Constructivism makes three assumptions regarding communication:

  1. all communication is intentional
  2. communication is goal-driven
  3. negotiation comes into play with shared interpretation (meaning)

Constructivism focuses on individuals rather than interactions. It tries to account for why people make the certain communicative choices. Constructs are the basis of constructivism. They are dimensions of judgment and can be thought of as filters, files, templates, or interpretive schemas. They are domain specific, almost exclusively focusing on interpersonal message variations. Constructs are assumed to change over time, following Werner's Orthogenetic Principle (impressions start globally, undifferentiated, and unorganized then get more complex, abstract, differentiated, and organized as people develop).

Constructivist research uses the Role Category Question to find constructs embedded in free response writing, often about a person the writer likes and a person the writer dislikes. The more constructs a person uses the more cognitively differentiated they are. Cognitive differentiation is a subset of cognitive complexity, which measures the organization, quantity, and level of abstractness of the constructs a person holds about another person. Cognitive differentiation measures only the quantity of constructs but still predicts the degree to which a communicator is person centered and other oriented. Constructivism claims that the more cognitively differentiated a person is the more likely they are to be a competent communicator (one who intentionally uses knowledge of shared interpretations to express meaning is such a way as to control another person's interpretations of some event, object, person, etc.).

Constructivist research shows moderately strong correlations between the organizational level of a person and cognitive differentiation, persuasive ability, and perspective taking. Smaller correlations have been found between organizational level and self monitoring.


For detailed information read:

Delia, J., O'Keefe, B. J., & O'Keefe, D. J. (1982). The Constructivist Approach to communication. In F. E. X. Dance (Ed.), Human Communication Theory: Comparative Essays, 147-191. New York: Harper and Row. 

Burleson, B. R. (1989). The Constructivist Approach to person-centerer communication: Analysis of a research exemplar. In B. Dervin, L. Grossberg, B. J. O'Keefe, and E. Wartella (Eds.), Rethinking communication: Paradigm exemplars, 33-72. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

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