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.
Michael A. Hogg and Sucharita Belavadi
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.