3 Individually Centered

3.1 Uncertainty Management Theories

3.1.1 Problematic Integration Theory

Problematic Integration (PI) theory: From the theories of planned behavior and reasoned action, we believe that we can predict people’s behaviors because people are assumed to be “rational.” However, there are communication substance that could input uncertainty and inconsistency expectations to predict human behavior.

  • Goals:

    • find important and ubiquitous communication process
    • increase sophistication
    • encourage other ways of understanding
    • increase communicators’ empathy and compassion.
  • Forms of PI:

    • Uncertainty
    • Diverging expectations and desires
    • Ambivalence
    • Impossible desires (theoretical vs. practical impossibility).
  • Discussion regarding PI can deepen or hurt relationships

  • Encounter PI, we can engage in presentational and avoidance rituals.

  • PI defines uncertainty as “difficulty forming a mental association.” (Babrow and Matthias 2009)

    • form-specific adaptation of messages means “communicating in ways that speak to the precise dilemma.” (Babrow and Matthias 2009)

3.1.2 Uncertainty Management Theory

Uncertainty Management (UM)

  • Based on two post-positivist sources:

    • Uncertainty reduction theory (BERGER and CALABRESE 1975): managing uncertainty
    • Cognitive theory of uncertainty in illness (Mishel 1990): depending on context, uncertainty can be either good or bad
  • Uncertainty must be appraised.

  • Notion of management = control

Research and practical application (e.g., health, education, )
Evaluation: not achievable under post-positivist because of its blurry boundary conditions. But under interpretivist, it can make more sense due to its contextual meanings.

Taking Control: The Efficacy and Durability of a Peer-Led Uncertainty Management Intervention for People Recently Diagnosed With HIV (Brashers et al. 2016): Uncertainty management need to be adaptable. Due to the changing nature of HIV skills and information for patients need to be communicated continuously. Supported by the theories of social support, uncertainty management can be facilitated with peer support. participant report less illness-related uncertainty, greater access to social support, and more satisfaction with the social support compared to the control group. Illness uncertainty was assessed with (MISHEL 1981).


(SHARABI and CAUGHLIN 2017) Effects of the first FtF date on romantic relationship development:

  • Relational choice models of romantic relationships: Choosing partners that make the most sense to you (fit an image of an ideal mates).
  • Disillusionment models of romantic relationship: When you see other’s aspects (e.g., personality, behaviors) of your partner, you might no longer be interested in your partner.

Predicting first date success in online dating

  • Similarity and uncertainty as predictors: users want to reduce uncertainty before meeting offline.
  • Communication as moderating role.

Interestingly, people disclose more deeply online compared to offline (Tidwell and Walther 2002)

3.1.3 Theory of Motivated Informaiton Management (TMIM)

Born from the frustration with Problematic Integration Theory, Uncertainty Management Theory interepretivist orientation, and desire to incorporate individual experience’s complexity with uncertainty and predictive specificity.

The theory has its basis on:

Due to its laborious process of decision, theory of motivated information management only applies to cases where the person thinks a decision is sufficient important.


  • Interpretation Phase: recognize the difference (called uncertainty discrepancy) in desired uncertainty and current uncertainty, which mostly produces anxiety, but sometimes hope, anticipation, anger.

  • Evaluation Phase: :appraisal of uncertainty impacts assessments made in the evaluation phase", which makes you think about

    • Outcome expectancy: what happen if you search for more info

    • Efficacy: whether you are able to do the search.

      • Communication efficacy: whether a person has the skill to seek info.
      • Target efficacy: whether the target of the info search actually has and would be willing to share it.
      • Coping efficiency: whether a person could emotionally, relational, or financially deal with what he or she expects to learn.
  • Decision Phase: people are likely to seek info when they expect positive outcomes with high levels of efficacy.

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(picture from (L. Baxter and Braithwaite 2008))

Note: Information providers go through the same process with only the latter two phases (evaluation and decision).

Research and Practical Application: (e.g., education, health)


  • Benefits:

    • Draw attention to communication efficiency, and outcome expectancy
    • Good theory: based on testability, heuristics, parsimony, scope condition
  • Improvement:

    • may need to include efficacy’s strength as mediator. Depending on the positivity or negativity of expectations. relationship between outcome expectancies and efficacy, and between outcome expectancies and information seeking may differ


(Morse et al. 2013) social networks and information seeking influence drug use. From Social Cognitive Theory, and Cognitive Developmental Theory, social norms and peer influence serve as bases for aversive behaviors to be accepted. According to (Wolfson 2000), false consensus support can help explain students overestimate of the positive attitudes of their social network supported by the fact that they are uncertain about their social network’s opinions.

3.2 Attribution Theory

“how and why we try to answer”how and why" questions is referred to as attribution theory" (L. Baxter and Braithwaite 2008)

originated from psychology. “The more important or unexpected the event, the more likely people are to seek an explanation to make sense of that outcome. We make sense of such events primarily by determining what the cause is.”


  • Event causation: understand actions or events by attributing cause(s) to behavior.
  • Trait inference: make inference about a person’ characteristics that makes sense of that person’s behavior.

Dimensions when making attributions:

  • locus: interval or external to the person
  • Stability: temporary or enduring
  • Specificity: causes is unique or universal
  • Responsibility: the extent to which a person contribute to the event

Focus on:

  • Correspondence: “When attributions are informative of a person’s nature or personality, they are considered "correspondent" (i.e., we perceive that another’s behavior corresponds to some underlying characteristic of who that person is).”

  • Covariation: “Events are attributed to causes with which they covary.”

  • Responsibility: the more internal, intentional, and controllable we perceive one’s behavior is, the more we hold that person responsible for those actions, and their consequences"

  • Bias:

    • “fundamental attribution bias, which is a tendency to make more internal attributions than external attributions for other people’s behaviors” (L. Ross 1977)
    • self-serving bias: people generally make more internal, stable, and global attributions for positive events than for negative events, and more external attributions for negative events than for positive events (Malle 2006)

Attribution Theory in Communication:

  • Attribution as Explanations behind social communicative actions.
  • Attribution as reason for actions and outcomes: when we think of reasons for other’s communication or behaviors, it affects how we view others, and our communication toward them.
  • Attribution as the meanings given to a behavior: “how attributions reflect the meaning that people give to a communication act.”


  • Explanatory power: intuitive
  • Scope and generality: applicability, born as universal theory of human sense-making, but actual application was limited
  • Conditionship specification: strict parameters for the theory.
  • Verifiability/ Falsifiability: a lot of research supports, few say the theory is flawed.

3.3 Social Exchange Theories

Costs vs. Rewards.

Originated from psychology, sociology, economics. Analogous to economic exchange. Under the post-positivist paradigm.


  • An exchange is “a transfer of something in return for something else” (Leffler and Roloff 1982)
  • Social exchange is the result of human’s connection.
Aspect Social Exchange Economic Exchange
Reliance Trust, goodwill, voluntary Legal Obligations
Rewards and Costs Open Exact Specifications for both parties
Time frame Continuous Set, fixed for the exchange to occur
Type Unique, individualized Similar from person to person


  • Predict and explain behaviors.


  • Social behavior is a series of transactions.
  • “Individuals attempt to maximize their rewards and minimize their costs.”
  • After receiving rewards, people feel a sense of obligation.


  • Self-interests: “individuals to act in accordance with perceptions and projections of rewards and costs associated with an exchange, or potential exchange, of resources.” we are motivated to serve self-interests.
  • Interdependence: “the extent to which one person’s outcomes depend on another person’s outcomes”

Social Exchange in Communication:

  • communication is a communication tool
  • communication is the resource to be exchange (i.e., either reward or cost).
  • Exchange may have symbolic or communication value (Molm, Schaefer, and Collett 2007)


  • love can be selfless: Altruism is beyond social exchange
  • High in exchange orientation are likely to keep score (Murstein 1971)
  • Cultures differ in their exchange orientations: exchange orientation is more expected in individualistic and capitalistic societies. (Yperen and Buunk 1990)
  • People are not also rational (scale of inequity is not always instantly balanced)


  • emotional health (individual), trusting one’s spouse (interpersonal), and feeling underbenefited in the relationship (interpersonal) significantly predict marital well-being for both groups of women (i.e., African American and European American). While physical health (individual) and in-law relations (social and economic) showed significant influence for only African American (Goodwin 2003).

3.3.1 Resource Theory

“Resources constitute rewards when they provide pleasure and costs when they provoke pain, anxiety, embarrassment, or mental and physical effort.”

Developed by (Foa and Foa 1980, 2012)

Types of resources:

  • Money: universal
  • Goods
  • Status
  • Love
  • Services
  • Information

Exchange of similar resources results in more satisfaction (Foa and Foa 1980). And relationship type influences the exchange of resources.

3.3.2 Interdependence Theory

Individuals assess their rewards in a relationship based on

  • Comparison levels: what one should receive: “the standard an individual uses to judge how attractive or satisfactory a particular relationship is.” Relate to normative economics
  • Alternatives (Comparison levels of alternatives): what one could receive: “the lowest level of rewards deemed acceptable when considering possible alternative relationship.”


  • Our projection is not always right. For example, the more committed and invested we are in a relationship, the more likely we are to downplay alternatives (Rusbult and Agnew 2010)


  • (Vangelisti, Middleton, and Ebersole 2013): correlation between individuals’ cognition and their relational satisfaction. Individuals’ vocalized thoughts correlate with their partner’s satisfaction.
  • equity and satisfaction (under the interdependence theory ) influences one’s relational maintenance strategies (Stafford and Canary 2006)

3.3.3 Equity Theory

We also consider fairness in our equation of gains and costs, where fairness is “equity in the distribution of costs and rewards”(L. Baxter and Braithwaite 2008).

Distributive justice (Adams 1965): “people think and act so that rewards are distributed in accordance with their effort.” Three types of inequity:

  • ratio of your rewards to costs in vs. others’ ratios.
  • “the exchange relationship you and your partner have with a third entity”
  • your relationship vs others in similar situation.

Inequity leads to emotional distress (Sprecher 2001). Underbenefitied experiences anger, whereas overbenefited experiences guilt. To balance our inequity, we change outcomes (perceptions), or inputs (actions)


  • Perceptions of equity influences caregiver burnout, and positive caregiver experiences (Ybema et al. 2002)

3.4 Social Support Theories

Supportive communication is “verbal and nonverbal behavior produced with the intention of providing assistance to others perceived as needing that aid.” (E. L. MacGeorge, Feng, and Burleson 2011, 317)

(Afifi, Basinger, and Kam 2020) extended the theoretical model of communal coping. See (Afifi, Basinger, and Kam 2020, 426) for the TMCC model. We can also see the definition of “communal coping.”

Predictor of Coping:

  • Nature of the stressor
  • Communication quality
  • Relational quality
  • Identification with Others
  • Culture
  • Environment and Social structures

(Brummett and Afifi 2019, 199) studies interracial romantic partners’ expectations

Verbal person centeredness (VPC), defined as "the extent to which the feelings and perspective of a distressed other are acknowledged, elaborated, and legitimized: (Erina L. MacGeorge et al. 2018). However, research sometimes use VPC for the entire interaction, or advisors or recipients. (content focus, in constrat to non-verbal).

Person centeredness is defined as “awareness of and adaptation to the subjective, affective, and relational aspects of communicative contexts” (B. R. Burleson and Caplan 1998, 249).

Dimensions of support behavior:

  • content (i.e., topical focus)

  • function (i.e., observed (inferred) intention of the provider/advisor) (e.g., describing, legitimizing, minimizing, recommending, justifying, blaming, criticizing, questioning, affirming, encouraging, and offering tangible support)

  • experiential focus (i.e., “the person whose experiences are being referenced in the supportive behavior” (Erina L. MacGeorge et al. 2018, 153)

3.4.1 Dual-Process Theory of Supportive Message Outcomes

Comes from the dual-process model in psychology: “People actions are a function of the ways in which they interpret or make sense of events.” (Brant R. Burleson 2010, 106)

Goals and Features:

  • “the impact of messages varies as a function of how those messages are processed, and it provides a detailed analysis of the processing modes that can be applied to supportive messages.”

    (L. Baxter and Braithwaite 2008, 198)


  • Processing modes: Elaboration (i.e., “the extent to which an individual thinks with respect to message content”)

    • negative affect

    • motivation

    • ability

    • environmental cues

    • Quality of supportive message: high vs. low

Under the framework of dual-process theory, communication is defined as “a process in which a person (the source) seeks to convey or make public some internal state to another (the recipient) through the use of signals and symbols (the message) in the effort to accomplish some pragmatic end (the goal).” (Brant R. Burleson 2010)


  • emotional support

  • grief management

(Shardé M. Davis 2018) studies the microaggression of white women towards black women with two phases:

  • Individual orientation phase (i.e., “friends communicating verbal and nonverbal messages that solely comforted the support seeker” - information seeking, support provision (e.g., the use of girls, hand clap))
  • Collective orientation phase (phase: Hostile differentiation, Socio-political Contextualization, Collective Uplift).

Age moderates the perceived microaggression (e.g., tolerance).

Racial microaggressions are “brief messages (i.e., verbal, nonverbal, and visual) that denigrate people of color because they belong to a racial group that is historically oppressed in the U.S.” (Sue et al. 2007)

Strong Black Woman Collective Theory argues that “strength is valuable resource for Black women because it helps them resist external hostilities.” (Shardé M. Davis 2014)

3.4.2 Advice Response Theory

Social cognitive theory: how advice outcomes are influenced by qualities of messages, advisors, situations, and recipients.


ART predicts how your friend is likely to respond, based on your friend’s perceptions of

  1. Message features (e.g., content and style): Recipients evaluate

    1. message content

      • efficacy (i.e., whether the action is likely to resolve the problem)
      • feasibility (i.e., capacity to accomplish the action)
      • limitation
      • confirmation (whether the action is consistent with the recipient’s intent)
    2. Style:

      • politeness
      • linking
      • respect
  2. Advisor’s characteristics (likely to be mediated by message content)

    • Expertise (to the problem)
    • trustworthiness
    • likability
    • similarity (to the recipient).
  3. Situational factors (this is controversial because of conflicting empirical evidence)

    • problem seriousness (perceived by the recipient)
    • solution uncertainty (about how to resolve the problem)
  4. Recipient’s traits or characteristic

    • thinking style
    • abilities (e..g, cognitive complexity)
    • demographic (e.g., culture, gender)