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Information Manipulation Theory

Explanation of Theory:

A speaker purposefully and covertly violates one of the conversational maxims of quantity, quality, relation and manner with the intention of deceiving his/her listener.

Theorist: Steve A. McCornack 

Date:  1992

Primary Article:

   McCornack, S.A. (1992). Information manipulation theory, Communication Monographs, (59), 1-16.

Individual Interpretations:

Information Manipulation Theory presents four maxims. 

The maxim of Quantity refers to a person's expectations that a conversation will be as informative as possible. We do not expect information to be left out.

The maxim of Quality refers to a person's expectation of being presented with information that is truthful and complete.

The maxim of Relation illustrates the expectation of contributing relevant information to a conversation.

The maxim of  Manner relates to how things are said rather than what is said.

Metatheoretical Assumptions:

Ontological Assumption:
IMT predicts the methods of deception a person uses by determining what information will be eliminated.

Epistemological Assumption:
IMT is scientific in nature and offers set guidelines for producing and identifying deceptive messages.

Axiological Assumption:
IMT is value conscious because the researcher must judge is a deception. While violations of the maxim of quality and quantity are factually driven, violations of relation and manner are largely opinion based. For this reason the researcher must be aware of his/her own values when making these judgments.


IMT provides an explanation for and the multiple ways in which deception can occur. However, it does not predict what maxims a person may violate only that the violation will occur within the certain realm of possibilities provided.

Ideas and Implications:

IMT explains different types of deception. This information can be useful if a person is in a situation like the following. The theory is used frequently my teenagers trying to convince their parents to let them go to a party for the weekend. For example, saying an adult will be there but failing to mention that the adult is the friend's 21-year-old brother who is supplying the beer which violates the maxims of quantity and quality.


John has a ten page paper due Wednesday that is worth 50% of his final grade. Monday night he went to the basketball game and didn't start on the paper. Tuesday night he went the library and fell asleep at the computer. Fortunately, the paper was almost finished and saved. John did, however, wake up ten minutes after his class was over and his professor does not accept late papers. He goes to see his professor immediately. How will he answer when his  professor asks him why he wasn't in class to turn in his paper?

Quantity: "I am so sorry professor. I overslept."

Quality: "My roommate didn't pay the electric bill so our power got cut off and my alarm clock didn't go off."

Relation: "I've just had a really bad week. My girlfriend broke up with me, the power turned off my electricity and my boss says if I'm late one more time he'll fire me."

Manner:  "I really need a good grade in this class. Honestly, my paper was already done I just overslept" said while rolling eyes and looking disgusted.

Relevant Research:

   Dawson, E.J., & Brashers, D. (1996). Information manipulation theory:  A replication and assessment. Communication Monographs, 63(1), 70-83.

Mc Cornack,S.A., Levine, T.R., Solowczuk, K.A., Torres, H.I. &Campbell, D.M. (1992). When the alteration of information is viewed as deception: An empirical test of information manipulation theory. Communication Monographs, 59(1), 17-30.

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. pp. 283-285, 305.

     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