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Last updated February 19, 2001


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Balance Theory

Explanation of Theory:

Balance theory states that when tensions arise between or inside people, they attempt to reduce these tensions through self-persuasion or trying to persuade others.

Theorist:Fritz Heider and Theodore Newcomb

Date:  1946

Primary Article:

     Heider, F. (1946). Attitudes and cognitive organization. Journal of Psychology, 21, 107-112.

Individual Interpretations:

My interpretation of Balance theory is that individuals have certain attitudes which can be represented by a plus sign (like) or a minus sign (dislike).  Every individual has their own opinions therefore people do not always agree on the same things which creates a feeling of discomfort or imbalance.  Two people may feel the same about an idea and therefore agree on it so they have a feeling of comfort or balance.

Metatheoretical Assumptions:

Balance theory is Humanistic.  Epistemologically this theory has multiple truths in that humans try to reduce tension through self-persuasion or persuading others.  Ontologically this theory represents free will in that people choose whether or not they like or dislike something.  Axiologically, this theory is more value-laden in that the theoretical propositions are subjective and biased. 


Balance theory presents analytic consistency in that the theoretical assumptions fit together.  The method of investigation in this theory is timely.  The theory is practical, and has heuristic value in that it can be applied other places.

Ideas and Implications:

Balance theory proposes that there are three ways in which a person can feel balance.  First the source and receiver can both dislike something and at the same time like eachother, so they experience comfort and balance.  Second, the source and receiver can have a positive attitude toward an object or idea and display positive feelings toward one another, therefore experiencing comfort and balance.  Third, the source and the receiver can disagree about an idea or object and also dislike eachother, therefore experiencing comfort because they know that they disagree about the values of certain objects or ideas.


Adam likes to watch football on television, and Jenah does not like to watch football. Yet Jenah likes Adam, and values their relationship therefore this system is now in imbalance.  If Jenah would change her attitude about football, this system would be in balance.

Location in Eight (8) Primary Communication Theory Textbooks:

     Anderson, R., & Ross, V. (1998). Questions of communication: A practical introduction to theory (2nd ed.). New York: St. Martin's Press.  N/A

     Cragan, J. F., & Shields, D.C. (1998). Understanding communication theory: The communicative forces for human action. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon. N/A

     Griffin, E. (2000). A first look at communication theory (4th ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill. N/A

     Griffin, E. (1997). A first look at communication theory (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill. N/A

      Infante, D. A., Rancer, A. S., & Womack, D. F. (1997). Building communication theory (3rd ed.). Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press. N/A

      Littlejohn, S. W. (1999). Theories of human communication (6th ed). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. N/A

      West, R., & Turner, L. H. (2000). Introducing communication theory: Analysis and application. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield. N/A

       Wood, J. T. (1997). Communication theories in action: An introduction. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. N/A