The Toronto School of Communication Theory: Interpretations, Extensions, Applications


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Comparing the Internet with traditonal media.

Cognitive Dissonance theory CDT attempted to explain how an imbalance among cognitions might affect an individual. Lewin foreshadowed CDT in his observations regarding attitude change in small groups Festinger, Cognitive Dissonance, like uncertainty, has an element of arousal and discomfort that individuals seek to reduce.

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Social Comparison theory postulates that individuals look to feedback from others to evaluate their performance and abilities. To evaluate the self, the individual usually seeks the opinions of others who are similar to the self. Fritz Heider earned his doctorate in philosophy from the University of Graz. In , Heider moved to the United States to work at Smith College and later the University of Kansas where he worked for the remainder of his life Ash, At this point, social psychologists like Heider expanded their research to focus on interpersonal relations as an important field of study.

Though many social psychologists focused on behavior in interpersonal relations, their research served as a gateway for research examining communication in interpersonal relationships. Heider focused on theories in cognitive consistency, emphasizing that individuals prefer when their cognitions are in agreement with each other. Individuals gather information that helps them to predict and explain human behavior. When examining motivations in interpersonal relations, Heider found that affective significance is greatly determined by causal attribution.

The condition of motivation becomes the focus and is relied on for making judgments and also interpreting the action. His influence continues to grow after his death in Claude E. Shannon received his B. Shannon worked for the National Research Council, the National Defense Research Committee, and Bell Telephone Laboratories, where he developed the mathematical theory of communication, now known as information theory, with Warren Weaver.

Shannon went on to teach at MIT until his death in Warren Weaver received his B. Shannon and Weaver significantly contributed to the systematic approach to the study of communication. Both theorists were engineers who sought to explain information exchange through cybernetic processes.

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They were the first to effectively model information, as they sought to explain how to attain precise and efficient signal transmissions in the realm of telecommunications. Information theory provided the connections from information to uncertainty and uncertainty to communication that facilitated the development of URT. Individuals have a desire to reduce uncertainty and they are able to fulfill this need by increasing information. These concepts are further explored in the examination of information-seeking strategies in URT.

Charles R. Berger received his B. After graduation, Berger worked at Illinois State University at Normal, Northwestern University, and the University of California at Davis, where he continues to work today as the chair of the Department of Communication. Berger has published on a variety of topics in interpersonal communication including: uncertainty reduction, strategic interaction, information-seeking, attribution, interpersonal attraction, social cognition, and apprehension.

Berger has coauthored five books and contributed to over thirty other texts. Richard J. Calabrese received his B. Calabrese became a professor in communication at Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois, in , where he continues to work today. In , Berger became an assistant professor of communication at Northwestern University. During this time, Calabrese studied under Berger, receiving his Ph. This article inspired a wave of new research examining the role of uncertainty in communication. Berger and Calabrese formed URT, also known as initial interaction theory, to explain the role of communication in reducing uncertainty in initial interactions and the development of interpersonal relationships.

The theory was developed, like other interpersonal theories before it Heider, , with the goal of allowing the communicator the ability to predict and explain initial interactions.


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Though Berger and Calabrese did not explore the realm of subsequent interaction, they did strongly recommend that future research should investigate the application of the framework of URT to developed relationships. But individuals can use communication to reduce this uncertainty. Individuals have the ability to decrease uncertainty by establishing predictable patterns of interaction. Because of this, reducing uncertainty can help foster the development of relationships. Berger and Calabrese found that uncertainty was related to seven other communication and relational-focused concepts: verbal output, nonverbal warmth, information seeking, self-disclosure, reciprocity, similarity, and liking.

From those concepts, the researchers introduced a collection of axioms, or propositions, supported by past uncertainty research.

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Each axiom states a relationship between a communication concept and uncertainty. The procedure used to develop the axioms and theorems was adopted from Blalock Individuals must be able to engage in proactive and retroactive strategies to learn how to predict what will happen and also explain what has already happened. The impact of Berger and Calabrese on the field of interpersonal communication was and continues to be prolific.

In the past thirty years, this article has generated a plethora of research, changing the way that relationships are explored and analyzed. Although URT was primarily formed to explain behavior in initial interactions, its application has since been expanded to incorporate all levels of interpersonal relationships.

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The following section will examine uncertainty reduction research since its introduction in Since its conception, Berger has produced a plethora of research expanding URT to better fit the dynamic nature of interpersonal relations. Berger established that three predeceasing conditions must exist for an individual to reduce uncertainty. These motivations to reduce uncertainty include: a potential for costs or rewards, deviations from expected behavior, and the possibility of future interaction. In , Berger teamed up with James J. Bradac, formerly of University of California at Santa Barbara — , to publish a book devoted to uncertainty reduction research.

In this text, the authors focused on the function of communication, and specifically language, as a proponent for reducing uncertainty. Through the use of these axioms the authors specifically examined the role of language as an uncertainty reducing agent. Cognitive uncertainty refers to uncertainty associated with beliefs and attitudes. Behavioural uncertainty refers to uncertainty regarding the possible behaviors in a situation. This categorization helped researchers identify the origins of uncertainty, which resulted in an increased ability to address the discomfort produced by uncertainty.

Berger and Bradac were cognitive that URT would be more useful if its influence was extended to include developed relationships as well as initial interaction. Berger and Bradac alleviated this by stating that uncertainty reduction was critical to relational development, maintenance, and dissolution as well.

Berger again related his research to Heider by stating that individuals make casual attributions regarding communicative behavior. Berger also expanded URT by claiming that three types of information-seeking strategies are used to reduce uncertainty: passive, active, or interactive strategies. The latter improvements made by Berger expanded the scope and value of URT. Other researchers also made contributions to further developments of URT.


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  5. Since its introduction in , URT has been expanded from a theory of relational development to one also important in established relationships. The following sections examine the contributions made by current interpersonal researchers to URT. These criticisms help to clarify the underlying principles of the theory and suggest ways for improvement for future research. Michael Sunnafrank argued that a motivation to reduce uncertainty is not a primary concern in initial interactions.

    Sunnafrank argued that the predicted outcome value POV of the interaction had a greater effect on uncertainty. Their primary concern was axiom three, which related high uncertainty to high information seeking see appendix A. These researchers emphasized that high uncertainty does not create enough motivation to result in information-seeking; rather a want for information must also exist. Canary and Dainton explored uncertainty reduction in terms of relational maintenance across cultural contexts and found that the applicability of URT may not hold to multiple cultures.

    This leads to a general questioning of validity of URT other cultures. Research has found that communication plays a critical role in initial interactions and relational development. Berger and Calabrese were the first to investigate the role of communication in initial interactions with the development of a theory of uncertainty reduction.

    Its widespread influence led to its adoption in other relational and communicative contexts such as small group, mass communication, and computer-mediated communication. URT has withstood the test of time, proving itself as a heuristic theory with utility that increases with subsequent research. Ash, M. Heider, Fritz.

    The Toronto School of Communication Theory: Interpretations, Extensions, Applications The Toronto School of Communication Theory: Interpretations, Extensions, Applications
    The Toronto School of Communication Theory: Interpretations, Extensions, Applications The Toronto School of Communication Theory: Interpretations, Extensions, Applications
    The Toronto School of Communication Theory: Interpretations, Extensions, Applications The Toronto School of Communication Theory: Interpretations, Extensions, Applications
    The Toronto School of Communication Theory: Interpretations, Extensions, Applications The Toronto School of Communication Theory: Interpretations, Extensions, Applications
    The Toronto School of Communication Theory: Interpretations, Extensions, Applications The Toronto School of Communication Theory: Interpretations, Extensions, Applications
    The Toronto School of Communication Theory: Interpretations, Extensions, Applications The Toronto School of Communication Theory: Interpretations, Extensions, Applications

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