertain should increase group members’ vulnerability to ingroup rhetoric that emphasizes the distinctiveness of group boundaries and an us versus them thinking. This is a dangerous trend, especially in the context of intergroup conflict, as influential group members, such as leaders, might seek to mobilize group members by demonizing outgroup members while attributing suffering and unpredictability experienced by ingroup members to the actions of outgroup members. Thus, gaining an understanding of the processes through which the uncertainty of group members is exploited to mobilize support for extreme ideologies might be one way to explain extremism and radical behavior by groups.
Michael A. Hogg and Sucharita Belavadi
The subjective state of uncertainty can be understood as deriving from reduced predictability of and control over events and the world around us. There are different ways to conceptualize the nature of uncertainty, its antecedents and predictors, and the strategies that individuals use to manage & reduce uncertainty within communication science and social psychology.
Prominent theories of uncertainty within communication—uncertainty reduction theory, anxiety/uncertainty management theory, and approaches to uncertainty management—focus on states of uncertainty and lowered predictability within the context of interactive communication with others. In these theories, communication with others plays a central role in the production, maintenance, and management of uncertainty. These three communication-based approaches also differ in the ways in which they conceptualize uncertainty and its management in communicative contexts. Uncertainty reduction theory treats uncertainty as an aversive state that individuals always aim to reduce. In contrast, although anxiety/uncertainty management theory and approaches to uncertainty management discuss uncertainty as an aversive state, they also provide for conditions under which uncertainty might be a desired state.
Within social psychology, the construct of uncertainty has received different treatments. Some approaches have conceptualized the extent of uncertainty experienced and tolerated by individuals as an enduring individual difference or a personality attribute. Social psychologists have also conceptualized uncertainty as an aspect of a person’s identity and self-concept. For instance, uncertainty-identity theory explains uncertainty as a context-invoked aversive state associated with lowered perceived predictability of self and others—uncertainty about who one is, how one should behave, and how one will be treated by others. The theory argues that individuals are motivated to reduce such uncertainty by seeking group memberships, as groups provide a framework for self-definition that helps manage self-conceptual uncertainty.