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
Chris R. Sawyer
Communication scholarship has profited greatly by the rise of social science during the mid-20th century. This scientific progress has been marked by increased outlets for peer-reviewed research, thriving sub-disciplines, and a rapidly accumulating corpus of findings. Social scientists have accomplished this feat largely by conducting tests of empirical models and their associated constructs. Over the same span of time, the discipline’s most prolific researcher, James C. McCroskey, pioneered the study of the construct with which he is most closely associated. Communication apprehension (CA) has impelled generations of scholars to investigate possibly the greatest impediment to successful communication, namely the fear of interacting with fellow humans. Tracing its development reveals that CA meets the standards for theory bridges: truth, abstraction, progress, and applicability. Consequently, describing CA as a bridge construct rests on four interrelated claims. First, the primary aim of CA research is to discover the truth about social anxiety. Studies of CA have outstripped competitor explanations for speaker anxiety by yielding an extensive literature of peer-reviewed articles, books, and doctoral dissertations. These writings are predicated on the presumption that CA taps into the true nature of social anxiety. Second, self-reported measures of CA, such as the PRCA-24, allow for enough abstraction to support scientific generalization. This makes it possible for CA researchers to connect concrete observations to abstract principles. Third, CA research contributes to scientific progress in communication. Explanations for CA have generally reflected theories and perspectives at the horizon of the field. Last, CA research impacts on the quality of everyday life. Ultimately, CA researchers seek to develop treatment and educational strategies for the one-fifth of the general population afflicted with this condition. Taken together, CA has served as a bridge construct that enables scholars to pursue truth, formulate testable generalizations, achieve scientific progress, and potentially improve the quality of human life.