Affectionate communication constitutes verbal behaviors (e.g., saying “I love you”), nonverbal gestures (e.g., hugging, handholding), and socially supportive behaviors (e.g., helping with a project) that humans employ to develop and maintain close relationships with others. In addition to its relational benefits, affectionate communication contributes to health and wellness for both senders and receivers. Affection exchange theory (AET) addresses the questions of why humans engage in affectionate communication and why diverse benefits are associated with such behaviors. A robust empirical literature supports AET’s contention that both expressing and receiving affectionate behavior are associated with physical and mental health benefits. Despite these contributions, however, some compelling questions about affectionate communication remain to be addressed, and AET can provide a useful framework for doing so.
Kory Floyd and Benjamin E. Custer
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.
Conflict and prejudice are universal phenomena and represent a major concern in most societies, especially on the African continent. Worldwide, just a few cases, such as the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Northern Ireland, Sudan, Eritrea, Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, and Nigeria, have revealed how destructive prejudice and conflict can be to societies. Eastern Africa is a region that has been tremendously affected by conflict. Unfortunately, nations like Sudan and Somalia have been torn apart by many years of conflict. This has inevitably led to other societal challenges or difficulties, such as displacements, poverty, and famine. The question of why people get into conflict has been examined and debated internationally, especially in the field of social psychology. However, conflict in Eastern African cannot be explained merely by psychology. In order to have a holistic understanding of conflict, especially in Africa, it is important not only to look at social psychological factors, such as prejudice, but also to consider important political, economic, and social factors that may be related to the particular conflict, because the African context is extremely complex and the causes of conflict can sometimes be intertwined.
Nathan A. Crick
When John Dewey announced that communication was the most wonderful of all affairs, he recognized the centrality of communication within the tradition of American pragmatism. In other traditions of philosophy, such as idealism or empiricism, communication certainly played a role, but usually it was a secondary function of transmitting ideas from one mind to another. In idealism, ideas were discovered through intuitive revelation of the whole and only later expressed through transcendent eloquence, whereas in empiricism, particular data was attained purely by the senses and communication served a kind of documentary function of fact gathering. Pragmatism, however, inverted this traditional hierarchy. By arguing that the meaning of our ideas was only found in their effects and consequences in experience, particularly those consequences brought about through shared experience, pragmatists made communication both the origin and consummation of knowledge—regardless if that knowledge was practical, scientific, aesthetic, or social. Consequently, pragmatists believed that improving the quality of communication practices was central to improving not only the state of knowledge but the quality of our experience living together in a common world.
Thomas E. Ford, Christopher J. Breeden, Emma C. O'Connor, and Noely C. Banos
Humor fundamentally trivializes its topic and invites people to think about it playfully and non-seriously. Intergroup humor, humor that disparages a social group or its representatives thus disguises expressions of prejudice in a cloak of fun and frivolity, affording it the appearance of social acceptability. As a result, disparagement humor represents a pervasive mechanism for communicating prejudice particularly since society has become increasingly sensitive to expressions of prejudice and other forms of offensive speech. Indeed, disparagement humor is perhaps more readily available to us now in the digital age than ever before. Because of its disguise of social acceptability, disparagement humor serves unique paradoxical functions in intergroup settings. It can function as a social “lubricant” and as a social “abrasive.” Disparagement humor directed at social out-groups functions as a social abrasive by threatening the social identity of members of the targeted group, by transmitting negative stereotypes and prejudice, by intensifying prejudice in the service of social dominance motives, and by fostering the release of prejudice against targeted out-groups. It simultaneously serves as a social lubricant for members of the in-group (the non-disparaged group) by enhancing personal and social identities. Finally, it can be co-opted by members of oppressed groups to serve social lubricant functions, including the subversion of prejudice, provided audiences understand and appreciate the subversive intent.
Martha Augoustinos and Simon Goodman
The recent emergence of discursive psychological approaches has challenged the dominance of cognitive and structural models of language that theorize it as an abstract and coherent system of meanings. Epistemologically informed by social constructionism, discursive psychological approaches examine how language is actually used in everyday formal and informal talk or discourse. Discourse (both written text and talk) is treated as a social practice that is both central to understanding and constructing social reality and oriented to the practical concerns of everyday life. Discursive psychological approaches to intergroup communication have produced a large body of research examining everyday informal talk and institutional discourse on intergroup relations in liberal democratic societies. This work has focused primarily on the text and talk of majority group members and powerful elites about matters pertaining to race, immigration, ethnicity, and gender. How speakers attend to and account for group differences in discourse is perceived to be intimately related to the reproduction and legitimation of social inequalities in liberal democratic societies. This body of research has identified common and pervasive patterns of talk by majority group members that are seen as contributing to the continued marginalization and social exclusion of minorities. These discursive patterns include: positive self and negative other presentation, denials of prejudice, discursive deracialization, and using liberal arguments to justify and legitimate inequality.
Intergroup communication concerns the verbal and nonverbal interaction between individuals from different groups. Since about the 1980s, the social identity perspective (including social identity, self-categorization, ethnolinguistic vitality, and communication accommodation theories) has provided much impetus to research on intergroup communication. One way to advance intergroup communication research, then, is to expand the social identity perspective. Evolutionary psychology, a research program firmly rooted in natural selection theory and its modern synthesis, can help achieve this goal. For example, a functional analysis of language acquisition suggests—and research confirms—that language (similar to sex and age but not race) is a dedicated dimension of social categorization. This is first of all because language is localized, with signal regularities (e.g., grammar, syntax) being meaningful only to in-group members. Second, there is a critical window of language acquisition that typically closes at late adolescence, and one can almost never reach native-level proficiency if the person tries to learn a language beyond that window. Thus, two people are very likely to have grown up in the same place if they speak the same language with similar high levels of proficiency. Conversely, the lack of proficiency in speaking a language suggests that one does not have the same childhood experience as others and is thus an out-group member. Because ancestral humans had recurrent exposure to people speaking different languages (or variants of the same language) even given their limited travel ability, language-based categorization appears to be an evolved part of human nature. Evolutionary theories can also help renovate research on ethnolinguistic vitality and (non)accommodation. For example, an analysis of host-parasite coevolution suggests that maintaining and using one’s own language can help reduce the risk of contracting foreign diseases in places with high parasite stress. This is because out-group members are more likely than in-group members to carry diseases that one’s physiological immune system cannot tackle. Intergroup differentiation is thus needed more in places with higher parasite stress, and language (as noted) reliably marks group membership. It thus benefits people living in parasite-laden environments to stick to their own language, which helps them remain close to in-group members and away from out-group members. Research also shows that increases in perceived parasitic threats cause people higher in pathogen disgust sensitivity to perceive speakers with foreign accents as being more dissimilar to self. This enhanced perceived dissimilarity may cause non-accommodation or divergence in intergroup communication, resulting in negative language attitudes and even intergroup conflicts. These and many other areas of research uniquely identified by evolutionary approaches to intergroup communication research await further empirical tests.