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Last updated February 19, 2001


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Anxiety Uncertainty Management Theory

Explanation of Theory:"Intercultural encounters are characterized by high levels of uncertainty and anxiety, especially when cultural variability is high.  Effective communication is made possible by our ability to mindfully manage our anxiety and reduce our uncertainty about ourselves and the people with whom we are communicating" (Griffin, p. 496). 

Theorists: William B. Gudykunst


Primary Article:A model of Uncertainty Reduction in Intercultural Encounters,  Journal of Language and Social Psychology, vol. 4, 1985 pg. 79-97

Individual Interpretations:Whenever two people meet for the first time, there is uncertainty accompanied by feelings of uneasiness known as anxiety.  These feelings are heightened whenever there is an intercultural encounter between.

Metatheoretical Assumptions:

Ontological Assumptions:n/a

Epistemological Assumptions:n/a

Axiological Assumptions:n/a

Critique:1.  Explanatory:  AUMT has ample explanatory power, it explains human behavior
2.  Predictability:  AUMT is predictive in that it claims this same process occurs for each encounter between strangers 
3. Parsimony:  AUMT a bot complex with many axioms and a sub-theory
("Stranger") embedded within it.  However, it explains simply the interaction that takes place in encounters between strangers, and attempts to predict multiple outcomes depending on variables. 
4. Falsafiability:  This theory has been tested and used many times in research over years and is able to be tested. 
5. Internal consistency:  The theory flows well incorporating all axioms and never contradicting one another
6. Organizing power:  AUMT 
7.    Heuristic Provacativeness:  AUMT is heuristically provocative because it provides a base from which to begin other/more research on the same topic. 

Ideas and Implications:Gudykunst provides an excellent explanation for why strangers in intercultural encounters feel anxious and uneasy.  He also gives many axioms and explanations for phenomenon that happen in situations within the intercultural context.  For example, axiom 12 states "An increase in our ability to complexly process information about strangers will produce an increase in our ability to accurately predict their behavior." Griffin 413

Example: Out watching a basketball game with her friends, Laura notices a guy with a puzzled look on his face.  Bobby, thinks he recognizes Laura from his communication class on Tuesdays and Thursdays and begins to approach her.  Filled with uncertainty and anxiety about seeing a man she does not know walking towards her, Laura's face lets Bobby know that she does not recognize him.  Realizing he has made a mistake, Bobby turns around, Laura is not the person he thought he recognized from class.  However, he still could have made an initiative by saying "Hello, I am sorry, I thought you were someone else, my name is" for example.  However, feelings of anxiety and uncertainty prevented both strangers from introducing themselves to one another.  These feelings are more intense if the two people involved are from different cultures. 

Relevant Research:n/a

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. 274-276

     Griffin, E. (2000). A first look at communication theory (4th ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill. 393-404

     Griffin, E. (1997). A first look at communication theory (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill. 407-417

      Infante, D. A., Rancer, A. S., & Womack, D. F. (1997). Building communication theory (3rd ed.). Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press. 410-415

      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