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date: 21 July 2017

Imagined Interactions

Summary and Keywords

Imagined interactions (IIs) are a process of social cognition and mental imagery in which individuals imagine and therefore indirectly experience themselves in anticipated and/or past communicative encounters with others. They have been studied in intergroup communication in terms of communication apprehension (CA), group conflict, teasing and bullying, cross-cultural differences, political partisanship, and sexual orientation. They have their theoretical foundation in the work of classic symbolic interactionists and phenomenologists, as well as cognitive script theory. IIs possess many of the same attributes as real conversations, in that they may be fragmentary, extended, rambling, repetitive, or coherent. They are a means of problem solving by allowing an individual to think through a problem.

There are 14 features of IIs, comprised of eight attributes (frequency, proactivity, retroactivity, valence, discrepancy, self-dominance, variety, and specificity) and six functions (compensation, rehearsal, understanding, conflict linkage, relational maintenance, and catharsis). Brief descriptions of the functions follow: They compensate for lack of real interaction, they maintain conflict as well as resolving it, they are used to rehearse messages for future interaction, they aid people in self-understanding through clarifying attitudes and beliefs, they provide emotional catharsis by relieving tension, and they help maintain relationships through intrusive thinking about a relational partner outside of their physical presence.

In terms of the attributes, frequency represents how often people experience them. Proactivity and retroactivity are concerned with the timing of the II in relation to actual conversations. Proactive IIs occur before an anticipated encounter, while retroactive IIs occur afterward. Retroactivity is very common in films and movies in which characters have flashbacks. Proactive and retroactive IIs can occur simultaneously, as individuals replay prior conversations in their minds while preparing for ensuing interactions. Discrepancy occurs when what was imagined is different from what happens in actual conversations. Since IIs can be used for message planning, most of the imaginary talk comes from the self, with less emphasis being placed on listening to what the interaction partner says. This reflects the self-dominance attribute. The variety characteristic of IIs reflects individual differences in the number of topics that are discussed in the IIs and whom they involve. IIs tend to occur with significant others such as relational partners, family, and friends. They do not occur with people whom we rarely see. Valence reflects how positive or negative the emotions are while having an II. Finally, IIs vary in their specificity, or how vague the imagined lines of dialogue are, as well as the setting where the imaginary encounter occurs.

Keywords: Intrapersonal communication, cognition, intergroup communication, daydreaming, mental imagery, imagined interactions (IIs), cognition, personality


Intrapersonal communication is the foundation of all communication and can be viewed as a cognitive and thinking process within an individual (Honeycutt, 2003, 2010a). The way that people communicate can be better understood when we realize that intergroup communication relies on our perceptions of the groups that surround us. Intrapersonal communication encompasses introspection, daydreaming, lucid dreaming during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, and emotions ranging from sadness to joy, including thoughts internal to the communicator.

Imagined interactions (IIs) reflect intrapersonal communication, as they are a type of daydreaming and social cognition involving mental imagery that is theoretically grounded in symbolic interactionism and cognitive script theory. The term refers to cognitive representations of conversations experienced as internal dialogues with significant others (Honeycutt, 2003). IIs thus represent a type of mental imagery and social cognition used to process information about encounters as people forecast and replay conversations with significant others. They help us develop cognitive scripts as we develop expectations and plan to execute a course of behavior (e.g., how to act in a job interview based on previous experiences).

Levels of Communication

The social psychology of intergroup relations has been used as a framework for many studies of communication between members of different groups in contexts as diverse as dyads, aging, health, organizations, interculture, gender, personality, cognition, and conflict (Giles, 2012; Giles, Harwood, & Palomares, 2005; Harwood & Giles, 2005). Several theories have been utilized by scholars to drive our understanding of intergroup relations and communication. These theories include social identity theory (SIT; Tajfel & Turner, 1986), which demonstrates that individuals favor their own in-groups over out-groups. According to SIT, an in-group positivity bias forms the basis of people’s psychological and communicative approaches to members of other groups and the strategies that they may employ to change the relationships within the groups in contact. In the pages that follow, we use SIT, cognitive script theory, and symbolic interactionism to examine how intrapersonal communication—in the form of IIs—reflects another significant context in the domain of intergroup communication. Indeed, Mead’s (1934) classic notion of the “generalized other,” which is at the core of both intrapersonal and interpersonal communication inquiry, reflects intergroup identification as the basis of perspective-taking and other social dynamics.

Communication takes place on a continuum, ranging from the most individual (private) to the most collective (public) spheres (Honeycutt, 2003). At one end of the continuum, we have intrapersonal communication, where communication occurs cognitively within an individual. We then move to dyadic communication, commonly called relational communication, which involves two communicators. Group communication contains a minimum of three people, while at the far end of the continuum, collective communication encompasses large communication entities such as organizational, societal, cultural, or mass communication. The Internet and online social media can reflect multiple levels of communication, ranging from dyadic communication (e.g., an email from person to another person) to communication to multiple parties (e.g., emails to several people, e-newsletters, etc.). Using Facebook as an example, some people have few Facebook friends, while others (e.g., celebrities) may have thousands (or even millions) of followers.

The construct of the generalized other reflects the idea that a person has the common expectations that others have about actions and thoughts within a particular group or society. The generalized other thus serves to clarify one’s relation to the other as a representative member of a shared social system. Whenever an actor tries to imagine what is expected of himself or herself, the actor is taking on the perspective of the generalized other. A diverse society could contain as many generalized others as there are social groupings. As Mead (1934, p. 322) notes, “every individual member of any given human society, of course, belongs to a large number of such different functional groups.” Hence, symbolic interactionism explains how individuals define conditions and act on the basis of those definitions, as well as how the self is affected by group membership and by the real and imagined boundaries among groups. IIs assist people in understanding themselves and developing perspectives for dealing with different groups (Honeycutt, 2015).

IIs: Definition, Theoretical Roots, and Breadth of Inquiry

The concept of IIs has its theoretical foundation in symbolic interactionism (Mead, 1934) and cognitive script theory (Honeycutt, 2003; Schank, 1991). According to Mead (1934, p. 117), the individual can “test out implicitly the various possible completions of an already initiated act in advance of actual completion of the act” and choose “the one which it is most desirable to perform explicitly or carry into overt effect.”

There have been nearly three decades of programmatic II research investigating the association of IIs with variables such as personality, physiology, culture, and interpersonal relationships. IIs have undergone research in the medical, relational, academic, and organizational domains, to name only a very few. They have been linked to reduced levels of anxiety, depression, and stress in medical patients (Kroll-Mensing, 1992; Rosenblatt & Meyer, 1986), the resolution of relational conflict among couples (Zagacki, Edwards, & Honeycutt, 1992), and improved supervisor-subordinate relationships in companies. Recent work by Honeycutt and Sheldon (2017) discusses how scripts are a type of “automatic pilot,” providing guidelines on how to act when one encounters new situations. Scripts are activated mindlessly and created through IIs as people envision contingency plans of action.

IIs: Attributes and Functions

Collectively, an II can be viewed as a multidimensional construct that explains the uses of communicative mental imagery. Honeycutt (2003) makes a clear distinction between II attributes (or characteristics), and II functions. Specifically, there are eight II attributes that have been analyzed in numerous personality, physiological, and interaction studies (Honeycutt, 2003, 2010a). Frequency represents the activity of having IIs and how often people experience them. Proactivity reflects having an II before an anticipated encounter, while retroactivity occurs after a conversation has occurred. II retroactivity is very common in films and movies in which characters are shown experiencing flashbacks. Proactive and retroactive IIs can occur simultaneously, as individuals replay prior conversations in their minds while preparing for ensuing interactions. Discrepancy occurs when what one imagines is different from what happens in an actual conversation. Valence reflects the degree of emotional affect in II and represents a continuum of negative, mixed, and positive affect. Women report having more pleasant IIs than men (Honeycutt, 2003).

IIs are often used for message planning. In such situations, most imagined conversations represents one’s own talk (e.g., in a dialogue), as opposed to what an interaction partner may say. This reflects the self-dominance attribute of IIs. The variety attribute of IIs reflects individual differences in the number of topics that are discussed in one’s IIs, as well as whom the IIs are with. IIs very frequently occur with significant others such as relational partners, family, and friends. Finally, IIs vary in their specificity. II specificity refers to how vague the imagined lines of dialogue are, as well as how specific the scene of the interaction is. Verbal imagery is used when thinking about the content of the message in terms of the dialogue, while visual imagery is used when thinking about nonverbal elements, including the scene of the imaginary conversation (e.g., you imagine talking with the other person in your car, home, office, public setting, on the phone, etc.). Many IIs contain a combination of these imagery modes.

While eight II attributes have been identified, six II functions have been found via II research. IIs function in the following ways: (a) they compensate for lack of real interaction, (b) they maintain conflict as well as resolving it, (c) they are used to rehearse messages for future interaction, (d) they aid people in self-understanding through clarifying thoughts and feelings, (e) they provide emotional catharsis by relieving tension, and (f) they help maintain relationships through intrusive thinking about a relational partner outside of their physical presence. Of course, too much intrusive thinking can reflect obsession. The following text gives a brief review of each II function.

Compensation is the inability to actually communicate with someone; in this case, introspective thought substitutes for the lack of opportunity to talk. The compensation function has been found to be rampant during electrical outages or when cell phone towers are blown down during tornadoes, hurricanes, and other environmental disasters (Honeycutt, Nasser, Banner, Mapp, & DuPont, 2008). From their early development, IIs have been purported to take the place of real interaction when it is not possible to actually communicate with a given individual. In their discussion of IIs used in counseling, Rosenblatt and Meyer (1986) indicate that an individual may choose to use IIs in place of actually confronting a loved one, for fear that the loved one would be hurt by the message. Honeycutt (1989) discusses the use of IIs as a means of compensation by the elderly, who may not see their loved ones as often as they would like. In this sense, II compensation can bridge the distance between age groups and help alleviate geographical stressors.

Boldness has been identified as an important subfunction of IIs, as a type of compensation. The II boldness subfunction is a scenario wherein individuals feel emboldened and free of societal, group, or situational norms and constraints in their IIs (Honeycutt, 2003). Individuals might be more daring in their IIs than in real life, talking to bosses or significant others in a manner that more closely reflects one’s true feelings or opinions. The II boldness function would appear to be particularly salient for those operating under heavy normative and intragroup or intergroup pressures where there may be sanctions for voicing opinions (McCann & Honeycutt, 2006). For example, McCann and Honeycutt (2006) found that Japanese used IIs to suppress communication and as a means for voicing disagreement more than Americans did. Specifically, the authors attribute these findings in part to the fact that the II boldness function may be more attractive to individuals from high-context cultures (i.e., Japan) than to those from low-context cultures (i.e., the United States). It is possible that II boldness items such as “I don’t feel restricted by society’s rules in my imagined interactions,” “I can be myself in my imagined interactions,” and “I am much bolder in my imagined interactions than I am in my real life” were particularly appealing to Japanese participants in this study, who may be operating under comparatively more rigid rules and group norms about social behavior. Indeed, scholars have described the highly elaborate rules of manners and conduct in Japan, which include compliance to others, self-restraint (passivity), suppression of inner feelings, observance of formal greetings and speech, and appropriate gestures (Rothbaum, Pott, Azuma, Miyake, & Weisz, 2000). McCann and Honeycutt (2006) concluded that IIs might have served as a safe, nonpunitive outlet for self-expression for the Japanese participants. In some ways, the II boldness function can help mitigate and break down intergroup pressures (at least within one’s own mind) via intrapersonal communication.

A second function of IIs is managing conflict, also referred to as conflict linkage because a series of conversations are linked in the mind in terms of serial arguing. People recall prior arguments, as well as thinking about anticipated ones. Hence, persons may develop contingency plans in lieu of anticipated counterarguments. In conflict linkage, there is rumination as people become consumed about grievances (Honeycutt, 2010b). IIs may link one interpersonal or group episode to the next. Serial arguing occurs when people repeat the same arguments over multiple interactions. IIs can help (or hinder) individuals manage conflict as they replay old disagreements with loved ones. Research on rumination and depression reveals that it is difficult to either forgive or forget despite the cultural maxim to the contrary (McCullough, Bellah, Kilpatrick, & Johnson, 2001). Cross-cultural research comparing the IIs of Americans, Japanese, and Thais revealed that Japanese and Thais kept conflict alive via their IIs more than Americans did (McCann & Honeycutt, 2006). Very possibly due to intergroup and/or normative pressures to keep harmony alive in interpersonal and group interaction, the Japanese and Thai participants may have been quite intensely affected when their sense of harmony was disturbed via a conflict episode, and in turn they kept such a conflict alive via the IIs conflict linkage function.

The II conflict linkage function has also resulted in a secondary, axiomatic theory consisting of three axioms and nine theorems that explain the persistence and management of daily conflict (Honeycutt, 2004). The axioms are concerned with how relationships are conceptualized in terms of thinking about relational partners outside of one’s physical presence. Hence, IIs occur with important people in our lives, including one’s loved ones, work associates, and rivals. In this line of inquiry, there is the assumption that a major theme of relationships deals with the balancing of cooperation and competition (Honeycutt & Sheldon, 2017). II conflict linkage theory is discussed in greater detail later in this article.

Rehearsal, in the form of message planning, is a third II function. II rehearsal has been analyzed in many domains, most notably in relation to attachment styles. Regression analysis has revealed that a secure attachment is predicted by rehearsal, as compared to other attachment types (Honeycutt, 1999). It is very plausible that strategic planning for various encounters may enhance the level of security in one’s romantic relationships. This use of IIs also seems to be linked to cognitive editing, which allows for adjustments to messages after their potential effects on a given relationship have been assessed (Meyer, 1997).

Proactive IIs are one means by which to plan anticipated encounters. When used for rehearsal, proactive IIs allow a decrease in the number of silent pauses and shorter speech on-set latencies during actual encounters and allow an increase in message strategy variety (Allen & Honeycutt, 1997). II rehearsal may be especially pronounced (and useful) in intergroup communication when students from one national or language culture (e.g., Chinese speakers) may rehearse a presentation or interview extensively in a second language (e.g., to speakers of a different language or from a different culture).

The fourth II function is self-understanding, which could also be referred to as self-awareness. II self-understanding reflects the extent to which people understand the etiology of their beliefs, attitudes, values, opinion, and ideology as they attempt to uncover opposing or differing aspects of the self (Honeycutt, 2015). For example, through imagined conversations, an individual may reflect upon why he or she believes in unlimited corporate financial support for political candidates or does not believe in open gun carry laws. In these cases, introspective thinking may be used in order to understand the etiology of beliefs. In the intergroup realm, one may utilize II self-understanding to try to gain more insight into one’s views on stereotyping or biases against those from other groups (race, gender, age, etc.).

Catharsis is the fifth II function. In II catharsis, people use IIs to relieve tension and anxiety, which in turn can reduce uncertainty. IIs provide a mechanism to internally get “things off of one’s chest” and release emotions. These emotions can be especially salient during moments of intergroup conflict (e.g., cultural or racial) or other periods of generalized tension. For example, research among transfer and nontransfer students coping with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans revealed that transfer students, students with cell phone and email problems, students with poor social networks, and students who expressed a negative emotional valence were more likely to report a higher level of trauma anxiety (Honeycutt, Nasser, Banner, Mapp, & DuPont, 2008). Students with high levels of trauma anxiety used the catharsis function of IIs as a way to release tension.

The final II function, relational maintenance, is concerned with intrusive thinking in which individuals think about interaction partners. In this case, IIs can help sustain relationships, as people may imagine talking with others who are important in their lives. For example, engaged couples living apart used IIs effectively to compensate for the absence of their partner. Research also reveals that relational happiness is associated with having pleasant IIs (Honeycutt, 2009; Honeycutt & Wiemann, 1999). Indeed, Honeycutt and Keaton (2013) found that having more specific, frequent, and pleasant IIs was positively associated with relational satisfaction.

Communication Apprehension (CA)

Since the time of its conceptualization, communication apprehension (CA) has been the subject of extensive study within the fields of communication and intergroup inquiry. For example, intercultural communication apprehension (ICA) has been conceptualized as fear or anxiety associated with either real or anticipated interaction with people of different groups, especially cultural and ethnic and/or racial groups (Neuliep & McCroskey, 1997). The relationships among ICA, ethnocentrism, uncertainty reduction, communication satisfaction, and a variety of other variables have also been studied (Neuliep, 2012). In the area of IIs, research has examined the roles of the II catharsis and rehearsal functions, as well as II discrepancy as a facilitator or inhibitor of CA in conversations, groups, meetings, and public speaking (Honeycutt, Choi, & Deberry, 2009). A significant predictor of CA is having discrepant IIs because the speaker has difficulty imagining successful speaking performance. Discrepant IIs, therefore, have the potential to act as catastrophizing agents when individuals imagine the worst case scenario and the II becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy (Honeycutt, 2012). People with low CA have IIs before a speech that are more congruent with how they actually speak than do those with high levels of CA.

Intergroup Conflict

A variety of theories, including realistic group conflict theory (Sherif, 1966), SIT (Tajfel & Turner, 1986), and a range of psychoanalytic theories (e.g., Volkan, 1988), seek to explain the processes involved in intergroup conflict. For its part, II conflict linkage theory has a place in group conflict and communication studies, in that it explains why some people have a more difficult time forgiving and forgetting than others. Of course, not all conflict is due to intergroup factors, and conflict linkage theory is clear on this point. Still, as researchers delve into how communication can help learn more about intergroup conflict, intrapersonal communication research can provide some direction. For example, according to conflict linkage theory, people often use existing schemata to interpret ongoing behaviors as reflecting conciliatory or aggressive reactions (Honeycutt, Sheldon, Pence, & Hatcher, 2015). Data on serial arguing reveal that the degree to which one personalizes conflict is associated with both rumination and imagined conflict interaction (Wallenfelsz & Hample, 2010). Conflict is more likely to be taken personally if it is stressful or if there is a perception of (perhaps intergroup) inequity or aggression. Taking conflict personally may be manifested as aggression or avoidance and can result in reciprocal reactions. For example, an individual who is exposed to frequent gender-biased communication in the workplace may experience intrusive IIs that could be negative. Theorem 3 of II conflict linkage theory takes this process one step further by demonstrating how negative IIs may intrude even when people attempt to create positive IIs as a potential therapy for conflict. It may be difficult for a person who has a tendency to take conflict personally to imagine a conflict that is not personal (Wallenfelsz & Hample, 2010). When intergroup dynamics are added to the mix (e.g., conflict between an older female boss and younger male staff), the negative cycle may be especially acute.

Hample, Richard, and Na (2012) conducted an empirical test of the conflict linkage model in terms of serial arguments. These arguments can be trivial even though they recur, but they can also be quite consequential for one’s relationships and personal health (Johnson & Roloff, 1998; Malis & Roloff, 2006; Roloff & Reznik, 2008). The IIs can create self-fulfilling prophecies and can also be cognitive records and reflections on the actual episodes.

Another study examined the effects of taking conflict personally (TCP) with gender, conflict initiation (husband versus wife initiation), and past victimization due to domestic abuse. This study examined the prediction of conciliation in response to escalating aggression over four time periods (Honeycutt, Hample, & Hatcher, 2016). The researchers examined both the prediction of escalation and II conflict linkage in terms of persons ruminating about the escalating disagreement as it unfolded, as well as physiological variables including blood pressure and heart rate. Latent growth curve modeling that controlled for first-order autocorrelation among the residuals revealed that being male predicted a rise in aggression as conflict escalated. In addition, along gender group lines, male-initiated conflict was associated with more II rumination as the conflict intensified. Interestingly, people who took conflict personally did not show a rise in either aggression or conciliation.

Rumination via one’s IIs involves dwelling on past grievances. Individuals unfortunately manage conflict through dysfunctional means due to an inability to argue their points of view and emotions effectively because of in-group/out-group issues or other reasons (Infante & Rancer, 1995). Similar findings by Honeycutt (2003, 2010a) reflect Theorem 4 of II conflict linkage theory, which states that suppressed rage is a result of the lack of opportunity or ability to articulate arguments with the target of conflict. In these studies, taking conflict personally did not predict conciliatory or aggressive reactions or conflict linkage rumination, but it did predict changes in diastolic blood pressure as conflict increased. Victims predicted more conciliation as conflict escalated. This finding was especially interesting because it can represent a state of learned helplessness and survival. As a result of victimization (and explained by social learning theory), survival is enhanced by vigilant monitoring and being nice in order to prevent additional retaliation (Honeycutt & Eldredge, 2015).

Crisp and Turner (2009) have studied the imagined contact hypothesis, which proposes that imagining a positive encounter with members of an out-group can promote more positive intergroup attitudes, essentially reducing prejudice through IIs. They also indicate that the “perceived authenticity of the imagined encounter may be an important variable in future research” (Crisp & Turner, 2009, p. 237). In a rejoinder, Honeycutt (2010b) noted that this simply reflects the discrepancy attribute of which they were unaware. In their study, Crisp and Turner began with a narrative that was, in actuality, a verbal conversation between each participant and an older Black man who is portrayed as an out-group member. They asked each person to imagine the conversation. Although it was not recognized as such, this was an induced II, where individuals must imagine a conversation with a significant other designated by the experimenter. More interdisciplinary interaction between work on imagined contact and II might yield both methodological and practical advances in prejudice reduction.

Teasing, Bullying, and IIs

A significant body of research examines links between intergroup behavior on bullying and teasing incidents (e.g., Gini, 2006; Ojala & Nesdale, 2004). In some of this work, researchers have analyzed the influence of group status on preadolescents’ perception of intergroup bullying and, specifically, on their attribution of blame to the groups involved (Nesdale & Scarlett, 2004). Guided by SIT (Tajfel & Turner, 1986), it is reasonable to posit that in some cases, bullying can represent a social process in which members of two opposite groups (athlete-bookworm; male-female, etc.) end up clashing. Hence, it has been found that bullies are more prevalent in middle school than elementary or high school, with little variation between urban, suburban, town, and rural groups. Males are more likely to be bullies and victims of bullying than females; they also are more prone to being physically bullied, while females are more likely to be verbally or psychologically bullied. Bullies and victims of bullying have difficulty adjusting to their environments, both socially and psychologically. Victims of bullying have more difficulty making friends and are lonelier and suffer higher levels of depression (Nansel et al., 2001).

Teasing and bullying in an intergroup context has recently been investigated in the II literature (Honeycutt & Wright, 2017). Positive teasing intentions have been used to promote bonding, express admiration, and resolve conflict, while negative teasing intentions include aggressiveness designed to humiliate. Not surprisingly, negative teasing has been associated with lowered self-esteem, interpersonal difficulties, anxiety, and depression (Mills & Carwile, 2009).

Teasing becomes bullying if it is done with the intention to hurt another. Bullying is typically repetitive and involves an imbalance of power that includes the intent to ridicule, embarrass, or exclude others (Hanish & Guerra, 2004). This imbalance of power is often manifested along intergroup lines. Moving this research into the domain of intrapersonal communication, Honeycutt and Wright (2017) found that affectionate teasing was associated with heightened self-esteem and retroactive IIs that serve the II rehearsal function along positive lines.

Conversely, negative, aggressive teasing intentions were associated with II variety (the teaser had a wide range of IIs) and II catharsis. This II catharsis reflects a somewhat dangerous function of IIs, which is that a teaser (or bully) may use intrapersonal communication to assist in alleviating the feelings of guilt and regret that they may experience after malicious or negative teasing episodes (Kowalski, 2007; Wright & Roloff, 2013).

Cross-Cultural Differences

IIs have been examined cross-culturally in countries as diverse as Thailand, Japan, France, and Britain. For example, one study examined intergroup differences in Thailand, Japan, and the United States (Honeycutt & McCann, 2008). These researchers found that II catharsis was reflected in the intrapersonal communication of the Japanese and Thais more than for the Americans. It may be that in countries where there is more collectivism, IIs reveal more catharsis as suppressed feelings are voiced in this way. The catharsis function that characterizes Japanese intrapersonal communication satisfaction, which was found in this same study, may reflect a type of rumination. Self-focused rumination is where people repetitively dwell on themselves in terms of the cause and outcome of their negative feelings (Lyubomirsky, Tucker, Caldwell, & Berg, 1999). Rumination results in heightened feelings of depression, hopelessness, and sadness. The more that ruminators dwell on their problems, the less motivated they are to solve them. Lyubomirsky and his colleagues (1999) discussed that ruminators may acknowledge that there are ways of solving their problems, but they lack the energy to do so.

Other research has examined the use of IIs among Chinese students who were preparing to come to the United States for college education. The Chinese students reported having IIs in interviews with others connected with their foreign study plans, having retroactive IIs after the interview, and rehearsing future meetings with professor that they envisioned study under (Petress, 1995). The IIs specifically occurred with Chinese academic advisors, other Chinese school officials, the future American advisor, and family members. Over two-thirds of the Chinese students reported that the rehearsal function of IIs was very helpful in message planning. Some of the students were ruminating about moving to the United States and feeling guilt at leaving their family and social network friends behind.

Gender differences were also apparent, as 66% of the female Chinese students reported that rehearsing their IIs was helpful for what actually happened in their later real conversations, while half the men reported their IIs to be proactive. Men reported being direct, while women reported that they needed to be more assertive. Chinese men also reported longer IIs than women (some lasting up to an hour). Petress (1995) indicated that the longer II duration by men could reflect a subtle argument strategy among Chinese men. Chinese women seem less inclined to qualify or contextualize their needs than Chinese men. Confidence building was a major issue reported by the Chinese females. Future research could analyze differences between horizontal and collectivistic cultures in terms of the II functions because social media and technological means (e.g., Internet, Skype) have made it more economical and feasible to establish a sense of global community, while differences in conflict linkage, catharsis, or other functions are less discernible by country of origin.

Political Partisanship

IIs have been examined in terms of the inherently intergroup sphere of political partisanship. In this line of research, groups of Republicans, Democrats, and independents were examined on how they differed in their use of IIs in light of partisan voting (Madison, Rold, & Honeycutt, 2014). The data revealed that Republicans and Democrats had fewer self-understanding and rehearsal IIs than did independents. Moderates were having IIs that questioned people’s motivations for why they held political positions. These findings support the notion that voting along party lines is a heuristic, or mindless behavior. Mindlessness reflects cognitive miserliness and a reliance on existing cognitions or stereotypes that a person has previously developed through intrapersonal or interpersonal communication, while conversely, mindfulness reflects an active engagement with new or opposing information. Honeycutt (2003, p. 122) states that “just as simple motor acts are often so overlearned that performance is automatic and mindless, social interactions [may also become] mindless.” As Madison and his colleagues (2014) note, partisanship appears to offer a similar mindless option when it comes to voting behaviors. Almost a century ago, Lippmann (1922) made it very clear that seeing the world in full detail is exhausting, and being able to make accurate assessments with limited information is actually a good thing. At least from this research, it appears that Republicans and Democrats are not using their intrapersonal communication for personal insight or rehearsal.

IIs and Sexual Orientation

Research has examined group differences as a function of sexual orientation (Honeycutt, White, & Swirsky, 2016). Indeed, group identity allegiance could affect the type of IIs that individuals use in order to affirm their identity. An example would be using catharsis, conflict linkage, and understanding functions to deal with imagined cases of ostracism. Hence, a gay man or lesbian might anticipate how they would react to cases of sexual harassment at work that involved discrimination. These researchers examined lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) identity across four groups, including heterosexual, lesbian/gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals. It is pertinent to examine the differences between II features as a consequence of LGBT identity because the intrapersonal and cognitive foundation of IIs may provide insight into differences in the ways that these groups think about relational partners within the human mind.

Results from Honeycutt et al. (2017) revealed that gay individuals had more IIs, followed by transgender and bisexual individuals, while heterosexuals reported the lowest number of IIs. In addition, gay males and lesbians, as well as bisexuals, reported more retroactive IIs than did transgender and heterosexual men and women. Gay males, lesbians, and bisexuals also stated that they had the widest variety of II partners and topics. Also, lesbians had more retroactive IIs than did gay and heterosexual men, and they used IIs more often to rehearse messages.

Conflict was the most commonly reported topic of recent IIs, followed by work activities. The third topic was relational maintenance topics, which included discussion of sexual issues. Examples provided by Honeycutt and his colleagues (2017) included religious persecution, misogyny, transhumanism, social activism, and maintaining relationships. An additional topic was future activities, which included message planning. Finally, a miscellaneous category was created to include specific topics, such as communication about self-concept, Middle Eastern politics, death, celebrities, memory loss, and meals.

In analyzing the findings that gay, transgender, and bisexual individuals have more frequent IIs than do heterosexual individuals, it is plausible that members of these groups are more preoccupied with message planning regarding their sexuality. Another possible explanation is that members of these groups are simply more competent communicators. This could be due to multiple factors, such as a history of open communication within their own sexual in-group or a history of communicating with out-groups over deep-seated intergroup and evolutionary prejudices. This may result in the usage of more internal mental imagery in the form of IIs.

This research also suggested that homosexual and bisexual men have more IIs serving the II compensation function than heterosexual men. To review, II compensation reflects an inability to actually communicate with someone, with ineffective thoughts substituting for the lack of opportunity to talk. While there are a variety of possible explanations for this finding, Honeycutt and his colleagues (2017) suggest that this may be related to the personality trait of neuroticism, which is the inclination to experience anxiety, depression or sadness, self-consciousness, and impulsivity (O’Brien & DeLongis, 1996). Neuroticism has been found to increase egocentrism, depression, and anxiety (Hamilton, Buck, Chory, Beatty, & Patrylak, 2008). Linking these findings to IIs, Hamilton and his associates (2008) suggest that anxious, depressed people are likely to use the II catharsis function. Given that prior research on the association between personality traits and IIs revealed that neuroticism was associated with discrepant IIs that are not pleasant (Honeycutt, Pence, & Gearhart, 2013), it is possible that homosexual and bisexual men engage in these thought processes.

A plausible intergroup explanation for these findings on II compensation is that gay and bisexual men in the age range of 18–26 have more IIs to compensate for being afraid to (or being otherwise unable to) reveal their sexual identities to their families. Given that (at least in the United States) the average age for “coming out” is 24 years old (Denes & Afifi, 2014), IIs may allow these men to express themselves without fear of rejection.

Finally, the interaction effect between LGBT identity and gender revealed that lesbians reported the most retroactive IIs on a variety of topics, as compared to those in other groups (Honeycutt et al., 2017). It could be that two women who have been socialized with standard feminine traits may make a more pensive and thoughtful duo due to their socialization. This might make them more likely to think about the past more.


There are different levels of communication, ranging from the most individual to the most collective. Intrapersonal communication should be recognized as the foundation of all intergroup communication, in part because introspection is how our subconscious interacts with our consciousness. A major mechanism for analyzing intrapersonal communication and social cognition is through the study of IIs. IIs are a type of social cognition in which we imagine and therefore indirectly experience ourselves in “anticipated and/or past communicative encounters with others” (Honeycutt, 2003, p. 2). IIs are used in everyday life and serve a variety of functions, including understanding, rehearsal, conflict management, relational maintenance, catharsis, and compensation. They are associated with intergroup differences in terms of personality, quality relationships, ability to argue, and mental health.

In this article, we highlighted II research in a variety of domains, including CA, conflict, teasing and bullying, political partisanship, and gender. As highlighted in this text, cross-cultural research comparing the IIs of Americans, Japanese, and Thais showed how harmony (and conflict) can be kept alive via one’s IIs in the face of strong cultural group pressures. In this same cross-cultural sphere, IIs can also play a powerful boldness role, freeing people from entrenched intergroup and intragroup norms that they may experience in real life interactions.

Research was also presented regarding the association between CA and intrapersonal communication. In the area of IIs, research has examined the roles of the II catharsis and rehearsal functions, where people may feel relief (via II catharsis) from the (often in-group/out-group-driven) tough world around them, or they rehearse key conversations to prepare for group-oriented activities such as meetings and public speaking.

IIs may also play a positive or negative role in teasing and bullying, where an imbalance of power is often manifested along intergroup lines. Even in the area of politics, IIs shed light on group understanding. For example, research highlighted herein revealed that voting along group/party lines may be more of a mindless behavior than many of us think. Finally, there are intergroup differences in terms of sexual orientation. Research has uncovered interesting findings about how LGBT individuals may use II compensation to substitute for a lack of opportunity to talk interpersonally. In closing, the study of intrapersonal communication and social cognition has undergone widespread investigation via the analysis of IIs. It is gratifying to see that connections between the research worlds of intergroup communication and intrapersonal communication are now being forged as well.

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