Uncertainty and Communication Essay

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Uncertainty has been an important concept in communication theory for many decades. Understanding how people respond to uncertainty in developing relationships and in intercultural encounters has been the foundation of a large body of interpersonal communication research. This work has demonstrated complex relationships between communication,  information seeking, and the management of uncertainty. “Uncertainty exists when details of situations are ambiguous, complex, unpredictable, or probabilistic; when information is unavailable or inconsistent; and when people feel insecure in their own state of knowledge or the state of knowledge in general” (Brashers 2001, 478). Recent theory-building and theory-testing have extended the concept into the domains of social influence and behavioral change, primarily through  health communication research. Theories of communication and uncertainty management, motivated information management, problematic integration, and the risk-perception attitude are recent theoretical directions that recognize the complexity of uncertainty and information management in the area of health. Social influence researchers have used theories of  information processing and uncertainty management in recent research on health behavior change. Other related areas of research have included tests of messages promoting HIV testing (Hullett 2006) and organ donation. One complexity that has received attention is the collaborative nature of uncertainty management. Researchers need to account for the motivations, outcome assessments, and efficacy beliefs of both information seekers and information providers. Support from others can assist with uncertainty management by helping achieve information goals, but also by means such as facilitating skill development, providing acceptance or validation, or encouraging reappraisal or perspective shifts.


  1. Antheunis, M. L., Schouten, A. P., Valkenburg, P. M., & Peter, J. (2012). Interactive uncertainty reduction strategies and verbal affection in computer-mediated communication. Communication Research, 39(6), 757–780.
  2. Babrow, A. S., Kasch, C. R., & Ford, L. A. (1998). The many meanings of uncertainty in illness: Toward a systematic accounting. Health Communication, 10, 1–23.
  3. Brashers, D. E. (2001). Communication and uncertainty management. Journal of Communication, 51, 477–497.
  4. Hullett, C. R. (2006). Using functional theory to promote HIV testing: The impact of value-expressive messages, uncertainty, and fear. Health Communication, 20, 57–67.

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