Posted by: dridgeway | October 21, 2019

What is Uncertainty Reduction Theory?

In Chapter 3 of Applying Theory for Professional Life, Uncertainty Reduction Theory (URT) illuminates how individuals can utilize communication to overcome worries when faced with interactions with others. The theory aims to explain why, when, and how people experience uncertainty. There are three main assumptions within the URT framework; 1) reduce uncertainty that people have, 2) uncertainty is experienced regularly, and is unpleasant, 3) the key to reducing uncertainty is communication.

According to Berger (1979), individuals are inclined to reduce uncertainty if you will be seeing the person again, or if there is an incentive value, or if the person provides a different expectation than assumed. There are two types of uncertainty; cognitive and behavioral. Cognitive uncertainty involves situations where an individual is “unsure what to think about someone or something” (Dainton & Elaine D., 2019), whereas Behavioral encompasses situations. There are three communication strategies for reducing URT; interactive – going to the source for answers, passive – discovering the answers for oneself, and active – seeking information from someone else. The best strategy is dependent on the individual and situation.

Understanding URT can allow communication through various channels to reduce uncertainty within oneself and others. “Uncertainty predictably decrease when nonverbal immediacy, verbal messages, self-disclosure, shared similarities, and shared social networks increase.” (Dainton & Elaine D., 2019) The next time someone wonders about what to wear, or if someone has the same question, know there is a theory explaining the why, how, and when of experiencing uncertainty.

Dainton, M., & Elaine D., Z. (2019). Applying Communication Theory for Professional Life: A Practical Introduction (4th ed.). Los Angeles, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.


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