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Action assembly theory (AAT) seeks to explain message behavior (both verbal and nonverbal) by describing the system of mental structures and processes that give rise to those behaviors. As such, AAT is a member of the broader class of cognitive theories of message production. AAT, in turn, is itself an umbrella category for any of a variety of actual and potential specific theories that share certain central features, most prominently the notion that actions are created by integrating (or assembling) elemental features represented in long-term memory in code systems representing multiple levels of abstraction. Two distinct exemplars of this class are found in Greene (1984, 1997).
In the language of AAT, ‘action features,’ the fundamental building blocks of thought and overt action, are stored in memory in units called ‘procedural records.’ The theory then specifies two processes involved in making use of action features to produce messages: ‘activation,’ (the process by which features relevant to one’s goals and ongoing activities are selected) and ‘assembly’ (the process of integrating activated features).
Because difficulties in assembly are held to be reflected in the time required to formulate and execute messages, a number of studies conducted within the AAT framework have examined speech fluency and speech rate. These studies include investigations of the impact of attempting to design messages that address multiple goals and the effects of advance message planning on speech fluency. Another program of research has examined the impact of practice, or skill acquisition, on the speed of message production. AAT has also been applied in studies of the nature of the self, communication apprehension, and the behavioral correlates of deception. Yet another series of studies informed by AAT has focused on ‘creative facility’ – individual differences in the ability to formulate novel, socially appropriate messages. Most recently, AAT has been brought to bear in theorizing about ‘transcendent interactions’ – conversations characterized by a deep sense of absorption and connection with one’s interlocutor.
- Greene, J. O. (1984). A cognitive approach to human communication: An action assembly theory. Communication Monographs, 51, 289–306.
- Greene, J. O. (1997). A second generation action assembly theory. In J. O. Greene (ed.), Message production: Advances in communication Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, pp. 51–85.
- Greene, J. O. & Herbers, L. E. (2011). Conditions of interpersonal International Journal of Listening, 25, 66–84.