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Article

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.

Article

The effects of uncertainty and anxiety are profiled in association with intercultural communication and the initiation and development of intercultural relationships. Uncertainty is cognitive and refers to what one knows about another and one’s level of predictability about another. Anxiety is the affective equivalent of uncertainty and refers to the level of discomfort associated with interacting with a stranger. Two major theories are associated with this process, including uncertainty reduction theory and anxiety/uncertainty management theory. Other communicative factors also affect uncertainty and anxiety reduction and management during intercultural communication.

Article

The turn of the 21st century has seen an explosion of frameworks that account for individuals’ decisions to seek or avoid information related to health risks. The four dominant frameworks are Risk Perception Attitude Framework, the Risk Information Seeking and Process model, the Planned Risk Information Seeking Model, and the Theory of Motivated Information Management. A comparison of the constructs within each and an examination of the related empirical tests reveal important insights into (a) factors that have consistently been shown to shape these decisions across these approaches and (b) constructs in need of additional theorizing and empirical testing. Specifically, the analysis suggests that uncertainty, efficacy, affect, risk perceptions, and subjective norms all play crucial roles in accounting for decisions to seek or avoid risk-related information. However, inconsistencies in the direction of influence for uncertainty or information discrepancy, risk perceptions, and negative affect argue for the need for considerably more theoretical clarity and empirical rigor in investigations of the ways in which these experiences shape decision making in these contexts.

Article

Sucharita Belavadi

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.

Article

Karyn Ogata Jones and Lee Crandall

Intergroup communication adds to the general knowledge about disability by summarizing key areas in research and commentary. Intergroup communication is discussed in terms of how stigma affects identification, perception, and communication. Scholarship examining efforts to measure attitudes these groups have about each other, and the effects of inter-group communication on attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors, is reviewed. Scholarly commentary plays a role in the complicated relationship between identity and disability, and how this relationship impacts intergroup interactions, as well as present a summary of studies examining intergroup communication and disability in interpersonal, group, mediated, and professional settings. Illustrations from social media are provided to show how mediated inter-group communication can impact perceptions and knowledge. Studies are presented from an international perspective, allowing for culturally based comparisons.

Article

Intergroup anxiety is a form of restlessness and negative feeling caused by communicating with someone with a different social and cultural identity. Just like any other form of anxiety, intergroup anxiety has negative consequences, such as disability in social interactions, weak cognitive performance, and even life consequences. Intergroup anxiety is the result of fear of being disapproved, embarrassed, and rejected across different racial, ethnic, religious, and social groups’ interactions. Theoretically, intergroup anxiety is influenced by the previous experiences one has had with the members of other groups, one’s knowledge of other groups, and the situation in which one interacts with other groups. Intergroup anxiety has behavioral, cognitive, and affective consequences. There are different theories of communication that explain the nature and function of intergroup anxiety. Uncertainty reduction theory, for example, defines anxiety as a result of uncertainty and asserts that to maintain communication, parties should decrease their uncertainty and consequently their anxiety. Anxiety/uncertainty management theory focuses on anxiety and argues that to have effective communication the level of intergroup anxiety should be managed between a minimum and a maximum threshold. A decrease in anxiety and uncertainty is also essential to intercultural adaptation. Different factors can increase the amount of anxiety in intergroup contexts, namely ethnocentrism, prejudice, and discrimination. These factors are related to individuals’ feeling of threat due to one or some of the following: intergroup conflict, unequal group status, in-group identification, knowledge of out-group, and intergroup contact. To settle intergroup conflicts individuals are advised to establish more high-quality intergroup contacts and to change the way they make distinctions among various groups. Quality intergroup contact can be reached through strategies such as establishing cross-cultural friendships and intergroup disclosure. One form of intergroup anxiety is intercultural communication apprehension, which is the apprehension individuals feel due to real or imagined intercultural communication. Intercultural communication apprehension is positively correlated with uncertainty and ethnocentrism, and negatively correlated with intercultural willingness to communicate.

Article

Roxanne L. Parrott, Amber K. Worthington, Rachel A. Smith, and Amy E. Chadwick

The public, including lay members who have no personal or familial experience with genetic testing or diagnosis, as well as individuals who have had such experiences, face many intrinsic decisions relating to understanding genetics. With the sequencing of the human genome and genetic science discoveries relating genes to cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, the scope of such decisions broadened from prenatal genetic testing related to reproductive choices to genetic testing for contributors to common causes of morbidity and mortality. The decision about whether to seek genetic testing encompasses concerns about stigma and discrimination. These issues lead some who can afford the cost to seek screening through online direct-to-consumer sites rather than in clinical settings. Many who may benefit from genetic testing lack awareness of family health history that could guide physicians to recommend these diagnostic tests. Families may not discuss health history due to genetic illiteracy, with the public’s genetic illiteracy increasing their illness uncertainty and decreasing the likelihood that physicians will engage in conversations about personalized medicine with their patients. Physicians may nonetheless order genetic tests based on patients’ symptoms, during preoperative workups, or as part of opportunistic screening and assessment associated with a specific genetic workup. Family members who receive positive genetic test results may not disclose them to life partners, other family members, or insurance companies based on worries and anxiety related to their own identity, as well as a lack of understanding about their family members’ risk probability. For many, misguided beliefs that genes absolutely determine health and disease status arise from media translations of genetic science. These essentialist beliefs negatively relate to personal actions to limit genetic expression, including failure to seek medical care, while contributing to stereotypes and stigma communication. As medical science continues to reveal roles for genes in health across a broad spectrum, communicating about the relationships that genes have for health will be increasingly complex. Policy associated with registering, monitoring, and controlling the activities of those with genetic mutations may be coercive and target individuals unable to access health care or technology. Communicating about genes, health, and risk will thus challenge health communicators throughout the 21st century.

Article

Kathryn E. Anthony, Timothy L. Sellnow, Steven J. Venette, and Sean P. Fourney

Much current scholarship in the realm of information processing and decision making, particularly in the context of health risks, is derived from the logical-empiricist paradigm, involving a strong focus on cognition, routes of psychological processing of messages, and message heuristics. The message convergence framework (MCF), derived heavily from the writings of Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca, contributes to this body of literature by emphasizing the fact that people make decisions on health risks while being exposed to arguments from multiple sources on the same topic. The MCF offers an explanation for how people reconcile myriad messages to arrive at decisions. MCF differs from other theories of message processing because of its distinct and unique focus on arguments, messages, and the ways various arguments interact to create “convergence” in individuals’ minds. The MCF focuses on the ways that multiple messages converge to create meaning and influence in the minds of listeners. Convergence occurs when messages from multiple sources overlap in ways recognized by observers, creating perceptions of credibility and influencing their risk decisions. Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca explain that convergence occurs when “several distinct arguments lead to a single conclusion.” Individuals assess the strengths and weaknesses of the claims, and according to the scholars, the “strength” of the arguments “is almost always recognized.” Three key propositions focusing on message convergence articulate that audiences recognize message convergence, that they actively seek convergence in matters of concern, such as health risk, and that this convergence is potentially fleeting as new messages are introduced to the discussion. Conversely, Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca also discuss message divergence, and the rationale for wanting to intentionally create divergence among interacting arguments. Divergence is particularly appropriate in the realm of health and risk messages when scholars must challenge potentially harmful beliefs or correct misinformation. Some strategies for invoking divergence in include: dissociation, in which the speaker attempts to reframe the argument to create novel understandings; identification of the stock, hackneyed, and obsolete, where the speaker attempts to make existing claims appear commonplace or obsolete to the listener; refutation of fallacies, where the speaker points out the fallacious reasoning of the opponent; clash of interpretation, where the speaker publicly articulates that individuals have understood the convergence to mean different things; weakening through reaction, which involves the speaker’s attempting to incite a reactionary approach by the opponent; and finally, highlighting the consequence of invalid convergence, where the speaker describes the negative outcomes that may occur from following a false convergence based on incorrect information. For message design, environmental scanning enables scholars and practitioners to assess the messages in a particular health-risk context. This assessment can assist practitioners in emphasizing or building convergence among reputable sources and in introducing divergence in cases where misunderstanding or a lack of evidence has contributed to an unproductive perception of convergence. Ultimately, the MCF can assist practitioners in scanning their health-risk environments for opportunities to establish or bolster convergence based on credible evidence and for introducing divergence to challenge inaccurate or misleading interpretations and evidence.

Article

Erik Löfmarck

How do individuals relate to risk in everyday life? Poorly, judging by the very influential works within psychology that focus upon the heuristics and biases inherent to lay responses to risk and uncertainty. The point of departure for such research is that risks are calculable, and, as lay responses often under- or overestimate statistical probabilities, they are more or less irrational. This approach has been criticized for failing to appreciate that risks are managed in relation to a multitude of other values and needs, which are often difficult to calculate instrumentally. Thus, real-life risk management is far too complex to allow simple categorizations of rational or irrational. A developing strand of research within sociology and other disciplines concerned with sociocultural aspects transcends the rational/irrational dichotomy when theorizing risk management in everyday life. The realization that factors such as emotion, trust, scientific knowledge, and intuition are functional and inseparable parts of lay risk management have been differently conceptualized: as, for example, bricolage, in-between strategies, and emotion-risk assemblage. The common task of this strand is trying to account for the complexity and social embeddedness of lay risk management, often by probing deep into the life-world using qualitative methods. Lay risk management is structured by the need to “get on” with life, while at the same time being surrounded by sometimes challenging risk messages. This perspective on risk and everyday life thus holds potentially important lessons for risk communicators. For risk communication to be effective, it needs to understand the complexity of lay risk management and the interpretative resources that are available to people in their lifeworld. It needs to connect to and be made compatible with those resources, and it needs to leave room for agency so that people can get on with their lives while at the same time incorporating the risk message. It also becomes important to understand and acknowledge the meaning people attribute to various practices and how this is related to self-identity. When this is not the case, risk messages will likely be ignored or substantially modified. In essence, communicating risk requires groundwork to figure out how and why people relate to the risks in question in their specific context.

Article

The concept of ambiguity tolerance (TA), variously called Uncertainty Avoidance, Ambiguity Avoidance, or Intolerance, can be traced back nearly 70 years. It has been investigated by many different types of researchers from clinical and differential, to neuro- and work psychologists. Each sub-discipline has tended to focus on how their variable relates to beliefs and behaviors in their area of expertise, from religious beliefs to reactions to novel products and situations. The basic concept is that people may be understood on a dimension that refers to their discomfort with, and hence attempts to avoid, ambiguity or uncertainty in many aspects of their lives. There have been many attempts to devise robust and valid measures of this dimension, most of which are highly inter-correlated and require self-reporting. There remains a debate as to whether it is useful having just one or more dimensions/facets of the concept. Using these tests, there have been many correlational studies that have sought to validate the measure by looking at how those high and low on this dimension react to different situations. There have also been some, but many fewer, experimental studies, which have tested very specific hypotheses about how TA is related to information processing and reactions to specific stimuli. There is now a welcomed interest by neuroscientists to explore the concept from their perspective and using their methodologies. These studies have been piecemeal, though most have supported the tested hypotheses. There has been less theoretical development, however, of the concept attempting to explain how these beliefs arise, what sustains them, and how, why, and when they may change. However, the concept has continued to interest researchers from many backgrounds, which attests to its applicability, fecundity, and novelty.

Article

Expressions of scientific uncertainty are normal features of scientific articles and professional presentations. Journal articles typically include research questions at the beginning, probabilistic accounts of findings in the middle, and new research questions at the end. These uncertainty claims are used to construct clear boundaries between uncertain and certain scientific knowledge. Interesting questions emerge, however, when scientific uncertainty is communicated in occasions for public science (e.g., newspaper accounts of science, scientific expertise in political deliberations, science in stakeholder claims directed to the public, and so forth). Scientific uncertainty is especially important in the communication of environmental and health risks where public action is expected despite uncertain knowledge. Public science contexts are made more complex by the presence of multiple actors such as citizen-scientists, journalists, stakeholders, social movement actors, politicians, and so on who perform important functions in the communication and interpretation of scientific information and bring in diverse norms and values. A past assumption among researchers was that scientists would deemphasize or ignore uncertainties in these situations to better match their claims with a public perception of science as an objective, truth-building institution. However, more recent research indicates variability in the likelihood that scientists communicate uncertainties and in the public reception and use of uncertainty claims. Many scientists still believe that scientific uncertainty will be misunderstood by the public and misused by interest groups involved with an issue, while others recognize a need to clearly translate what is known and not known. Much social science analysis of scientific uncertainty in public science views it as a socially constructed phenomenon, where it depends less upon a particular state of scientific research (what scientists are certain and uncertain of) and more upon contextual factors, the actors involved, and the meanings attached to scientific claims. Scientific uncertainty is often emergent in public science, both in the sense that the boundary between what is certain and uncertain can be managed and manipulated by powerful actors and in the sense that as scientific knowledge confronts diverse public norms, values, local knowledges, and interests new areas of uncertainty emerge. Scientific uncertainty may emerge as a consequence of social conflict rather than being its cause. In public science scientific uncertainty can be interpreted as a normal state of affairs and, in the long run, may not be that detrimental to solving societal problems if it opens up new avenues and pathways for thinking about solutions. Of course, the presence of scientific uncertainty can also be used to legitimate inaction.

Article

Lauren Keblusek and Howard Giles

Forms of dress, ranging from runway fashions and sports jerseys to traditional cultural apparel and religious garb, are central to contemporary social life and are intimately connected to issues of personal and social identity, communicating to others who we are or who we would like to be. Given this, dress style is a subject worthy of serious scholarly inquiry, particularly within the field of intergroup communication. Dress style—as well as other bodily accoutrements—has received some attention in disciplines across the social sciences, but has received less attention among those studying intergroup relations and communication. Prominent intergroup communication theories, such as social identity, uncertainty identity, and communication accommodation theories, teach us that clothing choices can reflect actual or desired group affiliations, demarcating group boundaries, shaping and reinforcing social identities, and influencing our perceptions of others. Dress style can also stem from a desire to reduce identity uncertainty, serving as a conduit for personal expression and self-discovery. Overall, intergroup dynamics play a prominent role in shaping dress style and body adornment practices across the globe.

Article

Brenda L. Berkelaar and Millie A. Harrison

Broadly speaking, cybervetting can be described as the acquisition and use of online information to evaluate the suitability of an individual or organization for a particular role. When cybervetting, an information seeker gathers information about an information target from online sources in order to evaluate past behavior, to predict future behavior, or to address some combination thereof. Information targets may be individuals, groups, or organizations. Although often considered in terms of new hires or personnel selection, cybervetting may also include acquiring and using online information in order to evaluate a prospective or current client, employee, employer, romantic partner, roommate, tenant, client, or other relational partner, as well as criminal, civil, or intelligence suspects. Cybervetting takes advantage of information made increasingly available and easily accessible by regular and popular uses and affordances of Internet technologies, in particular social media. Communication scholars have long been interested in the information seeking, impression management, surveillance, and other processes implicated in cybervetting; however, the uses and affordances of new online information technologies offer new dimensions for theory and research as well as ethical and practical concerns for individuals, groups, organizations, and society.

Article

Lars Guenther

Science journalism is a specialized form of journalism predominantly covering issues such as science, medicine, and technology; it only professionalized in the second half of the 20th century. For many people, print, audiovisual and online media are the main source they use to get to know something about these fields; hence, science journalism has an important role for the society. However, when looking at science journalism and the research in that area more closely, then a variety of different approaches paint a rather dark picture. Firstly, there is a lot of research criticizing science journalism and science journalists. What these studies focus on is science journalists’ work and role for the society, their routines and practices, their reporting on specific scientific issues, as well as the relationship between journalists and scientists. Secondly, in some countries, science journalism seems to be in a crisis due to increasing digitization and changing media landscapes. Science journalism is declining in these countries and many journalists have lost their jobs. However, assessing the quality and appropriateness of science journalism should be based on journalistic and not on scientific criteria, and these criteria should be used when trying to describe what science journalism is and what not, how science journalism operates and how not, and how best to describe the role science journalism has for the society. In addition, although increasing digitization may change routines and practices of science journalists, these specialized journalists may be able to adapt to new media landscapes and still maintain their important role for the society as the most disinterested source that informs about science, medicine, and technology.