Table of Contents

General Contexts

Intrapersonal Communication (Persuasion)

Interpersonal Communication

Small Group Communication

Organizational Communication

Intercultural Communication

Mass Communication

Applied Contexts

Health Communication

Instructional Communication

Honors Capstone Home Page

Last updated February 14, 2001


Click Here to Go Back to Interpersonal Context Page

Uncertainty Reduction Theory

Explanation of Theory:

Initial interactions between strangers are characterized by information seeking in order to reduce uncertainty. Uncertainty is reduced as levels of self-disclosure, nonverbal warmth, and similarity increase.

Theorists: Berger and Calabrese

Date: 1975

Primary Article:

    Berger, C., & Calabrese, R., (1975). Some explorations in initial interaction and beyond: Toward a developmental theory of interpersonal communication. Human Communication Research, Vol 1,  99-112.

Metatheoretical Assumptions:

The truth set forth by this theory is that people attempt to “make sense” of interpersonal situations by reducing uncertainty through seeking information. While particular aspects of the encounter dictate how people react, the reactions are based on 8 axioms resulting in a list of 28 possible theorems. Because reactions are limited according to Berger, this theory’s ontology favors a deterministic perspective. Axiologically, this theory is value neutral because the reactions are dependent set factors and thus predetermined regardless of values.


URT is a scientific theory that attempts to predict and explain initial interactions between people through the use of axioms that when combined with one another form theorems. People have questioned some of logic of the theorems derived from the combination of these axioms, therefore they argue that maybe the axioms themselves are faulty. The amount of research that this theory has generated is substantial so its heuristic provocativeness can not be questioned. The theory does have falsifiability, but its complexity can cause some confusion when one tries to apply it to a practical situation.


Upon meeting someone who sits next to you in a class, you begin to ask questions about that person in order to reduce uncertainty. Chances are high that they will reciprocate and seek to reduce uncertainty as well.

Relevant Research:

     Cragan, J.F. & Shields, D. C. (1999). Translating scholarship into practice: Communication studies reflecting the value of theory-based research to everyday life. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 27, 92-96.

     Neuliep, J. W., & Ryan, D. J. (1998). The influence of intercultural communication apprehension and socio-communicative orientation  on uncertainty reduction during initial cross-cultural interaction. Communication Quarterly, 46, 88-100.

     Schumacher, B. K., & Wheeless, L.R. (1997). Relationships of continuing uncertainty and state-receiver apprehension to information- seeking and predictions in dyadic interactions. Communication Quarterly, 45,  427-446.

     Sheer, V. C., & Cline, R. J. (1995). Testing a model of perceived information a adequacy and uncertainty reduction in physician-patient interactions. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 23,  44-60.

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. 146.

     Cragan, J. F., & Shields, D.C. (1998). Understanding communication theory: The communicative forces for human action. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon. 122-46.

     Griffin, E. (2000). A first look at communication theory (4th ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill. 136-146.

     Griffin, E. (1997). A first look at communication theory (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill. 153-66.

      Infante, D. A., Rancer, A. S., & Womack, D. F. (1997). Building communication theory (3rd ed.). Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press. 260-66.

      Littlejohn, S. W. (1999). Theories of human communication (6th ed). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. 260-62.

      West, R., & Turner, L. H. (2000). Introducing communication theory: Analysis and application. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield. 132-46.

       Wood, J. T. (1997). Communication theories in action: An introduction. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. 219-24.