The study of talking (per se) is a classic illustration of a theoretical paradigm at work. Teachers and scholars of communication, as a group, are talkers. We make our living in the classroom, at conferences, and in the training programs of large corporations. Some of us are better at it than others, but we are all talkers. Therefore, when we encounter other people who differ from us in this respect, we are at a loss to explain their puzzling behavior.

Usually we perceive non-talkers as deficient in some respect. This classification usually is performed under benign guises, masquerading as "help" for a "problem." We have developed a whole set of pejorative words for those who don't talk, such as "shy," "reticent," and "apprehensive." With this characterization in mind, our research has centered on "curing" what we assume is a "problem," primarily centering on social fears. This has all been done with the egregious earnest assurance that if we can only get these poor folks talking, their hearts will open, their grades will improve, their social life will become richer, and we will have "helped" them become more like us.

This basic paradigm underlies almost all of our research in Instructional Communication (Organizational Communication, Health Communication, Persuasion, Interpersonal Communication). We take it as a given that talk will occur, and in proper proportions. But here we go farther --- we assume that talk is purposeful, that is, planful, designed, and with constructive goals.

Unfortunately, the real world demonstrates some uncomfortable truths:

1. There are people who freely opt not to talk, and many of these people are happy, effective, and live useful lives.

2. There is a good deal of talk that has no particular social or instrumental purpose, and that appears to be part of everyday human behavior.

3. There are people that can't manage talk, and overdo it, but who live happy, effective, and useful lives.

These are truly interesting phenomena, and have been badly obscured by the talking paradigm. Acknowledging these phenomena leads to many interesting research questions: Do people differ in their propensity to talk ---- aside from the "social fears" hypothesis? Could this propensity be measured? If it exists, what might have caused it? How does it relate to "social fears" and other characteristics?

Why Do People Talk?

Explanations for talking generally have been considered two ways: approach and avoidance. "Approach" explanations assume that some characteristic "motivates" individuals' behavior, such a potential rewards, social pressures, and the like. "Avoidance" explanations are similar, but assume that, without the avoidance pressure, talk would occur. One common "approach" explanation is derived from interpersonal dominance.


Dominance is usually considered a "personality" characteristic. Animals, especially primates, exhibit dominant and submissive behavior, and many researchers contend that the existence of "rank" in animal groups diminishes conflict and orders behavior (Konner, 1982, p. 199). Rank in animals is displayed in predictable ways, leading many theorists to find parallels in "nonverbal" communication among humans. While it is typical to assign differences in interpersonal power to "expertise, authority, or interpersonal skills" (Kenny & Acitelli, 1989), there is much evidence to convince us that dominance is a more deep-seated "trait" than that. Guilford and Zimmerman (1956) included "ascendance" in a "temperament" survey, and the Meyers-Briggs personality inventory included an "introversion-extraversion" factor (Anastasi, 1968).

Dominance is a familiar concept to researchers in interpersonal communication. Rogers-Millar and Millar (1979) described dominance and "domineering" interactions in interpersonal interactions, and Dillard , Palmer and Kinney (1995) considered dominance to be one of the more important factors in influence attempts.

The Last Word on Dominance

Te best and most complete assessment of the "interpersonal dominance" construct is found in Burgoon, Johnson, and Koch (1998). They defined dominance as: Influence, Conversational Control, Focus & Poise, Panache, and Self-assurance.

Burgoon, Johnson, & Koch identified 32 statements that defined the dominance construct, and most of these described power and control, rather than talking per se. Only one of their items described talking, or "conversational control." ("This person does more talking than listening.") (1998, p. 321).

Even though a personality trait may exist, it is not at all certain that it determines behavior in all situations. Bandura (1986) points out that aggressive traits may be manifested with store clerks but not with police.

"Social Fears"

Actually this explanation is a negative one, and has be advanced to explain why people DON'T talk, rather than why they talk. This inversion of the "true" paradigm (the "true" paradigm is my paradigm) has dominated this line of research for years.

Howard Gilkinson (1942, 1943) : a "generalized feeling of inferiority frequently operates as a primary cause of the emotional disturbance of a speaker in facing an audience" (Gilkinson, 1943, p. 83).

When reluctant individuals are forced to speak in public (as in speech classes) they experience typical symptoms of fright, such as rapid heart beat, sweating palms, and trembling hands. But an early study by Dickens, Gibson, and Prall (1958) compared Gilkinson's PRCS measure to obvious fright symptoms (sweating palms, overt signs of distress) and found low correlations among these observations.

James McCroskey (1970, 1977, 1978) : the "Personal Report of Communication Apprehension" (PRCA). Characterized Gilkinson's test as germane to the "public speaking" experience, and sought to find a more general descriptions of affect associated with communicative behavior. He went on to say that "There are good reasons to believe that it [public speaking] is not the most important context in which anxiety can interfere with communication, and may not even be the most important context" (1970. p. 270).

Relational Talking

Common theme in communication study is that people should not talk unless they "have something to say" and that good speech is "purposeful' (Bostrom, Waldhart, Shelton, & Bertino, 1997). Beinstein (1975) examined the reports of barbers, beauticians, and pharmacists, and found a wide variety of subjects --- none of which had anything to do with intrusmental outcomes with customers. Beinstein (in accord with the paradigm) reported her opinion that these persons talked "to establish better customer relations". We ought to rethink this statement. It is probably wrong, and assumptions like it create problems when we take them seriously. Our first thought ought to be that the public speaking classroom has its own paradigm and "real" communication is probably pretty different.

Little research helps us examine this notion because we seldom give respondents a chance to tell us what we don't want to hear.

BUT: Using open-ended assessments, (Goldsmith & Baxter, (1996) found that couples used 29 different categories in describing their daily talk:

Gossip                         Serious Conversation                    Decision Making

Making Plans            Talking about Problems                Giving Instructions

Asking a Favor         Love Talk                                         Information Talk

Reminiscing               Breaking Bad News                        Lecture

Joking Around          Recapping                                        Interrogation

Asking Out                Complaining                                    Morning Talk

Making Up                 Sports Talk                                      Bedtime Talk

Catching Up              Getting to Know                             Relationship Talk

Small Talk                  Group Discussion                          Current Events Talk

Conflict                      Persuading

Ten (sports talk, small talk, catching up, morning talk, bedtime talk, gossip, reminiscing, joking around, love talk, and current events talk) were clearly identified by the respondents as "Informal, lacking a goal."

Nine (persuading, lectures, giving instructions, information talk, decision making, asking a favor , breaking bad news, complaining, conflict) were considered "goal oriented." The rest (including serious conversation) were considered as indeterminate.

Couples identified eight or ten different types of relational talk, and, while the types could be classified according to dimensions of seriousness and daily maintenance, one can see that the remaining classifications are just as important in their own way.

Conclusion: Many times people talk for "no good reason," i. e., lacking "instrumental" outcomes. This talk is not "pointless" but occupies an important niche in most relationships.


Is PRCA truly different from its ancestor, the PRCS?

Of the 20 items in the first version of the PRCA, twelve directly referred to public speaking. Most are the same items used in the PRCS test. Similar items are listed below:

PRCA (McCroskey, 1970, p. 272)                              PRCS (Gilkinson, 1942, pp. 145-147)

2. I have no fear of facing an audience.                  77. I do not mind speaking before a group.

4. I look forward to an opportunity to                  101. I thoroughly enjoy addressing a
speak in public. group of people.

5. I find the prospect of speaking                         104. I find the prospect of speaking
mildly pleasant.                                                            mildly pleasant.

8. Although I talk fluently with friends,                   52. Although I talk fluently with friends,
I am at a loss of words on the platform.                     I am at a loss of words on the platform.

9. My hands tremble when I try to handle              13. My hands tremble when I try to handle
objects on the platform. objects on the platform.

10. I always avoid speaking in public                     48. I always avoid speaking in public
if possible.                                                                  if possible.

12. I am fearful and tense all the while                   18. I am tense and stiff while speaking.
I am speaking                                                              before a group of people.

13. My thoughts become confused and                  27. My thoughts become confused and
jumbled when I speak before an audience.                 jumbled when I speak before an audience.

14. Although I am nervous just before                    79. Although I am nervous just before
getting up, I soon forget my fears and                         getting up, I soon forget my fears and
enjoy the experience.                                                  enjoy the experience.

16. I dislike to use my voice and body                   16. I dislike to use my voice and body
expressively                                                                 expressively.

17. I feel relaxed and comfortable                          71. I feel relaxed and comfortable
while speaking.                                                          while speaking.

19. I face the prospect of making a                         85. I face the prospect of making a
speech with complete confidence.                               speech with complete confidence.

Even in later versions of the PRCA, (McCroskey, 1978) "public speaking items" are still a majority
This congruity among items certainly explained why Daly found a high correlation (.88) between PRCS and PRCA (Daly, 1978).

"Personality underlies social behavior and 'apprehension' (even if it is only public speaking apprehension) is associated with avoidance of communication, it or its absence can be thought of as a personality factor."  (Daly, 1987).

Biggers and Masterson (1984): the "emotion-based" approach to apprehension is clearly a trait.

Direct Assessment of Talking

"Predispositions toward Verbal Behavior." Mortensen, Arntson, and Lustig (1977). Measures "generalized expectations about their own communication" (Arntson, Mortensen, & Lustig, 1980, p. 239).

This instrument apparently measures a predisposition that is stronger than many other situational characteristics in dyads (Mortensen & Arntson, 1974). It also was shown to have very strong validity in predicting the behavior of individuals in a variety of situations (Arntson, Mortensen, & Lustig, 1980). For example, in a group task, those with high scores on the PVB ("strong" talkers) differed dramatically from those with low scores in initiations of talk, reinitiations, extensions, and perceived power. In dyads, high scorers talked more and interrupted more. Arntson, Mortensen, and Lustig conclude that talkers are "more productive, task oriented, leader-like, and influential than their less verbal counterparts" (1980, p. 251).

"Willingness" to Talk. "Unwillingness" framework. Judee Burgoon (1976, 1977, Burgoon & Burgoon, 1974) began with the task of measuring "unwillingness to communicate," and, unlike the PRCA measurement, avoided public speaking concepts. A two-factor scale. The first was composed of items such as "I'm afraid to speak up in conversations," and "during a conversation, I prefer to talk, rather than listen (reversed item)." The second contained items like "My family doesn't enjoy discussing my interests and activities with me," and "My friends don't listen to my ideas and suggestions." She named the first scale the "approach-avoidance" factor and the second the "reward" factor. First factor correlated highly (.69) with apprehension (PRCA) and the second not at all (.01). In a study of the relative importance of each of these factors in a small group communicative task, she found that the approach-avoidance factor predicted information-giving, total participation, and information seeking in a small group, while the reward factor predicted satisfaction with the group, attraction to the group members, and perceived coordination within the group (Burgoon, 1977). Daly (1978) also found that the reward factor did not fit into his factor analysis of measures of social-communicative anxiety.

"Willingness" to talk, as an indication of the "inclination" to talk (Richmond, 1992, McCroskey & Richmond, 1987). Different cognitive structures, such as "behavioral intentions" (Richmond, 1992, p. 99) rather than affective responses. Not much is known of its basic cause. Nor is there a clear difference between the "Willingness to Communicate" (WTC) Scale (McCroskey & Richmond, 1987), its opposite, an "unwillingness to communicate" scale (Burgoon, 1976).

McCroskey and Richmond (1987) take the position that the WTC is superior to the PVB, because the PVB, in their view, is isomorphic with apprehension. In support of this assertion, they cite Mortensen's report of a .67 correlation of the PVB with apprehension. Other studies (Bostrom, Grant, Davis, & Einerson, 1990) report lower figures (.61) but it is clear that apprehension and behavioral reports are closely related. Being "closely" related is certainly not the same as being the "same," however. The WTC is also "closely related" to apprehension (r =.51; McCroskey & Richmond, 1990).

Attitudes and Talking. Another way of examining the relationship between approach and avoidance of communicative behavior --- is as an attitude/behavior relationship. Approach could be caused by an underlying positive attitude toward communication (Bostrom, 1962, 1970, 1981).

Argumentativeness. Argumentativeness (Infante & Rancer, 1982) measures the extent to which individuals adopt positions, defend those positions, and attack others who may disagree with them.

Locus of control (Rotter, 1965) measures the extent to which individuals perceive themselves as having control over their environments. Persons with an internal locus of control consider themselves to have power over the events in their lives, and to be responsible for any rewards or failures they experience. Those with an external locus of control believe that they are at the mercy of forces outside themselves, that any effort on their part to control events is pointless. A large body of research exists concerning locus of control and a variety of issues [e.g., reflectivity (Ayabe, 1979), anxiety (Ollendick, 1979), authoritarianism, (Surlin, 1976; Lefcourt, 1982)].

Self-Esteem. Development of self-esteem appears to be a problem for many, both compliants and aggressives. People with low self-esteem attempt to become adult too fast; they realize they cannot handle the expectations (many times self-inflicted) and perfectionistic tendencies take over. Self-esteem is typically measured with Rosenberg's (1965) scale. Research using this measure indicates that persons who have high self-esteem are inclined to feel comfortable with others, are not afraid of others' reactions, and are able to defend themselves against negative comments of others (Hamachek, 1982). Persons who have low self-esteem feel threatened by others, are sensitive to possible negative reactions, and have difficulty defending themselves against others' negative comments (Hamachek, 1982).

Explanatory Research

If talking is a personality "trait," then change is not possible. Gilkinson seemed to think that anxieties were inherent in some persons. Later research shows that reinforcement (Verplanck, 1955, Bostrom, 1962) surely plays a part, but so do many other factors such as gender and power (Eakins & Eakins, 1978). To say that apprehension or its absence is what causes people to talk is to beg the question. The source of apprehension itself is seldom investigated. Occasionally writers such as McCroskey and Richmond (1987) assert that apprehension is "learned" but little or no data exist that show that individuals can be successfully taught to be less (or more) apprehensive.

Burgoon's data seem to indicate that the social reward theory as a simple explanation for talking has some flaws. Burgoon concludes that it would be better to investigate the "unwillingness construct directly rather than its sociological and psychological counterparts" (1976, p. 68). This statement seems to imply that measuring fear may not be the best way to approach the measurement of talking; certainly her data do indicate that. Zorn (1992) looks at "motivation to communicate" as a particular trait that might be invoked to explain differences in communicative behavior. Advocates of reinforcement, such as Mehrabian and Ksionzky (1970), are suspicious of questionnaire data. Suppose a questionnaire asks that "if you were sure that you wouldn't be caught, would you take a pair of gloves home with you without paying for it?" Even if you thought that you might, you'd be a fool to say so on a screening test. Questionnaires that ask individuals to report that they just don't like to talk (when it might be important to do so) may have the same set of inhibitions.

This only means that the assertion that apprehension is associated with the manner in which people communicate (in and of itself) is hardly an explanation. To say that persons communicate less frequently because they are apprehensive begs the question of why they are apprehensive. What creates communication apprehension? Training in communicative skills (Kelly & Keeton, 1992) generally has been shown to reduce apprehension, but what caused it in the first place? What causes one person to talk while another remains silent? The assumption that "improving" communicative interactions consists of encouraging the reticent to speak more is a pervasive one; we should similarly be as interested in helping the loquacious speak less. But to do either, we need to understand these approach-avoidance tendencies a great deal better than we do at present.

But now to the good stuff. Refining the PVB, we found dominance, inhibition, and simple frequency factors. In other words, the earlier tripartite explanations for talking seems to hold up here.

Scales for the Various Factors in the PVB Test



I             II            III
                                    I. Frequency.

.844    .439       -.257      3. When I am with other people I generally talk often.
.793    .501      -.384       7. In most social situations I generally speak quite frequently.
.695    .405      -.502     14. I generally find that I express myself quite freely.
.690    .289       .270     23. I prefer to keep my comments brief (negative).
.785    .315      -.303     24. I probably speak for shorter periods of time than the average person

                                 II. Dominance.

.465    .654     -.055      2. I have a tendency to dominate informal conversations with other people.
.533    .678     -.213      4. In most social situations I tend to direct the course of conversation.
.298    .718     -.149    10. In most social situations I tend to come on strong.
.345    .610     -.108    15. I try to take charge of things when I am with people.
.452    .765     -.215    17. I would describe myself as dominant in social situations.
.218    .616      .082    18. When I am with others I am inclined to talk forcefully.
.397    .648    -.317     20. In one-to-one conversations I tend to talk more than half the time.
.397    .648    -.399     21. In most social situations I tend to speak for long periods of time.

III. Inhibition

-.257  -.409   .542        1. I am inclined to let other people start conversations.
-.688  -.548   .602        5. When I am with others it generally takes me quite a while to warm up.
-.541  -.377   .741        6. I generally rely on others to keep conversations going.
-.301  -.055   .723        8. I tend to hesitate when I speak.
-.033   .098    .645      11. I find myself pausing often when I speak.
-.470  -.208   .719       13. I tend to feel inhibited when I talk to others.

The Three Factors and Other "Communicator Characteristics"

                                             (2)   (3)  (4)   (5)   (6)  (7)  (8)  (9)  (10)  (11)
Frequency (1)                   -.65 -.60  .27 -.51 -.10   .23 .50  .30 -.32   .60
Dominance (2)                  .43 -.29  .45   .01 -.16 -.26  .40 .32 -.52
Inhibition (3)                     .31  .48 .22  -.30 -.42  -.18 .38 -.50
Argumentativeness (4) -.20 -.00  .07   .13  .46  -.63 .12
Apprehension (5)           .18  -.39 -.43 -.32 .37 -.46
External Locus (6 )         -.19  -.24   .01 .07  .03
Self-Esteem (7)                .27  .10  -.21 -.10
Rhetsen (8)                      .19 -.26 .28
Noble Selves (9)            -.50  .16
Reflectors (10)               -.18
Attitude (11)

a A correlation of .48 indicates a probability level of .01; a correlation of .39 indicates a probability level of .05.


                           I     II         III        IV        V       VI

Attitude       0.87   0.05    -0.00     0.02     0.02   0.10
Arg              0.04    0.87    -0.01     0.20    -0.01   0.00
Apprehen  -0.52  -0.16    -0.45    -0.23    -0.24   0.10
Ext               -0.02  -0.00    -0.09     0.01   -0.10    0.98
Esteem         0.08   0.06     0.95      0.01    0.08   -0.08
Rhetsen       0.25   0.08     0.13      0.07    0.91  -0.11
Nselves       0.08   0.42     0.05      0.79     0.11   0.03
Reflect       -0.20  -0.85    -0.15     -0.13   -0.14   0.03
Time            0.76   0.03      0.09      0.27    0.34  -0.04
Domin        -0.68  -0.11    -0.06     -0.56    0.02   0.01
Inhib          -0.72  -0.23    -0.21      0.16    -0.24  0.20

In a birth order study, for example, we found birth order differences (for three-sibling families) on the frequency dimension but not the dominance or the inhibition factors (Bostrom, Prather, & Harrington, 1998). In a study of compulsive talkers, we found differences in dominance and frequency, but not in inhibition (Bostrom & Harrington, 1999). In a gender study we are analyszing the interaction of these three factors and the Sandra Bem sextypes. etc etc.