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date: 22 April 2018

Summary and Keywords

The subjective state of uncertainty can be understood as deriving from reduced predictability of and control over events and the world around us. There are different ways to conceptualize the nature of uncertainty, its antecedents and predictors, and the strategies that individuals use to manage & reduce uncertainty within communication science and social psychology.

Prominent theories of uncertainty within communication—uncertainty reduction theory, anxiety/uncertainty management theory, and approaches to uncertainty management—focus on states of uncertainty and lowered predictability within the context of interactive communication with others. In these theories, communication with others plays a central role in the production, maintenance, and management of uncertainty. These three communication-based approaches also differ in the ways in which they conceptualize uncertainty and its management in communicative contexts. Uncertainty reduction theory treats uncertainty as an aversive state that individuals always aim to reduce. In contrast, although anxiety/uncertainty management theory and approaches to uncertainty management discuss uncertainty as an aversive state, they also provide for conditions under which uncertainty might be a desired state.

Within social psychology, the construct of uncertainty has received different treatments. Some approaches have conceptualized the extent of uncertainty experienced and tolerated by individuals as an enduring individual difference or a personality attribute. Social psychologists have also conceptualized uncertainty as an aspect of a person’s identity and self-concept. For instance, uncertainty-identity theory explains uncertainty as a context-invoked aversive state associated with lowered perceived predictability of self and others—uncertainty about who one is, how one should behave, and how one will be treated by others. The theory argues that individuals are motivated to reduce such uncertainty by seeking group memberships, as groups provide a framework for self-definition that helps manage self-conceptual uncertainty.

Keywords: uncertainty, uncertainty management, uncertainty reduction, communication, anxiety, social identity, intergroup communication

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