The Toronto School of Communication Theory: Interpretations, Extensions, Applications

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After graduation, Berger worked at Illinois State University at Normal, Northwestern University, and the University of California at Davis, where he continues to work today as the chair of the Department of Communication. Berger has published on a variety of topics in interpersonal communication including: uncertainty reduction, strategic interaction, information-seeking, attribution, interpersonal attraction, social cognition, and apprehension. Berger has coauthored five books and contributed to over thirty other texts. Richard J. Calabrese received his B. Calabrese became a professor in communication at Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois, in , where he continues to work today.

In , Berger became an assistant professor of communication at Northwestern University. During this time, Calabrese studied under Berger, receiving his Ph. This article inspired a wave of new research examining the role of uncertainty in communication.

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Berger and Calabrese formed URT, also known as initial interaction theory, to explain the role of communication in reducing uncertainty in initial interactions and the development of interpersonal relationships. The theory was developed, like other interpersonal theories before it Heider, , with the goal of allowing the communicator the ability to predict and explain initial interactions. Though Berger and Calabrese did not explore the realm of subsequent interaction, they did strongly recommend that future research should investigate the application of the framework of URT to developed relationships.

But individuals can use communication to reduce this uncertainty. Individuals have the ability to decrease uncertainty by establishing predictable patterns of interaction. Because of this, reducing uncertainty can help foster the development of relationships. Berger and Calabrese found that uncertainty was related to seven other communication and relational-focused concepts: verbal output, nonverbal warmth, information seeking, self-disclosure, reciprocity, similarity, and liking.

Toronto School of communication theory

From those concepts, the researchers introduced a collection of axioms, or propositions, supported by past uncertainty research. Each axiom states a relationship between a communication concept and uncertainty. The procedure used to develop the axioms and theorems was adopted from Blalock Individuals must be able to engage in proactive and retroactive strategies to learn how to predict what will happen and also explain what has already happened.

The impact of Berger and Calabrese on the field of interpersonal communication was and continues to be prolific. In the past thirty years, this article has generated a plethora of research, changing the way that relationships are explored and analyzed. Although URT was primarily formed to explain behavior in initial interactions, its application has since been expanded to incorporate all levels of interpersonal relationships. The following section will examine uncertainty reduction research since its introduction in Since its conception, Berger has produced a plethora of research expanding URT to better fit the dynamic nature of interpersonal relations.

Berger established that three predeceasing conditions must exist for an individual to reduce uncertainty. These motivations to reduce uncertainty include: a potential for costs or rewards, deviations from expected behavior, and the possibility of future interaction. In , Berger teamed up with James J.

Bradac, formerly of University of California at Santa Barbara — , to publish a book devoted to uncertainty reduction research. In this text, the authors focused on the function of communication, and specifically language, as a proponent for reducing uncertainty. Through the use of these axioms the authors specifically examined the role of language as an uncertainty reducing agent.

Cognitive uncertainty refers to uncertainty associated with beliefs and attitudes. Behavioural uncertainty refers to uncertainty regarding the possible behaviors in a situation.


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This categorization helped researchers identify the origins of uncertainty, which resulted in an increased ability to address the discomfort produced by uncertainty. Berger and Bradac were cognitive that URT would be more useful if its influence was extended to include developed relationships as well as initial interaction. Berger and Bradac alleviated this by stating that uncertainty reduction was critical to relational development, maintenance, and dissolution as well. Berger again related his research to Heider by stating that individuals make casual attributions regarding communicative behavior.

Berger also expanded URT by claiming that three types of information-seeking strategies are used to reduce uncertainty: passive, active, or interactive strategies. The latter improvements made by Berger expanded the scope and value of URT.

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Other researchers also made contributions to further developments of URT. Since its introduction in , URT has been expanded from a theory of relational development to one also important in established relationships. The following sections examine the contributions made by current interpersonal researchers to URT.

These criticisms help to clarify the underlying principles of the theory and suggest ways for improvement for future research. Michael Sunnafrank argued that a motivation to reduce uncertainty is not a primary concern in initial interactions. Sunnafrank argued that the predicted outcome value POV of the interaction had a greater effect on uncertainty. Their primary concern was axiom three, which related high uncertainty to high information seeking see appendix A.

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These researchers emphasized that high uncertainty does not create enough motivation to result in information-seeking; rather a want for information must also exist. Canary and Dainton explored uncertainty reduction in terms of relational maintenance across cultural contexts and found that the applicability of URT may not hold to multiple cultures. This leads to a general questioning of validity of URT other cultures.

Research has found that communication plays a critical role in initial interactions and relational development. Berger and Calabrese were the first to investigate the role of communication in initial interactions with the development of a theory of uncertainty reduction. Its widespread influence led to its adoption in other relational and communicative contexts such as small group, mass communication, and computer-mediated communication. URT has withstood the test of time, proving itself as a heuristic theory with utility that increases with subsequent research.

Ash, M. Heider, Fritz. American National Biography Online. Berger, C. Beyond initial interaction: Uncertainty, understanding, and the development of interpersonal relationships. Clair eds.


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Oxford: Blackwell. Uncertain outcome values in predicted relationships: Uncertainty reduction theory then and now. Human Communication Research , 13, Communicating under uncertainty.

Miller Eds. Newbury Park, C. Interpersonal communication: Theoretical perspectives, future prospects. Journal of Communication , 55, Language and social knowledge. London: Edward Arnold Publishers Ltd. Some explorations in initial interaction and beyond: Toward a developmental theory of interpersonal communication. Human Communication Research , 1, Blalock, H.

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Theory construction: From verbal to mathematical formulations. Englewood Cliffs, N. Canary, D. Maintaining relationships through communication. Mahwah, N.

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Contemporary Authors Online. The Gale Group, Retrieved October 5, Claude Elwood Shannon. Retrieved October 15, Dainton, M. A relational uncertainty analysis of jealousy, trust, and maintenance in long-distance versus geographically close relationships. Communication Quarterly , 49, Douglas, William. Question-asking in same- and opposite-sex initial interactions: The effects of anticipated future interaction.

Human Communication Research , 14, Douglas, W. Uncertainty, information-seeking, and liking during initial interaction.


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Western Journal of Speech Communication , 54, Expectations about initial interaction: An examination of the effects of global uncertainty. Human Communication Research , 17, Festinger, L. Retrospections on Social Psychology. New York: Oxford University Press. Gudykunst, William B. Individual and cultural influences on uncertainty reduction. Communication Monographs , 51 Heider, F.

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The Psychology of Interpersonal Relations. Heath, R. Human communication theory and research. Hillsdale, N. Kellerman, K.

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