Uncertainty Reduction Theory


The Uncertainty Reduction Theory asserts that people have a need to reduce uncertainty about others by gaining information about them. Information gained can then be used to predict the others' behavior. Reducing uncertainty is particularly important in relationship development, so it is typical to find more uncertainty reduction behavior among people when they expect or want to develop a relationship than among people who expect or know they will not develop a relationship. Consider how you try to reduce uncertainty about someone you have just met and want to spend more time with. Now consider how you try to reduce uncertainty about people you meet on an elevator.

There are three basic ways people seek information about another person:

  1.  Passive strategies -- we observe the person, either in situations where the other person is likely to be self-monitoring* (a reactivity search) as in a classroom, or where the other person is likely to act more naturally (a disinhibition search) as in the stands at a football game.
  2. Active strategies -- we ask others about the person we're interested in or try to set up a situation where we can observe that person (e.g., taking the same class, sitting a table away at dinner). Once the situation is set up we sometime observe (a passive strategy) or talk with the person (an interactive strategy).
  3. Interactive strategies -- we communicate directly with the person.

 * Self-monitoring is a behavior where we watch and strategically manipulate how we present ourselves to others.

For detailed information read:

Berger, C. R., & Bradac, J. J. (1982). Language and social knowledge: Uncertainty in interpersonal relations. London: Arnold.

Berger, C. R., & Calabrese, R. J. (1975). Some explorations in initial interaction and beyond: Toward a developmental theory of interpersonal communication. Human Communication Theory, 1, 99-112.

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