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Apprehension and Anxiety in Communication

Summary and Keywords

Intergroup anxiety is a form of restlessness and negative feeling caused by communicating with someone with a different social and cultural identity. Just like any other form of anxiety, intergroup anxiety has negative consequences, such as disability in social interactions, weak cognitive performance, and even life consequences. Intergroup anxiety is the result of fear of being disapproved, embarrassed, and rejected across different racial, ethnic, religious, and social groups’ interactions. Theoretically, intergroup anxiety is influenced by the previous experiences one has had with the members of other groups, one’s knowledge of other groups, and the situation in which one interacts with other groups. Intergroup anxiety has behavioral, cognitive, and affective consequences. There are different theories of communication that explain the nature and function of intergroup anxiety. Uncertainty reduction theory, for example, defines anxiety as a result of uncertainty and asserts that to maintain communication, parties should decrease their uncertainty and consequently their anxiety. Anxiety/uncertainty management theory focuses on anxiety and argues that to have effective communication the level of intergroup anxiety should be managed between a minimum and a maximum threshold. A decrease in anxiety and uncertainty is also essential to intercultural adaptation. Different factors can increase the amount of anxiety in intergroup contexts, namely ethnocentrism, prejudice, and discrimination. These factors are related to individuals’ feeling of threat due to one or some of the following: intergroup conflict, unequal group status, in-group identification, knowledge of out-group, and intergroup contact. To settle intergroup conflicts individuals are advised to establish more high-quality intergroup contacts and to change the way they make distinctions among various groups. Quality intergroup contact can be reached through strategies such as establishing cross-cultural friendships and intergroup disclosure. One form of intergroup anxiety is intercultural communication apprehension, which is the apprehension individuals feel due to real or imagined intercultural communication. Intercultural communication apprehension is positively correlated with uncertainty and ethnocentrism, and negatively correlated with intercultural willingness to communicate.

Keywords: intergroup anxiety, intergroup contact, intercultural communication apprehension, uncertainty, prejudice, conflict, intergroup communication

Anxiety and Communication

Anxiety is a negative and unpleasant emotion with mental and physiological effects on the body. Anxiety may emerge as trait or state feelings. A trait form of anxiety is a stable and permanent level of anxiety that forms in the early ages and will remain with individuals, while in a state form the level of anxiety changes based on the situation (McCroskey, 1977). Anxiety is the central explanatory concept in most psychological theories of human personality, and it is a principal causative agent for many behavioral consequences such as insomnia and immoral and sinful acts (Spielberger, 1966).

Anxiety could be an obstacle to communication. People with a high level of anxiety often find it difficult to engage in social interactions and to enhance their self-presentational confidence. Because anxious people usually concentrate on negative aspects of social interactions, they often have difficulties in maintaining healthy relationships with other people, and their social behavior is protective. The lack of ability to establish healthy communication could be especially dangerous in relationships such as in patient–healthcare professional interactions, where communication is an important tool to provide individuals with their exact and proper healthcare needs. In addition, anxiety may result in severe educational and work consequences. Anxiety as a disorder is associated with poor life course consequences and conditions and depression (Halls, Cooper, & Creswell, 2015). Halls et al. (2015) posited that the lack of social skills can revoke the negative reactions of others, which results in negative attitude about self, social avoidance behaviors, and, eventually, anxiety. Anxiety also affects cognitive performances such as the ability to learn a second or foreign language in the entire four major language skills, namely speaking, listening, reading, and writing. This is related to lower amounts of the ability to concentrate and lower performance among the anxious individuals. However, not all kinds of anxiety are harmful in learning a second language. Certain levels of facilitating anxiety are necessary and energizing in language learning (MacIntyre & Gardner, 1991). Higher levels of anxiety (too much anxiety) either in the form of social anxiety or in its general form need psychological and medical attention.

There are different manifestations and concepts of anxiety in communication. One of the most studied forms of communication anxiety is communication apprehension (CA), defined as the feeling of anxiety individuals have as a result of a real or anticipated communication (McCroskey, 1977). CA is a specific form of anxiety as a multifaceted affective response during which individuals have an unpleasant feeling of tension, apprehension, and worry about possible negative outcomes manifested in feelings such as discomfort, distress, and fear. CA is characterized as apprehension at the interpersonal level. Most CA studies investigate it at the individual-to-individual relationship and concentrate on the psychological aspect of this trait. There are several cross-cultural CA studies that have compared the intracultural CA level of a cultural group with the intracultural CA score of other cultures. For example Watson, Monroe, and Atterstrom (1989) compared the CA scores of young American and Swedish children and reported higher CA among the Swedish. At the intercultural or intergroup level, CA has been studied in the form of intercultural communication apprehension (ICA), which is “the fear or anxiety associated with either real or anticipated communication with people from different groups, especially cultural and/or ethnic groups” (Neuliep & McCroskey, 1997b, p. 148).

Intergroup Anxiety

Intergroup anxiety is a negative and unpleasant emotion that individuals feel while interacting in an intergroup communication. Intergroup communication is a social interaction in which interactive parties define themselves in terms of group membership, and message transmission is influenced by the group membership of the involved individuals. People get anxious in intergroup interactions because they are afraid of negative outcomes such as disapproval, embarrassment, and rejection (Stephan, 2014). Intergroup communication is different from the other forms of apprehension such as social anxiety, because it is specifically related to the out-group members, and its consequences are broader than the consequences of social anxiety, such as hesitation in the establishment of interactions (Stephan, 2014). Various intergroup interactions among people from different races, ethnicities, sexes, religions, and social classes can result in anxiety. Intergroup anxiety can cause four types of consequences: (1) negative psychological consequences, (2) negative behavioral consequences, (3) negative evaluations by out-group members, and (4) negative evaluations by in-group members (Littleford, Wright, & Sayoc-Parial, 2005).

The theoretical model of intergroup anxiety by Stephan (2014) explained development, antecedents, and consequences of anxiety in intergroup context. Based on this model, three interrelated components make intergroup anxiety: (1) the affective component that deals with the negative and aversive effects of intergroup anxiety; (2) the cognitive component that is related to the psychological and cognitive aspects of intergroup anxiety, such as negative psychological consequences, negative behavioral consequences, negative out-group evaluation, and in-group disapproval; and (3) the physiological component that deals with the physiological effects of intergroup anxiety such as skin responses and blood pressure. At the trait-like anxiety level, that is, anxiety as a persistent personal characteristic, there is a reciprocal relationship between the cognitive and affective components, while the physiological arousal is likely to be minimal. At the state-like anxiety level, that is, the changing amount of the anxiety in different situations, the causal and reciprocal relationship between the cognitive and affective components exists, and these components can activate physiological arousal from a medium to high level.

The model explains how the reciprocal interaction between the antecedents of intergroup anxiety with intergroup anxiety itself leads to consequences in intergroup contexts. The antecedents of intergroup anxiety are: (1) personal characteristics, (2) attitudes and related cognition, (3) personal experiences, and (4) situational factors. Personal characteristics that increase prejudice, ethnocentrism, mistrust, intolerance of ambiguity, and uncertainty can raise intergroup anxiety. Also, the personal characteristics related to a stronger social identity can have the same effect. Negative attitudes in the forms of prior prejudice and negative stereotyping can also promote higher intergroup anxiety. The lack of personal experiences with out-group can increase intergroup uncertainty and concerns about being rejected, and decrease the opportunities to acquire intergroup communication skills. Also, negative contact with out-group increases negative expectation about intergroup contact, and eventually intergroup anxiety. Other studies showed during the less positive contact experience between minority and majority groups, minorities’ attitude toward out-group was influenced by perceived attitudes of parents and peers (Jasinskaja-Lahti, Mähönen, & Liebkind, 2011). Situational factors such as competition, unequal ratio of in-group to out-group, differences in groups’ status, lack of clarity in the role of the participants, unfriendly encounters, arguments, misunderstanding, rudeness, discrimination, and aggression can increase intergroup anxiety too.

The consequences of intergroup anxiety can be categorized as (1) cognitive, (2) affective, and (3) behavioral. Cognitive consequences of the intergroup anxiety are more likely to be a result of prior attitudes and situational factors. Intergroup anxiety influences cognition in three ways. First, it can activate consistent negative cognition of out-group in the forms of negative attitude, negative stereotyping, negative beliefs about out-group, and biased perceptions of out-groups. Second, it depletes cognitive resources, because in an anxiety situation, participants pay more attention to worrying about the negative expectations and spend more energy on being vigilant. Third, it interferes with executive functioning, for example by increasing more inaccurate responding in situations requiring rapid judgement. Based on the type of negative cognition and situational factor, intergroup anxiety has affective and emotional consequences such as fear, anger, threat, embarrassment, humiliation, frustration, guilt, dread, or hatred. Also, intergroup anxiety leads to various behavioral consequences. Intergroup anxiety lead to (1) nonverbal manifestations such as speech difficulties and increased volume, and (2) overtly negative behaviors such as avoiding out-group members, not being open with out-group members and terminating intergroup interactions quickly. The model proposes that physiological arousals amplify behavioral responses to out-group members.

The theoretical model of intergroup anxiety proposes a reciprocal relationship between the antecedents and consequences of intergroup anxiety. That is, the results of intergroup anxiety can reproduce and increase apprehension in their turn. To reduce intergroup anxiety, Stephan (2014) suggested addressing apprehension in three affective, cognitive, and physiological components. Thus, to decrease intergroup anxiety (1) the negative affect should be reduced and negative emotions should be diminished, (2) negative expectation should be modified and replaced, and (3) physiological arousals should be lowered (for a more in-depth discussion of these solutions refer to Stephan, 2014).

Different studies have confirmed the intergroup anxiety model. A study of dyadic intergroup interactions of white-white, white-black, and white–Asian American college students in the United States supported the affective amplification outcome of anxiety (Littleford et al., 2005). This study showed when feeling less comfortable, white students had more positive feelings toward black partners than white partners. According to the model, more anxiety causes an amplified reaction to interracial challenges by the dominant group of the whites, and they show an exaggerated amount of positive feeling to cope with their anxiety. Also, this study reported a difference between men and women in intergroup discomfort, as women increased their friendliness, whereas men decreased in friendliness. Another study of undergraduate college students backed the model’s postulation that anxiety will amplify interactional norms and in the absence of those norms people may show social incompetence and confused behavior (Harber, 1998). In this study, white students showed less criticism and more appreciation toward blacks than whites. The amplified behavior resulting from intergroup anxiety led the whites to be exaggeratedly polite and emotionally positive when they interacted with blacks.

Theories of Intergroup Anxiety

Uncertainty Reduction Theory

Various theories try to explain how and why people are anxious in different interpersonal, intergroup, and intercultural communication contexts. Uncertainty Reduction Theory (URT) explains the role of uncertainty and the anxiety in communication. According to URT, the basic purpose of interaction is to reduce the amount of uncertainty individuals have prior to interaction through different verbal and nonverbal strategies (Berger & Calabrese, 1975). Such strategies are generally categorized as passive, active, and interactive. During passive strategies individuals unobtrusively observe others’ verbal and nonverbal behaviors. In active strategies information is knowingly gathered, yet there is no contact between the parties. Different strategies of information seeking and framing could be categorized as active, although framing can also be done passively. Strategies such as self-disclosure, question asking, and question/disclosure intimacy are categorized as interactive strategies in which there is a proactive confronting among communication participants. Meeting people from different cultural backgrounds, entails different levels of “strangerness” or familiarity, and consequently uncertainty in both cognitive and behavioral levels. Uncertainty limits the ability to predict or understand others’ behaviors, which, in turn, results in apprehension and anxiety (Neuliep & Ryan, 1998).

Anxiety/Uncertainty Management Theory

Closely related to URT is the Anxiety/Uncertainty Management theory (AUM), which investigates the interrelationships of uncertainty, anxiety, mindfulness, and communication effectiveness (Gudykunst, 1995). Despite their similarity, AUM is different from URT, as URT assumes people communicate to reduce their amount of uncertainty while according to AUM people try to manage their uncertainty and anxiety during communication. Another aspect of AUM is its emphasis on the importance of anxiety management as much as uncertainty management to form effective communication. According to AUM, communication participants should manage their levels of uncertainty and anxiety between a minimum and maximum threshold to be able to continue their interaction. Getting to the level above the maximum threshold make parties too stressful and uncertain to initiate or follow an interaction, and being at the level below the minimum threshold will leave individuals with no motivation to initiate or follow the interaction. Two important concepts of AUM are mindfulness and effective communication. As a quality of communication, mindfulness means the communication participants are consciously aware of the process of communication and the differences among the parties. In effective communication the receiver of the message perceives and understands the messages relatively similar to the initial intended meaning of the sender. The more similar the intended and received meanings are, the more effective the communication is. Mindfulness is an important tool to have effective communication, and managing anxiety and uncertainty are the crucial factors in this regard. According to AUM, communication takes place among people with a certain level of “strangerness.” Strangers are the people who are physically close to each other but conceptually apart. The level of strangerness increases as the conceptual difference between the participants grows (Neuliep, 2012).

Apprehension and Anxiety in CommunicationClick to view larger

Figure 1. The basic AUM theory model.

Source: Stephan et al. (1999, p. 617).

AUM proposes a set of axioms to explain the interrelationships of anxiety, uncertainty, mindfulness, and effective communication in interpersonal and intergroup communication; see Figure 1. The final version of the AUM has 47 axioms. These axioms and their related theorems help illuminate the relationships among basic causes of effective communication (i.e., uncertainty and anxiety management) and superficial groups of causes such as self and self-concept, motivation to interact with strangers, reaction to strangers, social categorization of strangers, situational process, and connection with strangers (Stephan, Stephan, & Gudykunst, 1999). Some of these elements are applicable in intergroup communication, while others could be applied to the interpersonal context.

The axioms of the AUM can explain how anxiety affects and is affected by intergroup communication. Some examples of such mechanisms and elements are: perceived threat to social identity; prejudice and ethnocentrism; stereotypes; different social identities; lack of collective self-esteem and confidence; the need for group inclusion; the lack of information about the out-group, generalization about out-groups and the lack of ability to categorize them; negative expectations for out-group; lack of normative and institutional support for communicating with the out-group; less perceived power over the out-group; decrease in quality and quantity of contact with the out-group; decreased interdependence, shared networks, intimacy, respect and in-group attraction for the out-group; and decreased mindful communication with the out-group. Also, uncertainty and anxiety are related to cross-cultural distinctions, such as individualism/collectivism, masculinity/femininity, power distance, and cultural uncertainty avoidance. Here is an example of AUM axioms.

Axiom 5: An increase in perceived threats to our social identities when interacting with strangers will produce an increase in our anxiety and a decrease in our confidence in predicting their behavior.

Previous research has used this theory to investigate CA of different cultural groups. For example, a study of strangers’ and close friends’ relationships in the United States and Japan supported the presented axioms of AUM (Gudykunst & Nishida, 2001). This study revealed a negative correlation between anxiety and attributional confidence (the inverse of uncertainty). Also, it showed anxiety negatively predicts how individuals perceived similarity between the sent and received communication message (perceived communication effectiveness) and attributional confidence. In another study, Neuliep (2012) used AUM to study the relationship between ICA, ethnocentrism, uncertainty reduction, and communication satisfaction during initial intercultural interactions. The study showed in intercultural dyadic interactions, ICA and ethnocentrism are negatively correlated with uncertainty reduction and communication satisfaction. The study did not prove the same relationship in the intracultural dyadic interactions.

A major line of research related to intergroup anxiety and uncertainty is how individuals adapt to a new cultural environment and how anxiety and uncertainty influence this process. One theory of cultural adaptation is Gudykunst and Hammer’s theory of cultural adaptation (Gudykunst & Hammer, 1988), which asserts individuals upon their arrival in a new cultural context have high cognitive uncertainty and anxiety due to the lack of security. Cultural adaptation according to this theory entails reducing the amount of both uncertainty and anxiety, which according to the theory take place independently. A study of international students in the United States supported the assumption that the reduction in uncertainty and intergroup anxiety increases the level of cross-cultural or intercultural adaptation (Gao & Gudykunst, 1990).

Ethnocentrism, Intergroup Prejudice, and Anxiety

Ethnocentrism is closely related to intergroup anxiety. Ethnocentrism is the tendency of individuals to perceive the cultural and behavioral norms of the in-group to be superior to those of out-groups. Ethnocentric people attribute positive adjectives to the in-group while they characterize members of the out-group in a negative way, a phenomenon called ethnocentrism attribution bias (Neuliep & McCroskey, 1997a). Along with a line of research that studies ethnocentrism attribution bias, there is a psychological approach to ethnocentrism that explains it as a general attitudinal profile not only directed toward a special out-group, but also influencing the general attitude of individuals toward all out-groups. The psychological approach defines ethnocentrism to be a trait. Individuals high in this trait view their own groups’ standards to be relevant to other groups and they judge outgroups accordingly (Lin & Rancer, 2003a). Neuliep and McCroskey (1997a) believe that all cultures have some degree of ethnocentrism and that this is useful when the in-group is threatened or is in danger. Neuliep and McCroskey (1997a) asserted there are three communicative distance categories resulting from ethnocentric speech: indifference, avoidance, and disparagement. Indifference distance represents one’s cultural superiority through speech patterns such as speaking loudly and slowly to non-native speakers. Avoidance distance is shown through refusing to have or minimizing contacts with out-groups. Disparagement distance is an explicit expression of cultural superiority of the in-group.

Previous research has found ICA was positively related to ethnocentrism, and both ICA and ethnocentrism were negatively related to intercultural willingness-to-communicate and the intention to participate in intercultural interactions (Lin & Rancer, 2003a). According to Anxiety/Uncertainty Management theory (AUM), intergroup anxiety is positively correlated with ethnocentrism because the ethnocentric approach to intergroup communication lacks the intergroup or intercultural awareness and mindfulness. This is evident in a study of British teachers’ and Thai students’ interaction that showed higher levels of cultural awareness is related to less CA (Monthienvichienchai, Bhibulbhanuwat, Kasemsuk, & Speece, 2002).

Prejudice is also a form of developing negative attitudes toward the out-group and is defined as the expression of negative emotions and hostility toward a social group (Allport, 1954), whereas ethnocentrism is a general tendency to maintain negative attitudes toward multiple out-groups. Previous research has shown that higher amounts of intergroup contact, such as interracial contacts, are associated with reduced amounts of anxiety and prejudice (Goldstein, 2013). However, the literature about the correlation between contact and intergroup threat (a main source of intergroup anxiety) toward the out-group is divided. In an intergroup contact, both quality and quantity of contacts can affect the cognitive attitudes of communication participants (Stephan, 2014). Higher amounts of low-quality intergroup contact are more likely to lead to negative attitudes. A study of Muslim immigrants in three European nations (Germany, France, and the United Kingdom) did not show a significant reduction in in-group identification and contact (Croucher, 2013). The study proposed that higher amounts of intergroup connection won’t cause higher identification and understanding of the out-group.

Prejudice has been studied in different contexts. A study of the relationship of imagined intergroup contact with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) individuals, and intergroup anxiety in Korea and United States showed the Koreans had less intergroup anxiety in imagined conversations with gays than Americans did (Lee & Cunningham, 2014). This study showed that intergroup anxiety is a mediator of the relationship between imagined intergroup contact and sexual prejudice for Koreans but not for Americans. Intergroup anxiety is also a main source of racial prejudice toward immigrants. Russian and Ethiopian immigrants to Israel and Moroccan immigrants to Spain are more likely to be perceived as a threat by host members with a higher amount of intergroup anxiety than hosts with lower intergroup anxiety (Stephan, Ybarra, Martínez, Schwarzwald, & Tur-Kaspa, 1998). In an interracial study, whites’ higher level of intergroup anxiety was reported to be positively associated with their likelihood of not returning for interaction with blacks (Plant & Devine, 2003).

Integrated Threat Theory

The integrated threat theory (ITT) is a theory of intergroup communication that helps to understand intergroup prejudice, conflict, and anxiety. Originally developed by Stephan and Stephan (1996), the ITT proposed that when individuals believe their social group, identity, value, and beliefs are threatened they develop prejudice as a defensive reaction. According to Stephan and Stephan (1996) the mere perception of threat is enough to develop prejudice toward the out-group. While ITT resembles AUM in dealing with intergroup anxiety, it differs from AUM in how it conceptualizes the effect of anxiety. ITT uses a measurement of anxiety that encapsulates uncertainty along with other forms of negative feelings, which are publicly known as anxiety. AUM differentiates anxiety and uncertainty as correlated but separate constructs. AUM focuses on a greater range of antecedents and asserts anxiety has beneficial effects, but ITT focuses on prejudice and asserts anxiety has detrimental effects. ITT perceives (higher amount of) anxiety as the reason for responses such as stereotyping, and polarized emotions and evaluations, which are typically negative.

Stephan and Stephan (1996) defined four classes of intergroup prejudice: realistic threats, symbolic threats, negative stereotyping, and intergroup anxiety. Realistic threat is the result of economic, physical, and political threat that an individual feels from out-group members. Such threats result in competition over scarce resources, and development of prejudicial and discriminatory behaviors. For example, it is common for host nation individuals to complain about fewer occupational opportunities because immigrants take the jobs for lower wages. The differences in values, beliefs, and norms of groups cause symbolic threats. Groups with different values develop different worldviews, and incompatibility among such worldviews can threaten group members. A recent example of symbolic threat is the ban on the burkini on French beaches because it was perceived to be against the secular values of the society. Burkini (combination of burqa and bikini) is a women’s swimsuit based on the Islamic law for modesty that covers the entire body.

When the perceived out-group threat is attributed to the behavior of a typical member of the out-group, a case of negative stereotyping happens. A stereotype about another group makes people expect a special behavior by the members of that group. The negative feeling the majority show while facing a member of an ethnic or religious group can be explained by this class of intergroup prejudice. Intergroup anxiety is the fear people have while interacting with an out-group member. According to ITT, this antecedent of intergroup prejudice is different, as it functions at the individual level, which means it is the fear someone personally feels in interacting with the out-group, while in realistic and symbolic threats and negative stereotyping the threat is perceived at the group level (Croucher, 2013).

Apprehension and Anxiety in CommunicationClick to view larger

Figure 2. The basic ITT model.

Source: Stephan et al. (1999, p. 620).

ITT predicts five factors influencing the amount and type of intergroup prejudice the individuals show in their interactions: inter-group conflict, inequality in the status of in-group and out-group, in-group identification, knowledge of out-group, and intergroup contact (see Figure 2). Intergroup conflict is the result of competition over the scare resources or divergence in the cultural norms and values, and this increases the likelihood of intergroup prejudice and confrontation. For example, individuals with a higher social position perceive more threat posed by the less-advantaged groups (Curseu, Stoop, & Schalk, 2007) because they have more resources to lose and be worried about. Higher levels of in-group identification raise the perceived threat of the out-group. The individuals with a higher ethnic identity are more likely to develop prejudice toward the out-groups they believe threaten their ethnic identity, while the people whose ethnic identity is not as strong will be less sensitive about the influence of their interaction with out-groups on their ethnic identity. Previous research indicated that more knowledge of the out-group will decrease the perceived threat (Curseu et al., 2007). As already mentioned, existing literature on the role of intergroup contact on anxiety is divided. Some resources have indicated that a higher amount of contact with the out-group can decrease perceived threat, but others have questioned the idea (Croucher, 2013). Intergroup anxiety also mediates the relationship between intergroup contact and prejudice (Pettigrew & Tropp, 2006).

Various studies have investigated prejudice in intergroup contexts of the mainstream and minority groups such as immigrants, disabled people, and sexual orientations. An intercultural study of prejudice of U.S. American and Mexican students toward each other revealed the more interculturally anxious individuals of both groups tended to be prejudicial toward the other group (Stephan, Diaz-Loving, & Duran, 2000). The same study showed better quality (favorable) relationships (i.e., equal status, voluntary, positive, cooperative, and individualized) helped Americans have less prejudice and anxiety toward Mexicans, while the amount of contact was unrelated to the attitudes of Americans. The same trend was relevant for Mexican students’ perception of Americans. A study of the prejudice toward immigrants to Spain and Israel showed intergroup anxiety and negative stereotyping are more powerful predictors of prejudicial attitudes than realistic and symbolic threats (Stephan et al., 1998). Another study of white and First Nation peoples in Canada revealed that intergroup anxiety and other forms of intergroup threat are predicators of negative out-group attitude, and are associated with negative intergroup contact, strength of in-group identity, and perception of intergroup contact (Corenblum & Stephan, 2001). Goldstein and Davis (2010) studied intergroup communication apprehension of 46 heterosexual college students to characterize the students’ eagerness to have alliance with LGBTs to reduce their sexual prejudice. They found that the participants with more positive stereotypical beliefs are more likely to have higher intergroup anxiety.

Anxiety and Conflict

Different theories of conflict characterize conflict as a result of competition over scare resources and divergent cultural values (Putnam, 2006). Conflict is relevant to intergroup communication because it is a communication style between at least two groups of individuals and it helps build up group identity because sharing the same interest while struggling to access resources can unite separate people, give them the shared feeling of belonging to the same group, and contribute to the formation of in-group identity. The definition of conflict as the competition over scare resources and divergent cultural values is compatible with realistic and symbolic perception of threat in intergroup contexts. Competition over different forms of social resources results in realistic threat because individuals will perceive members of the out-group to be threatening their political and economic power or physical and material well-being. Divergent values and cultural inconsistencies can also lead to symbolic threat, where the in-group finds the out-group as a threat to its moral values, standards, beliefs, and attitudes.

Previous research has shown that intergroup anxiety and apprehension are associated with conflict in family, school, organization, or social contexts (Rahmani, 2017). Anxiety as a mediator affects the relationship of perceived threat and demonstrated prejudice. In other words, when people are anxious they show more prejudice toward out-group members in the case of an intergroup conflict. However, it is also likely the relationship of anxiety and conflict is mediated by the socioeconomic status of the groups. Groups with lower socioeconomic status have more potential of having higher amounts of CA. Minority groups are more likely to be in a lower socioeconomic status because they have less access to educational and medical opportunities, linguistic incapacities, and less functional skills (Rahmani, 2017). Facing intergroup conflicts, such groups have less ability and power to compete with the out-groups over resources, which causes worry, apprehension, and anxiety. Previous studies have also shown that the lower socioeconomic status of minority groups can be an agent of apprehension (Smedley, Myers, & Harrell, 1993).

Fear of the group’s future can also cause anxiety during conflict. Previous research on political conflicts has shown that not every competition over scare resources results in conflict because conflict entails financial, emotional, and social costs, but it is the miscommunication between the groups and the resulting fear of future consequences that lead to intergroup conflicts (Lake & Rothchild, 1996). Thus, when the group finds it difficult to continue its vital functions due to its lack of access to the resources or it finds itself incapable of maintaining its basic cultural values, it gets more anxious.

Stereotyping also fosters escalation of anxiety in conflicting conditions (Greijdanus, Postmes, Gordijn, & van Zomeren, 2015). During a conflict, people take various strategies to deal with members of the out-group. Initially, they look for information about how their image is perceived by the out-group. A negative perception of “us” by “them” is threatening per se, and it raises intergroup anxiety. Based on the principles of social identity theory (Tajfel & Turner, 1986), individuals’ evaluation of their in-group influence is affected by the out-group and the in-group’s social identity valence, and to maintain a favorable in-group identity, the group members take various strategies in favor of the in-group. Generally such strategies aim at either building a positive in-group image or a negative outgroup image. Stereotyping is a strategy to build one of these images, and negative stereotyping of in-group by out-group results in negative in-group identity. This effect of stereotyping during a conflict is more obvious as the groups confront each other over reaching the resources or setting the cultural and social norms. Thus, stereotyping can also manipulate the amount of anxiety when a conflict among the groups leads to intergroup prejudice.

Due to the significant role of anxiety in intergroup communication, scholars of conflict resolution have done a lot of research on how to decrease the amount of anxiety in intergroup conflicts. Generally such studies have profiled two major strategies of improving contacts between the members of the different groups and changing the structure of social categorizations (Hewstone & Greenland, 2000). The strategy of improving intergroup contact includes helping members of the groups have constructive contact, which allows them to acquire an in-depth knowledge of each other, improve their positive feelings and image of the out-group, and gain a cooperative view. Social categorization is the process of making distinctions among different groups and categorizing them into in-groups and out-groups based on the differences attributed to the groups (Hewstone & Greenland, 2000). It can result in discrimination against certain social groups; thus, one way to improve intergroup interactions and resolution of the intergroup conflict is to reduce the salience of the existing social categorizations through the steps of decategorization (eliminating the existing categorizations), recategorization, and cross-categorization (redefining the categorizations into one or several new categories).

One form of intergroup contact is intergroup friendship. Cross-group friendship generally involves common goals and cooperation between equal-status parties over time and across different settings (Pettigrew & Tropp, 2006). Self-disclosure helps establish and maintain cross-group friendships as an effective strategy to reduce intergroup prejudice and conflict. Typically when a party discloses in an interpersonal relationship, he or she encourages the other party to mutually disclose too, and this establishes a stronger friendship relationship. Turner, Hewstone, and Voci (2007) identified three mechanisms through which self-disclosure might reduce prejudice during a cross-group friendship. First, self-disclosure results in a more positive evaluation of the out-group by generating empathy. Second, it increases the perceived importance of cross-group friendships. Third, it promotes reciprocal trust. Their study practically showed self-disclosure mediates the relationship between cross-group friendships and explicit out-group attitudes. An investigation of the relationship of anxiety and empathy with intergenerational attitude showed higher self-disclosure of grandchildren to their grandparents is associated with higher intergroup empathy and lower intergroup anxiety (Tam, Hewstone, Harwood, Voci, & Kenworthy, 2006). Along with that, the psychological environment created by the Internet can be used to strengthen individuals’ sense of identity and decrease the likelihood of breaking the intergroup severance. Such an environment provides greater anonymity and control, a higher chance of finding similar others, and less time and space limitation (Amichai-Hamburger, 2012).

Intercultural Communication Apprehension

Intercultural communication apprehension was first conceptualized by Neuliep and McCroskey (1997b) as a specific construct of anxiety that deals with perceived CA in intercultural contexts. The theoretical background of the construct is based on the idea of Uncertainty Reduction Theory (URT) that the strangers from different cultural groups have higher communication anxiety and uncertainty (Neuliep & McCroskey, 1997b). Intercultural communication apprehension (ICA) is positively correlated with uncertainty and negatively with socio-communication orientation (Neuliep & Ryan, 1998). Socio-communication attitude has two dimensions: assertiveness, which explains the ability to show positive or negative personal rights and feelings, and responsiveness, which explains the ability to recognize, engage, and understand others’ communication needs. Neuliep and Ryan (1998) showed that ICA is negatively correlated with both assertive and responsive communication behaviors. People with higher anxiety have less socio-communicative attitudes; thus, they are less likely to initiate communication. On the intergroup level, differences in group characteristics cause these dimensions to be harder to show. For example, religious differences could be a barrier to responsiveness, as religious prejudice toward out-group members prevents perceiving others’ communicational purposes, especially if the out-group’s religious values are in opposition with the in-group’s. The individuals with a higher amount of ICA have more difficulties in asserting their needs within intergroup communication when group differences increase uncertainty. Previous research also showed an individual’s level of ICA is not relate to the size of an individual’s hometown, how often the participants traveled outside their home state, or the number of people of the same race in the participants’ hometown (Wrench, Corrigan, McCroskey, & Punyanunt-Carter, 2006).

ICA has been studied in relation to other constructs. A study of religious fundamentalism showed no relationship between this construct and ICA, but ethnocentrism positively, and tolerance for religious disagreement negatively do predict ICA (Wrench et al., 2006). A study of ethnocentrism, ICA, and intercultural willingness to communicate (IWTC) tried to predict willingness to participate in an intercultural dialogue program and found that ICA and ethnocentrism were negatively correlated with IWTC and willingness to participate in the program (Lin & Rancer, 2003a). A study showed emotional intelligence is reported to manage and reduce the amount of ICA (Fall, Kelly, MacDonald, Primm, & Holmes, 2013). Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand emotions and to use the knowledge of emotions to increase cognition. A study of ICA of international teaching assistants in the United States showed people higher in ICA rated both their relationship with the students and their perceptions of student rating of instruction to be less satisfactory (Roach & Olaniran, 2001). ICA research has also shown men are more inter-culturally apprehensive than women and more ethnocentric and less willing to communicate inter-culturally (Lin & Rancer, 2003b).

Discussion of the Literature

As a historically familiar concept, anxiety (from the Latin word angh, meaning constriction) is documented to be conceptualized and known by the ancient Greek and Egyptians. In the 19th century, Kierkegaard investigated anxiety and concluded that it is the result of self-awareness about the consequences and responsibilities of our choices as free humans (Kierkegaard, 1980). Anxiety became one of the main themes of social and psychological studies of the 20th century—once labeled the age of anxiety by the famous poet W. H. Auden (Horwitz, 2010). Anxiety was vastly studied by psychologists such as Freud in the early 20th century. In his studies, Freud distinguished different forms of objective, neurotic, and moral anxiety (Endler & Kocovski, 2001). Later on, Charles Spielberger (1966) advanced the theoretical foundation of the concept by making a distinction between state and trait anxiety. The psychological approach to anxiety developed further and helped recognize and define the chronic forms of anxiety, such as generalized anxiety disorders and other specific phobias like social phobia.

Self-awareness influenced research on anxiety in different ways. Philosophers such as Kierkegaard and Heidegger reflected on the relationship of self-awareness and anxiety. Heidegger described anxiety as the result of being’s (individual’s) awareness of its mortality and nonexistence (Heidegger, 1996). This view is manifested in some communication theories, such as terror management theory (Greenberg & Arndt, 2012). According to this theory, individuals develop ideologies to deal with the anxiety resulting from the awareness of death. The anxiety has a psychological influence on intergroup interaction of the individuals, especially when they face confronting out-group ideologies. However, despite its popularity as a theme of research, anxiety remained a vague concept to be defined because of the behavioral manifestation of the concept; it is important and equally hard to define and measure the anxious behaviors.

Influenced by the increase in international and intercultural contact during and after World War II, social scientists such as Gordon Allport began to theorize an intergroup contact. Allport’s classic work, The Nature of Prejudice (1954), specified a situational-based framework to manage prejudice within intergroup contact. Allport based his theory on previous works in intergroup contact studies such as a study of black and white students’ interactions and attitudes. Intergroup anxiety found an important place in intergroup contact theory. The interest in intergroup anxiety also comes from a broader attention to understand how affect and emotions shape intergroup communication.

The situational research tradition of intergroup contact founded by Allport, which focused on the situational variables that affect intergroup relationships, dominated the discipline until the mid-1980s. Stephan (2014) presented a model of intergroup anxiety that was also concerned with inner states of parties. This model includes both intrapersonal and situational considerations, along with the cognitive and behavioral study of the reactions to intergroup contacts. Advances in medical science and brain function studies paved the way to study anxiety from a psychophysiological approach that perceives anxiety and fear as the bioelectrically measurable states in muscles and glands, during which the human brain activates its defensive components of motivation circuit and engages the related autonomic and somatic reflexes (Lang, Bradley, & Cuthbert, 1998).

Studies of intergroup communication cover and intersect with different lines of research in communication studies. The most important fields, such as adaptation, intergroup contact, ethnocentrism, prejudice, conflict, and self-disclosure, have been reviewed. Further research in this field will investigate different aspects of intergroup anxiety in such areas as mass media, social media, and imagined contact or generally the mass-mediated contact and mediated interpersonal/intercultural contact.

Primary Resources

To grasp a basic knowledge of the intergroup anxiety, it is important to know about the philosophical and historical backgrounds of anxiety and fear in related resources. For example, the advanced epistemological works and the resources on the ideas of the ancient Greek thinkers could be helpful. Also, it is important to mention the studies on anxiety and the self by the later philosophers such as Kierkegaard and Heidegger. A historical and evolutionary study of anxiety would be incomplete without having works by Freud on the list. The same is true of Allport’s work on intergroup contact; it is a classic and must-read book. Most of these works should be available in university and local libraries, as they are popular, influential, and comprehensive.

There are also different journals in the field of communication that include information about various topics discussed here, and about intergroup anxiety in general. The most important and related journals in psychology, social psychology, and communication are: Communication Quarterly, Communication Research Reports, Human Communication Research, Journal of Intercultural Communication Research, Journal of Anxiety Disorders, Group Processes and Intergroup Relations, International Journal of Intercultural Relations, Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, Journal of Applied Social Psychology, Journal of Social Psychology, International Journal of Psychology, Annual Review of Psychology, Basic and Applied Social Psychology, Personality, Communication Monographs, Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, and Social Psychology Bulletin. These journals are mostly published by the major academic publishers such as Taylor and Francis, SAGE, Elsevier, and Wiley. Academic social online websites also have developed a lot recently and provide an easier interaction and connection with the authors to ask them questions and to access to their publications. ResearchGate, LinkedIn, and Academia are among the most popular ones.

Further Reading

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