+1(978)310-4246 credencewriters@gmail.com

This discussion will focus on the assigned chapters of the week:

Chapter 1:

Thinking About Communication: Definitions, Models, and Ethics

Chapter 2:

Thinking about the Field: Traditions and Contexts

Chapter 3:

Thinking about Theory and Research

Please write your enhanced discussion in response to the following discussion questions:

In what ways does having models of communication help us to understand communication in everyday life?

In what ways do you believe the traditions of thought can help us to examine human communication?

How do you see each theory as a way to explain or understand human communication behaviors in everyday life?

Communication Theory
Richard West
Emerson College
Lynn H. Turner
Marquette University
Published by McGraw-Hill Education, 2 Penn Plaza, New York, NY 10121. Copyright © 2018 by
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
West, Richard L. | Turner, Lynn H.
Introducing communication theory : analysis and application/Richard
West, Emerson College, Lynn H. Turner, Marquette University.
Sixth edition. | New York, NY : McGraw-Hill Education, [2019] |
Includes bibliographical references and indexes.
LCCN 2016059715 | ISBN 9781259870323 (alk. paper)
LCSH: Information theory. | Communication.
LCC Q360 .W47 2019 | DDC 003/.54—dc23
LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2016059715
The Internet addresses listed in the text were accurate at the time of publication. The inclusion of a website
does not indicate an endorsement by the authors or McGraw-Hill Education, and McGraw-Hill Education
does not guarantee the accuracy of the information presented at these sites.
Part One  Foundations  1
Thinking About Communication: Definitions, Models,
and Ethics  3
Thinking About the Field: Traditions and Contexts   24
Thinking About Theory and Research   42
Part Two   Understanding the Dialogue   65
Symbolic Interaction Theory   68
Coordinated Management of Meaning   83
Cognitive Dissonance Theory   104
Expectancy Violations Theory   119
Uncertainty Reduction Theory   135
Social Exchange Theory   155
Social Penetration Theory   170
Relational Dialectics Theory   187
Communication Privacy Management Theory   204
Social Information Processing Theory   218
Groupthink  237
Structuration Theory  255
Organizational Culture Theory   272
Organizational Information Theory   287
The Rhetoric  306
Dramatism  324
The Narrative Paradigm   338
Agenda Setting Theory   355
Spiral of Silence Theory   369
Uses and Gratifications Theory   387
Cultivation Theory  403
Cultural Studies  420
Media Ecology Theory   436
Face-Negotiation Theory  459
Communication Accommodation Theory   476
Muted Group Theory   494
Feminist Standpoint Theory   510
ConnectingQuests  527
Glossary  G-1
References  R-1
Name Index  I-1
Subject Index  I-11
iv    Brief Contents
Preface  xvii
About the Authors   xxix
Chapter 1 Thinking About Communication: Definitions,
Models, and Ethics   3
Defining Communication   5
Models of Understanding: Communication as Action,
Interaction, and Transaction   8
Communication as Action: The Linear Model    9
Communication as Interaction: The Interactional Model    10
Communication as Transaction: The Transactional Model    12
Communication Models of the Future    13
Ethics and Communication   14
Business and Industry   15
Religion and Faith   16
Entertainment   17
Higher Education   17
Medicine   18
Politics   19
Technology   19
Some Final Thoughts   19
The Value of Understanding Communication Theory    21
Understanding Communication Theory Cultivates
Critical Thinking Skills   21
Understanding Communication Theory Helps You
to Recognize the Breadth and Depth of Research    21
Understanding Communication Theory Helps to Make
Sense of Personal Life Experiences    22
Communication Theory Fosters Self-Awareness    22
Conclusion   22
Discussion Starters   23
Chapter 2 Thinking About the Field: Traditions
and Contexts   24
Seven Traditions in the Communication Field    25
The Rhetorical Tradition   26
The Semiotic Tradition   27
The Phenomenological Tradition   27
The Cybernetic Tradition   28
The Socio-Psychological Tradition   28
The Socio-Cultural Tradition   29
The Critical Tradition   29
Putting It All Together    29
Seven Contexts in the Communication Field    30
Intrapersonal Communication   30
Interpersonal Communication   32
Small Group and Team Communication    33
Organizational Communication   34
Public/Rhetorical Communication   36
Mass/Media Communication   37
Cultural Communication   38
Collating the Contexts   40
Conclusion   41
Discussion Starters   41
Chapter 3
Thinking About Theory and Research    42
Defining Theory: What’s in a Name?    44
Components   45
Goals   46
Approaches to Knowing: How Do You See (and Talk About)
the World?   46
The Positivistic, or Empirical, Approach    47
The Interpretive Approach   47
The Critical Approach   47
Approaches to Knowing: What Questions
Do You Ask About the World?    48
Approaches to Knowing: How Do We Go
About Theory Building?   50
Covering Law Approach   52
Rules Approach   52
Systems Approach   53
Evaluating Theory   56
The Research Process   58
Communication Research and the
Scientific Method   58
Communication Research and the Qualitative Approach    60
Conclusion   64
Discussion Starters   64
vi    Contents
Understanding the Dialogue   65
Chapter 4
Symbolic Interaction Theory    68
History of Symbolic Interaction Theory    70
Themes and Assumptions of Symbolic Interaction Theory    71
Key Concepts   76
Mind   76
Self   77
Society   79
Integration, Critique, and Closing    79
Scope   80
Utility   80
Testability   81
Closing   81
Discussion Starters   81
Chapter 5
Coordinated Management of Meaning    83
All the World’s a Stage    84
Assumptions of Coordinated Management of Meaning    85
The Hierarchy of Organized Meaning    88
Content   89
Speech Act   90
Episodes   90
Relationship   91
Life Scripts   91
Cultural Patterns   92
Charmed and Strange Loops    93
The Coordination of Meaning: Making Sense of the Sequence    95
Influences on the Coordination Process    96
Rules and Unwanted Repetitive Patterns    97
Integration, Critique, and Closing    100
Scope   100
Parsimony   101
Utility    101
Heurism    102
Closing   102
Discussion Starters   102
Chapter 6
Cognitive Dissonance Theory    104
Assumptions of Cognitive Dissonance Theory    108
Concepts and Processes of Cognitive Dissonance    109
Magnitude of Dissonance   109
Contents    vii
Coping with Dissonance   110
Cognitive Dissonance and Perception    111
Minimal Justification   112
Cognitive Dissonance Theory and Persuasion    113
Integration, Critique, and Closing    115
Utility   115
Testability   117
Closing   118
Discussion Starters   118
Chapter 7
Expectancy Violations Theory    119
Space Relations   121
Proxemic Zones   121
Territoriality   123
Assumptions of Expectancy Violations Theory    124
Arousal   127
Threat Threshold   127
Violation Valence   128
Communicator Reward Valence   129
Integration, Critique, and Closing    130
Scope   131
Utility   131
Testability   131
Heurism   131
Closing   132
Discussion Starters   132
Chapter 8
Uncertainty Reduction Theory    135
Assumptions of Uncertainty Reduction Theory    138
Key Concepts of URT: The Axiom and Theorem    140
Axioms of Uncertainty Reduction Theory    140
Theorems of Uncertainty Reduction Theory    142
Expansions of Uncertainty Reduction Theory    143
Antecedent Conditions   143
Strategies   144
Developed Relationships   145
Social Media   147
Context   148
Integration, Critique, and Closing    150
Utility   151
Heurism   153
Closing   153
Discussion Starters   153
viii    Contents
Chapter 9
Social Exchange Theory    155
Assumptions of Social Exchange Theory    158
Evaluating a Relationship   161
Exchange Patterns: SET in Action    163
Exchange Structures   165
Integration, Critique, and Closing    166
Scope   167
Utility   167
Testability   168
Heurism   168
Closing   169
Discussion Starters   169
Chapter 10
Social Penetration Theory    170
Assumptions of Social Penetration Theory    172
“Tearing Up” the Relationship: The Onion Analogy    175
A Social Exchange: Relational Costs and Rewards    177
Stages of the Social Penetration Process    179
Orientation: Revealing Bit by Bit    180
Exploratory Affective Exchange: The Self Emerges    181
Affective Exchange: Commitment and Comfortability    182
Stable Exchange: Raw Honesty and Intimacy    183
Integration, Critique, and Closing    184
Scope   184
Heurism   185
Closing   186
Discussion Starters   186
Chapter 11
Relational Dialectics Theory    187
Assumptions of Relational Dialectics Theory    190
Core Concepts of Dialectics    191
Basic Relational Dialectics   192
Autonomy and Connection   192
Openness and Protection   194
Novelty and Predictability   194
Contextual Dialectics   195
Beyond Basic Dialectics   196
Responses to Dialectics   198
Integration, Critique, and Closing    200
Parsimony   201
Utility   201
Heurism   201
Closing   202
Discussion Starters   202
Contents    ix
Chapter 12 Communication Privacy
Management Theory   204
Evolution of Communication Privacy Management Theory    206
Assumptions of CPM   207
Key Terms and Principles of CPM    208
Principle 1: Private Information Ownership    209
Principle 2: Private Information Control    209
Principle 3: Private Information Rules     211
Principle 4: Private Information Co-ownership and Guardianship    212
Principle 5: Private Information Boundary Turbulence     214
Integration, Critique, and Closing    214
Logical Consistency   215
Utility   216
Heurism    216
Closing   216
Discussion Starters   216
Chapter 13
Social Information Processing Theory    218
Theoretical Turbulence: The Cues Filtered Out    221
Assumptions of Social Information Processing Theory    223
Hyperpersonal Perspective: “I Like What I Read
and I Want More”    227
Sender: Selective Self-Presentation   227
Receiver: Idealization of the Sender    228
Channel Management   229
Feedback   229
Warranting: Gaining Confidence Online    230
Integration, Critique, and Closing    231
Scope   232
Utility   232
Testability   233
Closing   234
Discussion Starters   234
Chapter 14
Groupthink   237
Assumptions of Groupthink   240
What Comes Before: Antecedent Conditions of Groupthink    243
Group Cohesiveness   243
Structural Factors   244
Group Stress   245
Symptoms of Groupthink   245
Overestimation of the Group    246
Closed-Mindedness   247
Pressures Toward Uniformity   248
x    Contents
(Group) Think About It: It’s All Around U.S.    249
Think Before You Act: Ways to Prevent
Groupthink   249
Integration, Critique, and Closing    251
Scope   252
Testability   252
Heurism   253
Test of Time   253
Closing   253
Discussion Starters   254
Chapter 15
Structuration Theory   255
Assumptions of Structuration Theory    259
Central Concepts of Structuration Theory    262
Agency and Reflexivity   262
Duality of Structure   263
Social Integration   267
Application of Time and Space    267
Integration, Critique, and Closing    268
Scope   269
Parsimony    269
Closing   270
Discussion Starters   270
Chapter 16
Organizational Culture Theory    272
The Cultural Metaphor: Of Spider Webs
and Organizations   275
Assumptions of Organizational Cultural Theory    276
Ethnographic Understanding: Laying It On Thick    279
The Communicative Performance   281
Ritual Performances   282
Passion Performances   282
Social Performances   283
Political Performances   283
Enculturation Performances   283
Integration, Critique, and Closing    284
Logical Consistency   285
Utility   285
Heurism   285
Closing   286
Discussion Starters   286
Chapter 17
Organizational Information Theory    287
The Only Constant Is Change (in Organizations)    290
General Systems Theory   290
Darwin’s Theory of Sociocultural Evolution    291
Contents    xi
Assumptions of Organizational Information Theory    292
Key Concepts and Conceptualizing Information    294
Information Environment: The Sum Total    294
Rules: Guidelines to Analyze    295
Cycles: Act, Respond, Adjust    297
The Principles of Equivocality    298
Reducing Equivocality: Trying to Use the Information    299
Enactment: Assigning Message Importance    299
Selection: Interpreting the Inputs    300
Retention: Remember the Small Stuff    300
Integration, Critique, and Closing    301
Logical Consistency   302
Utility   303
Heurism   303
Closing   303
Discussion Starters   303
Chapter 18
The Rhetoric   306
The Rhetorical Tradition   308
Assumptions of the Rhetoric   309
The Syllogism: A Three-Tiered Argument    311
Canons of Rhetoric   312
Invention   312
Arrangement   314
Style   315
Memory   316
Delivery   316
Types of Rhetoric   317
Integration, Critique, and Closing    320
Logical Consistency   320
Heurism   321
Test of Time   322
Closing   322
Discussion Starters   323
Chapter 19
Dramatism   324
Assumptions of Dramatism   326
Dramatism as New Rhetoric    328
Identification and Substance   328
The Process of Guilt and Redemption    329
The Pentad   331
Integration, Critique, and Closing    333
Scope   333
Parsimony   334
Utility   334
Heurism   336
xii    Contents
Closing   336
Discussion Starters   337
Chapter 20
The Narrative Paradigm    338
Assumptions of the Narrative Paradigm    341
Key Concepts in the Narrative Approach    344
Narration   344
Narrative Rationality   345
The Logic of Good Reasons    347
Integration, Critique, and Closing    348
Scope    349
Logical Consistency   349
Utility   350
Heurism   351
Closing   351
Discussion Starters   351
Chapter 21
Agenda Setting Theory    355
History of Agenda Setting Research    356
Pretheoretical Conceptualizing   357
Establishing the Theory of Agenda Setting    358
Assumptions of Agenda Setting Theory    359
Two Levels of Agenda Setting    360
Three-Part Process of Agenda Setting    361
Expansions and Refinements to Agenda Setting Theory    364
Integration, Critique, and Closing    365
Scope   366
Utility   366
Heurism   367
Closing   368
Discussion Starters   368
Chapter 22
Spiral of Silence Theory    369
The Court of Public Opinion    372
Assumptions of Spiral of Silence Theory    374
The Media’s Influence   377
The Train Test   379
The Hard Core   380
The Spiral of Silence and Social Media    382
Integration, Critique, and Closing    383
Logical Consistency   384
Heurism   385
Closing   386
Discussion Starters   386
Contents    xiii
Chapter 23
Uses and Gratifications Theory    387
Assumptions of Uses and Gratifications Theory    389
Stages of Uses and Gratifications Research    392
Media Effects   393
Key Concepts: The Audience as Active    396
Uses and Gratifications and the Internet, Social Media,
and Cell Phones   397
Integration, Critique, and Closing    399
Logical Consistency   400
Utility   401
Heurism   401
Closing   401
Discussion Starters   402
Chapter 24
Cultivation Theory   403
Developing Cultivation Theory   406
Assumptions of Cultivation Theory    407
Processes and Products of Cultivation
Theory   409
The Four-Step Process   409
Mainstreaming and Resonance   410
The Mean World Index    412
Cultivation Theory as Critical Theory    413
Integration, Critique, and Closing    416
Logical Consistency   416
Utility   417
Heurism   417
Test of Time   417
Closing   419
Discussion Starters   419
Chapter 25
Cultural Studies   420
The Marxist Legacy: Power to the People    423
Assumptions of Cultural Studies    424
Hegemony: The Influence on the Masses    426
Counter-Hegemony: The Masses Start to Influence
the Dominant Forces   429
Audience Decoding   431
Integration, Critique, and Closing    433
Logical Consistency   433
Utility   434
Heurism   434
Closing   435
Discussion Starters   435
xiv    Contents
Chapter 26
Media Ecology Theory    436
Assumptions of Media Ecology Theory    439
Making Media History and Making “Sense”    442
The Tribal Era   442
The Literate Era   443
The Print Era   443
The Electronic Era   443
The Medium Is the Message    444
Gauging the Temperature: Hot and Cool Media    445
The Circle Is Complete: The Tetrad    447
Enhancement   448
Obsolescence   448
Retrieval   448
Reversal   449
Carrying the McLuhan Banner: Postman and Meyrowitz    450
Integration, Critique, and Closing    452
Testability   453
Heurism   453
Closing   454
Discussion Starters   454
Chapter 27
Face-Negotiation Theory   459
About Face   461
Face and Politeness Theory    462
Facework   463
Assumptions of Face-Negotiation Theory    464
Individualistic and Collectivistic Cultures    466
Face Management and Culture    469
Managing Conflict Across Cultures    470
Integration, Critique, and Closing    472
Logical Consistency   472
Heurism   473
Closing   474
Discussion Starters   474
Chapter 28
Communication Accommodation Theory    476
Social Psychology and Social Identity    478
Assumptions of Communication Accommodation Theory    480
Ways to Adapt   483
Convergence: Merging Thoughts Ahead    483
Divergence: Vive la Différence   487
Overaccommodation: Miscommunicating with a Purpose    488
Contents    xv
Integration, Critique, and Closing    490
Scope   490
Logical Consistency   491
Heurism   492
Closing   492
Discussion Starters   492
Chapter 29
Muted Group Theory    494
Origins of Muted Group Theory    496
Makeup of Muted Groups    498
Differentiating Between Sex and Gender    499
Assumptions of Muted Group Theory    499
The Process of Silencing    503
Ridicule   504
Ritual   504
Control    505
Harassment   505
Strategies of Resistance   506
Integration, Critique, and Closing    506
Utility   507
Test of Time   508
Closing   508
Discussion Starters   508
Chapter 30
Feminist Standpoint Theory    510
Historical Foundations of Feminist Standpoint Theory    512
The Critique of Theory and Research by Feminist Theorists    513
Assumptions of Feminist Standpoint Theory    514
Feminist Standpoint Theory and the Communication Field    518
Key Concepts of Standpoint Theory    519
Voice   519
Standpoint   519
Situated Knowledges   520
Sexual Division of Labor    521
Integration, Critique, and Closing    521
Utility   522
Closing   524
Discussion Starters   524
ConnectingQuests   527
Glossary   G-1
References   R-1
Name Index   I-1
Subject Index   I-11
xvi    Contents
As we present the sixth edition of Introducing Communication Theory: Analysis
and Application, we remain excited by its enormous success. The previous five
editions demonstrate that communication theory courses are vibrant, that teachers
of communication understand the importance of theoretical thinking, and that both
instructors and students appreciate the consistent and organized template we employ
throughout. This text explores the practical, engaging, and r­ elevant ways in which theory operates in our lives. It is written primarily for students who have little or no background in communication theory. We originally wrote the book because we thought
that students need to know how theorizing helps us understand ourselves, as well as
our experiences, ­relationships, media, environment, and culture. We also wrote this
book because we believe that students should have a text that relates theory directly
to their lives. We felt that some books insulted the student and trivialized theory while
other books were written at a level that was far too advanced for an undergraduate. In
this book, we take great care to achieve the following additional objectives:
∙∙ Familiarize students with the principles and central ideas of important theories
they are likely to encounter in the communication discipline.
∙∙ Demystify the notion of theory by discussing it in concrete and ­unequivocal
∙∙ Provide students with an understanding of the interplay among theory, communication, and application.
∙∙ Introduce students to the research process and the role of theory within this
∙∙ Assist students in becoming more systematic and thoughtful critical thinkers.
The sixth edition of this book maintains its original focus of introducing communication theory to students in an accessible, appealing, and consistent way. We
believe that students understand material best when it is explained in a clear, direct
way through a number of realistic and applicable examples. Our hope is that students
will take away a basic knowledge of, and appreciation for, communication theory
from reading our text.
The theories in communication studies have roots in both communication and in
other fields of study. This interdisciplinary orientation is reflected in the selection of
the various theories presented in the text. We not only include the unique contributions of communication theorists, but also theories with origins in other fields of study,
including psychology, sociology, biology, education, business, and philosophy. Communication theorists have embraced the integration of ideas and principles forged by
their colleagues across many disciplines. Yet, the application, influence, and inherent
value of communication are all s­ ustained by the theorists in this text. In other words,
although theories cut across various academic disciplines, their relevance to communication remains paramount and we articulate this relevancy in each theory chapter. We
do not presume to speak for the theorists; we have distilled their scholarship in a way
that we hope represents and honors their hard work. Our overall goal is to frame their
words and illustrate their theories with practical examples and instances so that their
explication of communication behaviors becomes accessible for students.
Together, we have over 60 years of experience in teaching communication ­theory.
During this time, we have learned a great deal. Introducing Communication Theory:
Analysis and Application utilizes and applies all that we as teachers have learned from
our students. We continue to be indebted to both students and colleagues whose suggestions and comments have greatly influenced this newest edition.
The Challenges of Teaching and Learning
Communication Theory
The instructor in a communication theory course may face several challenges that are not
shared by other courses. First, because many students think of theory as distant, abstract,
and obscure, teachers must overcome these potentially negative connotations. Negative
feelings toward the subject can be magnified in classrooms where students represent
a variety of ages and socioeconomic, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds. Introducing
Communication Theory addresses this challenge by offering a readable and pragmatic
guide that integrates content with examples, capturing the essence and elegance of theory
in a straightforward manner. In addition, the book takes an incremental approach to learning about theory, resulting in a thoughtful and appropriate learning pace.
A second challenge associated with teaching and learning communication
theory relates to preconceived notions of research: Students may view scholarship
as difficult or remote. This book demonstrates to students that they already possess
many of the characteristics of researchers, such as curiosity and ambition. Students
will be pleasantly surprised to know that they operate according to many personal
theories every day. Once students begin to revise their misconceptions about research and theory, they are in a position to understand the principles, concepts, and
theories contained in this book.
A third challenge of teaching and learning communication theory is capturing
the complexity of a theory in an approachable way without oversimplifying the theoretical process. To address this problem, instructors often present a skeletal version
of a theory and then fill in the missing pieces with personal materials. By providing
a variety of engaging examples and applications reflecting a wide range of classroom
demographics, Introducing Communication Theory facilitates such an approach.
A final challenge relates to a theory’s genesis and today’s students. Clearly, in
this technological age, students look for and usually crave a desire to find a “tech
angle” to communication theory. Although many theories were conceptualized decades ago, in each chapter, we have provided the most recent research that represents
a theory–technology framework. Further we have added questions in each chapter
that are technological in nature, facilitating further student interest in the material.
Major Changes in Content in the New Edition
The sixth edition has undergone significant modification, namely in the content of the
theory chapters and in the various learning aids available. EACH chapter has been
updated to reflect the most current thinking. In particular, the following chapters have
undergone major changes:
Chapter 2 (Thinking About the Field: Traditions and Contexts) includes the most
current scholarship in each of the seven contexts of communication.
Chapter 3 (Thinking About Theory and Research) is completely reorganized to reflect
both the quantitative and qualitative thinking influencing theoretical development.
Chapter 4 (Symbolic Interaction Theory) has been completely reorganized so that it
disentangles the assumptions and themes of SI.
Chapter 8 (Uncertainty Reduction Theory) has been overhauled and provides a more
thoughtful presentation of the various axioms and theorems related to the theory.
Chapter 12 (Communication Privacy Management Theory) has been substantively
reorganized. In addition, new information on the criteria used to for developing
privacy rules is discussed in detail.
Chapter 14 (Groupthink) includes new information on NASA and the Military
Whistleblower Protection Act and their relationship to groupthink.
Chapter 15 (Structuration Theory) provides the newest thinking on various cautionary tales related to social integration.
Chapter 20 (The Narrative Paradigm) delineates new research and practices related
to storytelling.
Chapter 21 (Agenda Setting Theory) presents a reorganization and reconceptualization of the three levels of agenda setting.
Chapter 22 (Spiral of Silence Theory) employs the legalization of marijuana as an overarching template while discussing the influence and pervasiveness of public opinion.
Chapter 24 (Cultivation Theory) includes extensive additions throughout on how
technology and “mass-mediated storytelling” influence individuals.
Chapter 25 (Cultural Studies) uses both the Flint, Michigan water crisis and marriage equality to demonstrate several of the issues and themes related to the theory.
Chapter 29 (Muted Group Theory) includes a brief history of sexual harassment as
computer jargon’s male-centeredness to exemplify several concepts associated with
Features of the Book
To accomplish our goals and address the challenges of teaching communication theory, we have incorporated a structure that includes number of special features and
learning aids into the sixth edition:
∙∙ Part One, Foundations. The first three chapters of the book continue to provide students a solid foundation for studying the theories that follow. This
groundwork is essential in order to understand how theorists conceptualize and
“The first three
test their theories. Chapters 1 and 2 define communication and provide a framechapters of the book
work for examining the theories. We present several traditions and contexts in
continue to provide
which theory is customarily categorized and considered. Chapter 3 provides an
students a solid founoverview of the intersection of theory and research. This discussion is essential
dation for studying
in a theory course and also serves as a springboard for students as they enroll in
the theories that folother courses. In addition, we present students with a template of various evaluative components that we apply in each of the subsequent theory chapters.
low. This groundwork
is ­essential in order
∙∙ Part Two, Theories and Theoretical Thinking. Updated coverage of all ­theories.
to ­understand how
Separate chapters on each of the theories provide accessible, thorough coverage for students and offer flexibility to instructors. Because of the feedback we
­theorists conceptureceived from the previous edition, we ­retained the original theories from the
alize and test their
fifth edition This updating results in a more thoughtful, current, and applicable
presentation of each theory. As noted earlier, in many cases, we have provided
the most recent information of the influences of culture and/or technology upon
a particular theory, ­resulting in some very compelling discussions and examples.
Section openers. The theory chapters in Part Two are organized into six sec“Every theory chapter
We have written section openers to introduce these groups of chapters.
is self-contained
provide students with an explanation for our choices, placing
and includes a
the theories in context and allowing students to have a foundation in order to
consistent format
see the connections ­between and among theories.
that begins with a
∙∙ Chapter-opening vignettes. Each chapter begins with an extended vignette, which
vignette, followed
is then integrated throughout the chapter, providing examples to illustrate the theby an introduction, a
oretical concepts and claims. We have been pleased that instructors and students
summary of theoretipoint to these vignettes as important applications of sometimes complex material.
These stories/case studies help students understand how communication theory
cal assumptions, a
plays out in the everyday lives of ordinary people. These opening stories help
description of core
drive home the i­mportant points of the theory. In addition, the real-life tone of
concepts, and a
each vignette entices students to understand the practicality of a particular theory.
critique (using the
∙∙ A structured approach to each theory. Every theory chapter is self-contained
criteria established
and includes a consistent format that begins with a story, followed by an introin Part One). This
duction, a summary of theoretical assumptions, a description of core concepts,
consistency proand a critique (using the criteria established in Part One). This consistency
provides continuity for students, ensures a balanced presentation of the theovides continuity for
ries, and helps ease the retrieval of information for future learning experiences.
students, ensures a
Instructors and students have found this template to be quite valuable since it
balanced presentaeliminates the stream-of-consciousness frequently found in other published
tion of the theories,
and helps ease the
∙∙ Student Voices boxes. These boxes, featured in every chapter, present both new
retrieval of informaand returning ­student comments on a particular concept or theoretical issue. The
tion for future learncomments, extracted from journals in classes we have taught, illustrate the practiing experiences.”
cality of the topic under discussion and also show how theoretical issues relate to
students’ lives. In a sense, this feature illustrates how practical theories are and how
much their tenets apply to our everyday lived experiences.
∙∙ Theory in Popular Press. Students will be introduced to further applications
of the various theories and theoretical concepts by examining popular press
stories. Stories and articles exemplifying various parts of a theory are provided
from a number of different outlets, including Forbes, USA Today, the (U.K.)
Guardian, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, among many others.
∙∙ Visual template for theory evaluation. At the conclusion of each theory chapter, a criteria for theory evaluation (presented in Chapter 3) is ­employed. In
addition, the theory’s context, scholarly tradition (based on Robert Craig’s
typology), and approach to knowing are articulated.
∙∙ Theory at a Glance boxes. In order for students to have an immediate and
concise understanding of a particular theory, we incorporate this ­feature at the
beginning of each theory chapter. Students will have these brief explanations
and short summaries before reading the chapter, thereby allowing them to have
a general sense of what they are about to encounter.
∙∙ Afterword: ConnectingQuests. This final section of the book provides students
with an integration of the various theories in order to see the interrelationships
between theories. We believe that theories cut across multiple contexts. To this
end, students are asked questions that address the intersection of theories. For
instance, to understand “decision making” from two theoretical threads, students are asked to compare the concept and its usage in both Groupthink and
Structuration Theory. These questions form a foundation for future conversations about communication theory.
∙∙ Tables, figures, and cartoons. To increase conceptual organization and enhance
the visual presentation of content, we have provided several tables and figures
throughout the text. Further, we have provided cartoons to provide another engaging reading option. Many chapters have visual aids for students to consider,
helping them to understand the material. These visuals provide a clearer sense
of the conceptual organization of the theories, and they support those students
who best retain information visually.
∙∙ Running glossary. Throughout each chapter, a running glossary provides students immediate access to unfamiliar terms and their meanings.
∙∙ End-of-book glossary. Students have expressed interest in having a compiled
list of definitions at the end of the text. This glossary provides easily accessed
definitions of all the key terms contained in the book.
In addition to the aforementioned features, several new additions exist in the new
edition of Introducing Communication Theory:
∙∙ NEW Quantitative and Qualitative Research. In Chapter 3, we have reorganized the information to make it more understandable for students. We first
discuss quantitative research methods and then qualitative research methods.
We also added an evaluative statement at the conclusion of each theory chapter
which notes whether the theory has primarily been investigated using a framework that is qualitative, quantitative, or both.
∙∙ NEW Theory-Into-Practice (TIP). We include this feature to provide further
application of the information contained in the chapter. We identify a conclusion or two from the theory and then provide a real-world application of the
particular claim. This feature sustains our commitment to enhancing the pragmatic value of a theory.
∙∙ NEW Socially Significant Themes and Noteworthy Celebrities. In an effort to
provide students with examples that are compelling and memorable, we make
a concerted effort to illustrate points with timely topics and recognizable newsmakers. Themes such as marriage equality, social media, medical marijuana,
whistle-blowing, internships, civility, among many others are woven throughout the book. Important global issues, including Black Lives Matter, climate
change, the world refugee crisis, among others are woven throughout the text.
Cultural figures such as Dr. Oz, Samantha Bee, Maya Angelou, Jimmy Fallon,
Dr. Phil, Martha Stewart, and others are also identified at appropriate points
along the way. Although we never “dumb down” the theoretical material, we
feel it’s important for students to read examples that are somewhat contemporary and not dated.
∙∙ NEW Tech Quest. Each chapter concludes with several Discussion Starters and
a new question that probes how the theory relates to technology. Students will
be asked to discuss the interface between a theory and several social media, for
instance, including Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, among others.
∙∙ NEW Cartoons. Eight new cartoons have been added to the text, providing a
humorous break from the theoretical content.
∙∙ NEW Incorporation of over 200 new references. The explosion in communication research, in particular, is reflected in the incorporation of dozens of new
studies, essays, and books that help students understand the theory or theoretical issue. We also provide students with easy access to a citation by integrating
an APA format (the acceptable writing style of the communication field) so
that they can see the relevancy and ­currency of a theory. When appropriate, we
also have provided URLs for websites that have information which can be readily available.
∙∙ NEW Theoretical Thought. Each theory chapter begins with a statement
made by a theorist or theorists that highlights the essence of the chapter’s
content. These quotations reflect further effort to honor the words of the
The 6th edition of Introducing Communications Theory: Analysis and Application is
now available online with Connect, McGraw-Hill Education’s integrated assignment
and assessment platform. Connect also offers SmartBook for the new edition, which
is the first adaptive reading experience proven to improve grades and help students
study more effectively. All of the title’s website and ancillary content is also available
through Connect, including:
∙∙ An Instructor’s Manual for each chapter with general guidelines for teaching
the basic theory course, sample syllabi for quarter and semester courses, chapter outlines, and classroom activities.
∙∙ A full Test Bank of multiple choice questions that test students on central concepts and ideas in each chapter.
∙∙ Lecture Slides for instructor use in class.
Part One, Foundations, provides a conceptual base for the discrete theory chapters in
Part Two. Chapter 1 begins by introducing the discipline and describing the process
of communication. Chapter 2 provides the prevailing traditions and contexts that
frame the communication field. In this chapter, we focus on Robert Craig’s guide to
the ways in which communication theory can be considered. The chapter then turns
to primary contexts of communication, which frame the study of communication in
most academic settings across the country. Chapter 3 explores the intersection of theory and research. In this chapter, we provide students an understanding of the nature
of theory and the characteristics of theory. The research process is also discussed,
as are perspectives that guide communication research. Our goal in this chapter is to
show that research and theory are interrelated and that the two should be considered
in tandem as students read the individual chapters. Chapter 3 also provides a list of
evaluative criteria for judging theories as well as for guiding students toward assessment of each subsequent theory chapter.
With Part One establishing a foundation, Part Two, Theories and Theoretical
Thinking, introduces students to 27 different theories, each in a discrete, concise
chapter. Many of these theories cut across communication contexts. For example,
Relational Dialectics Theory can be understood and applied in an organizational
context as well as in an interpersonal context. However, to facilitate understanding,
we have grouped theories into six sections according to primary focus: The Self
and Messages, Relationship Development, Groups, Teams, and Organizations, The
Public, The Media, and Culture and Diversity. We undertake this approach to align it
with the contexts identified in Chapter 1.
It was challenging for us to decide which theories to include because there are
so many from which to choose. In making our selections, we were guided by four
broad criteria: (1) whether the theory is significant in the field, (2) whether it reflects
the interdisciplinary nature of the field, (3) whether it is important in the context of
current thinking in the field, and (4) whether it contributes to a balance of pioneering
and contemporary theories in the book. In addition, we were sensitive to the need to
include theories developed by a diverse group of scholars. We know that there are
many theories that we were unable to include. Yet, our book provides an expansive
and respectful array of theories that in the end, we believe provides an important introduction to this challenging and worthwhile area known as communication theory.
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Our book owes its existence to efforts made by others in addition to the listed authors, and some people who have helped with this book may not even realize the debt
we acknowledge here. We would like to thank all those who have helped us as we
worked our way through this large project. First, many professors and students have
written to us, providing important clarification and examples.
In addition, our work rests on the shoulders of the theorists whose creations
we profile in this book. We are grateful for their creative thinking, which allows us
to understand and begin to predict the complexities of the communication process.
We worked hard to try to capture their insights and conclusions and convert these
thoughts for introductory students in theory.
Further, our insights represent the discussions that we have had with our communication theory students and colleagues over the years. Several parts of this book
are based on student input at both of our institutions. Students have contributed to
this book in both direct and indirect ways.
Textbook writers understand that no book is possible without the talents and
commitment of both an editorial and production team. We extend our deep appreciation and admiration to those who have made our words come to life in various ways:
Jamie Laferrera, Brand Manager
Jasmine Staton, Editorial Coordinator
Lisa Bruflodt, Content Project Manager
DeAnna Dausner, Content Licensing Specialist
Finally, the development editing was handled by Erin Guendelsberger and Sowmya B. We thank both of them and the entire ansrsource development team.
As is customary in each book he writes, Rich would like to acknowledge his mother
for her continual focus on what matters in life: family, fun, and spirituality. He remains
grateful for her continued positive influence. Rich would also like to thank his partner,
Chris, who knows precisely when to make things less intense and more relaxing.
Lynn would like to thank her family: her husband, Ted; her daughter’s family, the Spitznagles—Sabrina, Billy, Sophie, and Will; her stepdaughter’s family,
the Kissels—Leila, Russ, Zoe, Dylan; and her stepson’s family, the Feldshers—Ted,
Sally, Ely, and Lucas, for invaluable lessons in communication theory and practice.
Further, she is indebted to her brother and his family, as well as all of her extended
family members who helped in ways great and small as this project continued over
time. And always, Lynn is grateful for the memory of her loving parents whose steadfast support and encouragement of her scholarship, and all of her interests, sustain
her in every project she undertakes. Friends and colleagues provided great support
and have taught her many valuable lessons about scholarship and communication
theory. She also wishes to thank Marquette University; the school offered a supportive climate, research assistance, and a general tenor of encouragement.
Finally, both Rich and Lynn give a special shout out to Holly Allen. Holly, a senior
editor at Wiley, was the first to believe in us in 1994. She persuaded us to think about
writing a textbook, the first of which was Perspectives on Family Communication
(now in its sixth edition/McGraw-Hill). We began this writing enterprise because
of Holly and, to this day, she remains an inspiration as we celebrate the various successes we’ve had in textbook writing. Thanks Holly! Always.
Finally, we thank the manuscript reviewers who gave their time and expertise to
keep us on track in our interpretation of the ideas of others. We are grateful for their
careful reading and insightful suggestions, which expanded and clarified our thinking in
many ways. Our text is a much more useful product because of the comments and suggestions of the following reviewers who have shaped this book over the past few editions:
Sixth Edition
Greg G. Armfield,
New Mexico State University
Christine Armstrong,
Northampton Community College
Shaun Cashman,
Pfeiffer University
J. Dean Farmer,
Campbell University
Javette Grace Hayes,
California State University, Fullerton
Lisa Hebert,
Louisiana State University
Juan Liu,
Wayne State University
Jimmie Manning,
Northern Illinois University
Libby McGlone,
Columbus State Community College
Robert William Wawee,
University of Houston Downtown
Fifth Edition
Michael Barberich,
University at Albany, SUNY
Martha J. Haun,
University of Houston
Bryan Horikami,
Salisbury University
Anna Laura Jansma,
University of California, Santa ­Barbara
Susan Jarboe,
San Diego State University
Kelly Jones,
Pitt Community College
Fourth Edition
Rebecca Dumlao,
East Carolina University
Edward T. Funkhouser,
North Carolina State University
Scott Guest,
Bowling Green State University
Anna Laura Jansma,
University of California, Santa ­Barbara
Anne M. Nicotera,
University of Maryland
Mark Zeigler,
Florida State University
Third Edition
Randall S. Chase,
Salt Lake Community College
Chrys Egan,
Salisbury University
Kathleen Galvin,
Northwestern University
Reed Markham,
Salt Lake Community College
Rita L. Rahoi-Gilchrest,
Winona State University
Second Edition
Sue Barnes,
Fordham University
Jack Baseheart,
University of Kentucky
Jamie Byrne,
Millersville University
Thomas Feeley,
State University of New York, ­Geneseo
Amy Hubbard,
University of Hawaii at Manoa
Matthew McAllister,
Virginia Tech
Janet Skupien,
University of Pittsburgh
Jon Smith,
Southern Utah University
Katy Wiss,
Western Connecticut State ­University
Kevin Wright,
University of Memphis
First Edition
John R. Baldwin,
Illinois State University
Holly H. Bognar,
Cleveland State University
Sheryl Bowen,
Villanova University
Cam Brammer,
Marshall University
Jeffrey D. Brand,
North Dakota State University
Randy K. Dillon,
Southwest Missouri State University
Kent Drummond,
University of Wyoming
James Gilchrist,
Western Michigan University
Laura Jansma,
University of California–Santa ­Barbara
Madeline M. Keaveney,
California State University–Chico
Joann Keyton,
University of Kansas
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University of St. Thomas
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University of Delaware
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University of Arkansas
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Central Michigan University
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University of Southwestern Louisiana
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University of Nebraska
Denise Solomon,
University of Wisconsin
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St. Cloud State University
Rebecca W. Tardy,
University of Louisville
Ralph Thompson,
Cornell University
About the Authors
Richard West is a Professor in the Department of Communication Studies
at Emerson College in Boston. Rich received his BA and MA from Illinois
State University and his PhD from Ohio U
­ niversity. Rich has been teaching
since 1984, and his teaching and ­research interests range from family diversity to teacher–student communication. He began teaching communication
theory as a graduate student and has taught the class in lecture format to
more than 200 students. Rich is a past recipient of the Outstanding Alumni
Award in Communication at Illinois State University and Ohio University.
He is a member of several editorial boards in communication journals. Rich
is also the recipient of the Eastern Communication Association’s (ECA)
Distinguished Service Award where he also serves as a Research Fellow.
He also served as ECA’s President in 2008.
Lynn H. Turner is a Professor in Communication Studies at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Lynn received her BA from the University of Illinois and her MA from the University of Iowa, and she received
her PhD from Northwestern University. She has taught communication
theory and research methods to undergraduates and graduates in the Diederich College of Communication at Marquette since 1985. Prior to coming
to Marquette, Lynn taught at Iowa State University and in two high schools
in Iowa. Her research interests include interpersonal communication, family communication, and gendered communication. She is the recipient of
several awards, including Marquette’s College of Communication Research
Excellence Award, and the Book of the Year award from the Organization
for the Study of Communication, Language, and Gender for her book with
Patricia Sullivan, From the Margins to the Center: Contemporary Women
and Political Communication. Lynn is a past president of the Central States
Communication Association.
Rich and Lynn, together, are coauthors of dozens of essays and articles in
the communication field. In addition, the two have served as guest coeditors
of the Journal of Family Communication a few times, focusing on diversity
and the family. In addition, they have coauthored several books, including Gender and Communication, Perspectives on Family Communication,
IPC, and Understanding Interpersonal Communication: Making Choices
in Changing Times. The two have coedited the Family Communication
Sourcebook (Sage, 2006; Winner of the Outstanding Book Award by the
National Communication Association), and The Handbook of Family Communication. Further, both are the recipients of the Bernard J. Brommel Award for Outstanding Scholarship and Service in Family Communication. Finally, both recognize the
uniqueness and the honor to have served as president of the National Communication
Association (Lynn in 2011; Rich in 2012), “the oldest and largest organization in
the world promoting communication scholarship and education” (www.natcom.org).
About the Author
Communication, Theory, and Research
each day the decisions we make, the (social) media we
consume, and the relationships we experience can be
enriched and explained by communication theory. Communication theory helps us to understand other people
Chapter 2
and their communities, the media, and our associations
Thinking About the Field:
with families, friends, roommates, coworkers, and comTraditions and Contexts 24
panions. Perhaps most important, communication theory
Chapter 3
makes it easier to understand ourselves.
Thinking About Theory
We begin our discussion of communication theory
and Research 42
by asking you to consider the experiences of Morgan
and Alex. After randomly being assigned as roommates,
the two met on “move-in day” at Scott Hall. They were both pretty nervous. They
had checked out each other on Facebook, emailed each other, and talked on the
phone a few times, so they knew quite a bit about each other. Once they met, they
started talking. They went out for coffee the first few weeks of school, getting to
know each other better. They spent a lot of time telling stories about their families
and friends, and talking about what they look for in a partner. They both loved television, especially the reality shows, because they loved to see how other people dealt
with their lives in times of stress. After several weeks, Morgan and Alex became
closer. They were going to have to balance their desire to hang out with each other
with their need to be alone. And it was going to be give-and-take because their
schedules were completely opposite. Eventually, the two became great friends.
To illustrate the various ways in which communication theory functions in
the lives of Morgan and Alex, let’s identify important aspects of their story and
see how theory provides some understanding of Morgan’s and Alex’s behaviors.
Chapter 1
Thinking About
­Communication: ­Definitions,
Models, and Ethics 3
First, these roommates supported the research of Uncertainty Reduction Theory
(Chapter 8) through their need to reduce their uncertainty about each other. They
also probably self-disclosed some personal information to each other, underscoring a
central feature of Social Penetration Theory (Chapter 10). Next, they discovered that
they both watch television and use it to see how others live their lives, highlighting
the essence of Uses and Gratifications Theory (Chapter 23). Balancing their need
to be together with the need to remain private encompasses Relational Dialectics
Theory (Chapter 11). Morgan and Alex also told personal stories to each other; storytelling is at the heart of the Narrative Paradigm (Chapter 20). In sum, at least five
communication theories could help explain the experiences of the two roommates.
The first three chapters provide an important foundation for discussing
each communication theory that follows. These chapters give you a general introduction to communication and to theory. First, to provide you some insights
into the communication field, in Chapter 1 we present our definition of communication, the prevailing models of communication, and other important issues including ethics and communication. Chapter 2 is dedicated to a discussion of the
various traditions and contexts of communication, two important frameworks to
consider as you read the remainder of the book. We prepare you directly for understanding the intersection of theory and research in Chapter 3. In this chapter, we also present you the necessary templates to evaluate and understand
each theory. The chapter provides important criteria for evaluating a theory
and also includes a model for you to examine. We revisit these templates at the
conclusion of each theory chapter so that you have a consistent approach from
which to interpret the various theories.
Part One • Foundations
Thinking About Communication:
Definitions, Models, and Ethics
immy and Angie Bollen have been married
for almost 30 years,
and they are the parents of three children who
have been out of the house for years. But, a recent layoff at the company where their son Eddy
worked has forced the 24-year-old to return
home until he can get another job.
At first, Eddy’s parents were glad that he was
home. His father was proud of the fact that his
son wasn’t embarrassed about returning home,
and his mom was happy to have him help her with
some of the mundane chores at home. In fact,
Eddy showed both Jimmy and Angie how to instant message their friends and also put together
a family website. His parents were especially
happy about having a family member who was
“tech-savvy” hanging around the house.
But the good times surrounding Eddy’s return
soon ended. Eddy brought his laptop to the table
each morning, marring the Bollen’s once-serene
breakfasts. Jimmy and Angie’s walks at night were
complicated because their son often wanted to
join them. At night, when they went to bed, the
parents could hear Eddy talking on his cell phone,
sometimes until 1:00 a.m. When Eddy’s parents
thought about communicating their frustration
The Bollens
and disappointment, they quickly recalled the difficulty of their son’s situation. They didn’t want to
upset him any further. The Bollens tried to figure
out a way to communicate to their son that although they love him, they wished that he would
get a job and leave the house. They simply wanted
some peace, privacy, and freedom, and their son
was getting in the way. It wasn’t a feeling either
one of them liked, but it was their reality.
They considered a number of different approaches. In order to get the conversation going,
they even thought about giving Eddy a few website
links related to local apartment rentals. Recently,
the couple’s frustration with the situation took a
turn for the worse. Returning from one of their
long walks, they discovered Eddy on the couch,
hung over from a party held earlier at his friend’s
house. When Jimmy and Angie confronted him
about his demeanor, Eddy shouted, “Don’t start lecturing me now. Is it any wonder that none of your
other kids call you? It’s because you don’t know
when to stop! Look, I got a headache and I don’t
want to hear it from you guys!” Jimmy snapped,
“Get out of my house. Now!” Eddy left the home,
slamming the front door behind him. Angie stared
out of the window, wondering whether they would
ever hear from their son again.
I suppose all of us get accustomed to look at what we are doing in a
certain way and after a while have a kind of “trained incapacity” for
looking at things in any other way.
—Marie Hochmuth Nichols
he value of communication has been lauded by philosophers (“Be silent or say something better than silence”—Pythagoras), writers (“The difference between the right
word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug”—
Mark Twain), performing artists (“Any problem, big or small, in a family usually starts with
bad communication”—Emma Thompson), business leaders (“Writing is great for keeping
records and putting down details, but talk generates ideas”—T. Boone Pickens), motivational speakers (“The quality of your communication is the quality of your life”—Tony
Robbins), and even talk show hosts (“Great communication begins with connection”—
Oprah). Perhaps one of the most lasting of all words came from a 1967 film (Cool Hand
Luke): “What we have here is a failure to communicate”—a quotation that has subsequently
been stated in such diverse settings as in the movie Madagascar, the song “Civil War” by
Guns N’ Roses, and television shows NCIS and Frasier. It’s clear that nearly all cross sections of a Western society view communication as instrumental in human relationships.
In the most fundamental way, communication depends on our ability to understand one another. Although our communication can be ambiguous (“I never thought
I’d get this gift from you”), one primary and essential goal in communicating is
understanding. Our daily activities are wrapped in c­ onversations with others. Yet, as
we see with the Bollen family, even those in close relationships can have difficulty
expressing their thoughts.
Being able to communicate effectively is highly valued in the United States. Corporations have recognized the importance of communication. In 2016, the N
­ ational Safety
Management Society (nsms.us/?s=communication&submit=Search) reports that industrial safety is contingent on the ability of employees and management to communicate
clearly and to avoid jargon when possible. Indeed, the entire Safety Professions http://
www.com.edu/gcsi/ “First and foremost, risk managers must be good communicators.”
Health care, too, is focusing more on the value of communication. Interestingly, as early
as the late 1960s, doctor–patient communication has been a topic of concern in research
(Korsch, Gozzi, & Francis, 1968). More r­ ecent literature shows that doctor–patient communication is essential for the recovery of patients (Singh, 2016). Finally, in the classroom,
researchers (e.g., Bolkon & Goodboy, 2011; Titsworth, Mazer, Goodboy, Bolkan, &
Myers, 2015) have concluded that affirming feedback/student confirmation positively affects student learning. And, with respect to social networking sites such as Facebook,
individuals in romantic relationships report using communication (technology) as a way
to check up on “status updates” on an individual’s wall—from commitment to fidelity
(usatodayeducate.com/staging/index.php/campuslife/the-bytes-and-the-bees-love-cantranscend-anything-even-facebook). Make no mistake about it: Abundant evidence underscores the fact that communication is an essential, pervasive, and consequential behavior in our society.
As a student of communication, you are uniquely positioned to determine your
potential for effective communication. To do so, however, you must have a basic understanding of the communication process and of how communication theory, in particular,
functions in your life. We need to be able to talk e­ ffectively, for instance, to a number of
very different types of people during an average day: teachers, ministers, salespeople,
family members, friends, automobile mechanics, and health care providers.
Communication opportunities fill our lives each day. However, we need to understand the whys and hows of our conversations with others. For instance, why do two
people in a relationship feel a simultaneous need for togetherness and independence?
  Chapter 1 • Thinking About Communication: Definitions, Models, and Ethics
Why do some women feel ignored or devalued in conversations with men? Why does
language often influence the thoughts of others? How do media influence people’s
behavior? To what extent can social media affect the communication among people?
These and many other questions are at the root of why communication theory is so
important in our society and so critical to understand.
Defining Communication
a social process in
which individuals
employ symbols
to establish and
interpret meaning in
their environment
the notion that
people and interac­
tions are part of
the communication
ongoing, dynamic,
and unending
Defining Communication    5
Our first task is to create a common understanding for the term communication.
Defining communication can be challenging. Katherine Miller (2005) underscores
this dilemma, stating that “conceptualizations of communication have been abundant
and have changed substantially over the years” (p. 3). Sarah Trenholm (1991) notes
that although the study of communication has been around for centuries, it does not
mean communication is well understood. In fact, Trenholm interestingly illustrates
the dilemma when defining the term. She states, “Communication has become a sort
of ‘portmanteau’ term. Like a piece of luggage, it is overstuffed with all manner of
odd ideas and meanings. The fact that some of these do fit, resulting in a conceptual
suitcase much too heavy for anyone to carry, is often overlooked” (p. 4).
We should note that there are many ways to interpret and define ­communication—a
result of the complexity and richness of the communication discipline. Imagine, for
instance, taking this course from two different professors. Each would have his or
her way of presenting the material, and each classroom of students would likely approach communication theory in a unique manner. The result would be two exciting
and distinctive approaches to studying the same topic.
This uniqueness holds true with defining communication. Scholars tend to see human
phenomena from their own perspectives, something we delve into further in the next chapter. In some ways, researchers establish boundaries when they try to explain phenomena
to others. Communication scholars may approach the interpretation of communication
differently because of differences in scholarly values. With these caveats in mind, we
offer the following definition of communication to get us pointed in the same direction.
Communication is a ­social process in which individuals employ symbols to establish
and interpret meaning in their environment. We necessarily draw in elements of mediated communication as well in our discussion, given the importance that communication
technology plays in contemporary society. With that in mind, let’s define five key terms
in our perspective: social, process, symbols, meaning, and e­ nvironment (Figure 1.1).
First, we believe that communication is a social process. When interpreting communication as social, we mean to suggest that it involves people and interactions,
whether face-to-face or online. This necessarily includes two people, who act as senders and receivers. Both play an integral role in the communication process. When
communication is social, it involves people who come to an interaction with various
intentions, motivations, and abilities. To suggest that communication is a process
means that it is ongoing and unending. Communication is also dynamic, complex, and
continually changing. With this view of communication, we emphasize the dynamics
of making meaning. Therefore, communication has no definable beginning and ending. For example, although Jimmy and Angie Bollen may tell their son that he must
Figure 1.1
Key Terms in
leave the house, their discussions with him and about him will continue well after he
leaves. In fact, the conversation they have with Eddy today will most likely affect their
communication with him tomorrow. Similarly, our past communications with people
have been stored in their minds and have affected their conversations with us.
The process nature of communication also means that much can happen from
the beginning of a conversation to the end. People may end up at a very different
place once a discussion begins. This is exemplified by the frequent conflicts that
roommates, spouses, and siblings experience. Although a conversation may begin
with absolute and inflexible language, the conflict may be resolved with compromise. All of this can occur in a matter of minutes.
Individual and cultural changes affect communication. Conversations between siblings, for example, have shifted from the 1950s to today. Years ago, siblings rarely discussed the impending death of a parent or the need to take care of an aging parent. Today,
it’s not uncommon to listen to children talking about nursing home care, home health
care, and even funeral arrangements. The 1950s was a time of postwar euphoria; couples
were reunited after World War II and the baby boom began. Today, with an ongoing U.S.
troop presence around the world, Americans rarely experience the euphoria they once had.
The tensions, uncertainties, and loss of life are too compelling for many people. As you
can see, perceptions and feelings can change and may remain in flux for quite some time.
Some of you may be thinking that because the communication process is dynamic and unique it is virtually impossible to study. However, C. Arthur VanLear
(1996) argues that because the communication process is so dynamic, researchers and
theorists can look for patterns over time. He concludes that “if we recognize a pattern across a large number of cases, it permits us to ‘generalize’ to other unobserved
cases” (p. 36). Or, as communication pioneers Paul Watzlawick, Janet Beavin, and
Don Jackson (1967) suggest, the interconnectedness of communication events is critical and pervasive. Thus, it is possible to study the dynamic communication process.
To help you visualize this process, imagine a continuum where the points are unrepeatable and irreversible. Frank Dance (1967) depicts the communication process by using
a spiral or helix (Figure 1.2). He believes that communication experiences are cumulative
6   Chapter 1 • Thinking About Communication: Definitions, Models, and Ethics
Figure 1.2
Process as a Helix
Source: Reprinted
by permission of
Frank E. X. Dance.
arbitrary label given
to a phenomenon
concrete symbol
symbol represent­
ing an object
abstract symbol
symbol representing
an idea or thought
what people extract
from a message
[W]hen President George W. Bush was about to go to war in Iraq, he ­referred
to this war as a “crusade.” The use of this term evoked strong negative reactions in the Islamic world, due to the history of the Crusades nearly 1,000 years
ago . . . . While President Bush may not have knowingly wanted to frame the
Iraq invasion as a religious war against Muslims, the history of the Crusades
may make others feel that it is. (p. 70)
Clearly, not all meaning is shared, and people do not always know what others
mean. In these situations, we must be able to explain, repeat, and clarify. For example,
Defining Communication    7
and are influenced by the past. He notes that present experiences inevitably influence a
person’s future, and so he emphasizes a nonlinear view of the process. Communication,
therefore, can be considered a process that changes over time and among interactants.
A third term associated with our definition of communication is symbols. A
symbol is an arbitrary label or representation of phenomena. Words are symbols
for concepts and things—for example, the word love represents the idea of love;
the word chair represents a thing we sit on. Labels may be ambiguous, may be both
verbal and nonverbal, and may occur in face-to-face and mediated communication.
Symbols are usually agreed on within a group but may not be understood outside of
the group. In this way, their use is often arbitrary. For i­ nstance, most college students
understand the phrase “preregistration is closed”; those outside of college may not
understand its meaning. Further, there are both concrete symbols (the symbol represents an object) and abstract symbols (the symbol stands for a thought or idea).
Even the innocuous Twitter symbol—the hashtag has resonance in politics.
Tamara Small (2011), for example, claims that in-depth political reporting and discussion
is fast becoming rare in politics. Rather, the search for a condensed, 140‑character tweet
has supplanted efforts to investigate and interrogate sometimes called “viral politics”
(Penney, 2014). So, the hashtag symbol effectively becomes a representation of a story
that used to be several hundred words found in newspapers and magazines.
In addition to process and symbols, meaning is central to our definition of
communication. Meaning is what people extract from a message. In communication episodes, messages can have more than one meaning and even multiple layers
of meaning. Without sharing some meanings, we would all have a difficult time
speaking the same language or interpreting the same event. Judith Martin and Tom
Nakayama (2013) point out that meaning has cultural consequences:
situation or context
in which communi­
cation occurs
if the Bollens want to tell Eddy to move out, they will probably need to go beyond telling him that they just need their “space.” Eddy may perceive “needing space” as simply
staying out of the house two nights a week. Furthermore, his parents will have to figure
out what communication “approach” is best. They might believe that being direct may
be best to get their son out of the house. Or they might fear that such clear communication is not the most effective strategy to change Eddy’s behavior. Regardless of how
Jimmy and Angie Bollen communicate their wishes, without sharing the same meaning, the family will have a challenging time getting their messages across to one another.
The final key term in our definition of communication is environment.
­Environment is the situation or context in which communication occurs. The
­environment includes a number of elements, including time, place, historical period,
relationship, and a speaker’s and listener’s cultural backgrounds. You can understand
the influence of environments by thinking about your beliefs and values pertaining to
socially significant topics such as marriage equality, physician-assisted suicide, and
immigration into the United States. If you have had personal experience with any of
these topics, it’s likely your views are affected by your perceptions.
The environment can also be mediated. By that, we mean that communication takes
place with technological assistance. At one point or another, all of us have communicated in a mediated environment, namely through email, chat rooms, or social networking sites. These mediated environments influence the communication between two
people in that people in electronic relationships are (usually) not able to observe each
other’s eye behavior, listen to vocal characteristics, or watch body movement (Skype
would be an exception to this, however). Clearly, the mediated environment has received
a great deal of attention over the years as communication theory continues to develop.
Student Voices
The discussion in class about environment was interesting to me. I can’t begin to
tell you how many different types of physical environments I’m in every day. I work
in a nonprofit, so I’m always in and out of the office. Our office is on the third floor
of a five-story building. It’s quite small, but we have a lot of fun. Sometimes, though,
I have to go to a corporate office where everything is new and looks very expensive. A lot of the workers, though, seem up-tight! Then, I have to visit some people’s
homes and I can say that there is so much difference in the way people have arranged their home environments. And I haven’t even begun to talk about how I use
email and the ­different mediated environments. It’s unbelievable!
simplified represen­
tations of the com­
munication process
Models of Understanding: Communication as Action,
Interaction, and Transaction
Communication theorists create models, or simplified representations of complex
interrelationships among elements in the communication process, which allow us to
8   Chapter 1 • Thinking About Communication: Definitions, Models, and Ethics
visually understand a sometimes complex process. Models help us weave together
the basic elements of the communication process. Although there are many communication models, we discuss the three most prominent ones here. In discussing
these models and their underlying approaches, we wish to demonstrate the manner in
which communication has been conceptualized over the years.
Communication as Action: The Linear Model
In 1949, Claude Shannon, a Bell Laboratories scientist and professor at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Warren Weaver, a consultant on projects
at the Sloan Foundation, described communication as a linear process. They were
concerned with radio and telephone technology and wanted to ­develop a model that
could explain how information passed through various channels. The result was the
conceptualization of the linear model of communication.
This approach to human communication comprises several key elements, as
Figure 1.3 demonstrates. A source, or transmitter of a message, sends a m
­ essage to
a receiver, the recipient of the message. The receiver is the person who makes sense
out of the message. All of this communication takes place in a channel, which is the
pathway to communication. Channels frequently correspond to the visual, tactile,
olfactory, and auditory senses. Thus, you use the visual channel when you see your
roommate, and you use the tactile channel when you hug your parent.
Communication also involves noise, which is anything not intended by the informational source. There are four types of noise. First, semantic noise pertains to the
slang, jargon, or specialized language used by individuals or groups. For instance,
originator of a
words, sounds,
actions, or gestures
in an interaction
recipient of a
pathway to
distortion in
channel not intend­
ed by the source
semantic noise
linguistic influences
on reception of
Models of Understanding: Communication as Action, Interaction, and Transaction    9
linear model of
one-way view of
communication that
assumes a mes­
sage is sent by a
source to a receiver
through a channel
physical (external)
bodily influences
on reception of
psychological noise
cognitive influences
on reception of
physiological noise
biological influences
on reception of
Linear Model of
Figure 1.3
when Jennifer received a medical report from her ophthalmologist, the physician’s
words included phrases such as “ocular neuritis,” “dilated funduscopic examination,” and “papillary conjunctival changes.” This is an example of semantic noise because outside of the medical community, these words have limited (or no) meaning.
Physical, or external, noise ­exists outside of the receiver. Psychological noise refers
to a communicator’s prejudices, biases, and predispositions toward another or the
message. To ­exemplify these two types, imagine listening to participants at a political
rally. You may experience psychological noise listening to the views of a politician
whom you do not support, and you may also experience physical noise from the
people nearby who may be protesting the politician’s presence. Finally, physiological noise refers to the biological influences on the communication process. Physiological noise, then, exists if you or a speaker is ill, fatigued, or hungry.
Although this view of the communication process was highly respected many
years ago, the approach is very limited for several reasons. First, the model presumes
that there is only one message in the communication process. Yet we all can point to
a number of circumstances in which we send several messages at once. Second, as we
have previously noted, communication does not have a definable beginning and ending. Shannon and Weaver’s model presumes this mechanistic orientation. Furthermore,
to suggest that communication is simply one person speaking to another oversimplifies
the complex communication process. Listeners are not so passive, as we can all confirm when we are in heated arguments with others. Clearly, communication is more
than a one-way effort and has no definable middle or end (Anderson & Ross, 2002).
Communication as Interaction: The Interactional Model
interactional model
of communication
view of communica­
tion as the sharing
of meaning with
feedback that links
source and receiver
The linear model suggests that a person is only a sender or a receiver. That is a narrow view of the participants in the communication process. Wilbur Schramm (1954),
therefore, proposed that we also examine the relationship between a sender and a
receiver. He conceptualized the interactional model of communication, which emphasizes the two-way communication process between communicators (Figure 1.4).
In other words, communication goes in two directions: from sender to receiver and
10   Chapter 1 • Thinking About Communication: Definitions, Models, and Ethics
ld of
d of experien
from receiver to sender. This circular process suggests that communication is ongoing. The interactional view ­illustrates that a person can perform the role of either
sender or receiver during an interaction, but not both roles simultaneously.
One element essential to the interactional model of communication is f­ eedback,
or the response to a message. Feedback may be verbal or nonverbal, intentional or
unintentional. Feedback helps communicators to know whether or not their message
is being received and the extent to which meaning is achieved. In the interactional
model, feedback takes place after a message is received, not during the message itself.
To illustrate the critical nature of feedback and the interactional model of communication, consider our opening example of the Bollen family. When Eddy’s parents find him on the couch drunk, they proceed to tell Eddy how they feel about
his behavior. Their outcry prompts Eddy to argue with his parents, who in turn, tell
him to leave their house immediately. This interactional sequence shows that there
is an alternating nature in the communication between Eddy and his parents. They
see his behavior and provide their feedback on it, Eddy listens to their message and
responds, then his father sends the final message telling his son to leave. We can take
this even further by noting the door slam as one additional feedback behavior in the
A final feature of the interactional model is a person’s field of experience, or
how a person’s culture and experiences influence his or her ability to communicate
with another. Each person brings a unique field of experience to each communication episode, and these experiences frequently influence the communication between
people. For instance, when two people come together and begin dating, the two inevitably bring their fields of experience into the relationship. One person in this couple
may have been raised in a large family with several siblings, while the other may be
an only child. These experiences (and others) will necessarily influence how the two
come together and will most likely affect how they maintain their relationship.
Like the linear view, the interactional model has been criticized. The interactional model suggests that one person acts as sender while the other acts as receiver
in a communication encounter. As you have experienced, however, people communicate as both senders and receivers in a single encounter. But the prevailing criticism
Model of
given to the source
by the receiver to
field of experience
overlap of sender’s
and receiver’s culture, experiences,
and heredity in
Models of Understanding: Communication as Action, Interaction, and Transaction    11
Figure 1.4
of the interactional model pertains to the issue of feedback. The interactional view
assumes two people speaking and listening, but not at the same time. But what occurs
when a person sends a nonverbal message during an interaction? Smiling, frowning,
or simply moving away from the conversation during an interaction between two
people happens all the time. For example, in an interaction between a mother and her
daughter, the mother may be reprimanding her child while simultaneously “reading”
the child’s nonverbal behavior. Is the girl laughing? Is she upset? Is she even listening
to her mother? Each of these behaviors will inevitably prompt the mother to modify
her message. These criticisms and contradictions inspired development of a third
model of communication.
Communication as Transaction: The Transactional Model
transactional model
of communication
view of communica­
tion as the simul­
taneous sending
and receiving of
The transactional model of communication (Barnlund, 1970; Frymier, 2005;
Wilmot, 1987) underscores the simultaneous sending and receiving of messages in
a communication episode, as Figure 1.5 shows. To say that communication is transactional means that the process is cooperative; the sender and the receiver are mutually responsible for the effect and the effectiveness of communication. In the linear
model of communication, meaning is sent from one person to another. In the interactional model, meaning is achieved through the feedback of a sender and a receiver. In
the transactional model, people build shared meaning. Furthermore, what people say
during a transaction is greatly influenced by their past experience. So, for instance,
at a college fair, it is likely that a college student will have a great deal to say to a
high school senior ­because of the college student’s experiences in class and around
campus. A college senior will, no doubt, have a different view of college than, say, a
college sophomore, due in large part to his or her past college experiences.
Transactional communication requires us to recognize the influence of one
message on another. One message builds on the previous message; therefore, there
Figure 1.5
Model of
Field of experience
field of
12   Chapter 1 • Thinking About Communication: Definitions, Models, and Ethics
Field of experience
Communication Models of the Future
As we move further into the 21st century, we have to ask the question: Are these
models sufficient as we examine human communication? We already know that
communication models are usually incomplete and unsuitable for all purposes
(McQuail & Windhal, 2015). The answer is fairly complex. First, the proliferation
of new social networking sites (SNS), for example, and their influence upon communication demand that communication models integrate technological discussions.
Second, this integration must necessarily be thoughtful, given the plethora of SNS.
Traffic to SNS has grown exponentially over the past few years with about 75 percent
of online adults using social networking (http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheets
/social-networking-fact-sheet)—up from 7 percent in 2005. The diversity of these
sites—from Facebook to LinkedIn to Instagram—suggests that no simple model will
be possible. We address the notion of technology in several chapters in this book
and the theorist’s perception of how technology affects the communication process.
We can envision a model of communication that incorporates SNS as both the sender
and the receiver. We anticipate that scholars will embark upon understanding the transactional nature of such platforms as Snapchat, where a message disappears after 10 seconds.
Communication Models of the Future    13
is an interdependency between and among the components of communication. A
change in one causes a change in others. Furthermore, the transactional model presumes that as we simultaneously send and receive messages, we attend to both
verbal and nonverbal elements of a message. In a sense, communicators negotiate
meaning. For instance, if a friend asks you about your family background, you may
use some private language that your friend doesn’t understand. Your friend may
make a face while you are presenting your message, indicating some sort of confusion with what you’ve said. As a result, you will most likely back up and define
your terms and then continue with the conversation. This example highlights the
degree to which two people are actively involved in a communication encounter.
The nonverbal communication is just as important as the verbal message in such a
transactional process.
Earlier we noted that the field of experience functions in the interactional model.
In the transactional model, the fields of experience exist, but overlap occurs. That is,
rather than person A and person B having separate fields of experience, eventually
the two fields merge (see Figure 1.5). This was an important a­ ddition to the understanding of the communication process because it demonstrates an active process
of understanding. That is, for communication to take place, individuals must build
shared meaning. For instance, in our earlier example of two people with different
childhoods, the interactional model suggests that they would come together with an
understanding of their backgrounds. The transactional model, however, requires each
of them to understand and incorporate the other’s field of experience into his or her
life. For example, it’s not enough for Julianna to know that Paul has a prior prison
record; the transactional view holds that she must figure out a way to put his past into
perspective. Will it affect their current relationship? How? If not, how will Julianna
discuss it with Paul? The transactional model takes the meaning-making process one
step further than the interactional model. It assumes reciprocity, or shared meaning.
Clearly, Shannon, Weaver, Schramm, and Barnlund could never have envisioned such
technology. We’re sure that in the not-so-distant future, we will have an abundance of research on the influences of these technological influences on the communication process.
You now have a basic understanding of how we define communication, and we have
outlined the basic elements and a few communication models. Recall this interpretation
as you read the book and examine the various theories. It is probable that you will interpret communication differently from one theory to another. Remember that theorists
set boundaries in their discussions about human behavior, and, consequently, they often
define communication according to their own view. One of our goals in this book is to enable you to articulate the role that communication plays in a number of different theories.
Thus far, we have examined the communication process and unpacked the complexity associated with it. We have identified the primary models of communication, trying to
demonstrate the evolution and maturation of the communication field. We now explore
a component that is a necessary and vital part of every communication episode: ethics.
Ethics and Communication
perceived rightness
or wrongness of an
action or behavior
In the movie The Insider, which was based on a true story, the lead character’s name is Jeffrey Wigand, a former tobacco scientist who violated a contractual agreement and exposed
a cigarette maker’s efforts to include addictive ingredients in all cigarettes. The movie
shows Wigand as a man of good conscience with the intention of telling the public about
the company and its immoral undertakings. Wigand clearly believed that saving lives was
the right and only thing to do, and he made his actions fit his beliefs: He acted on his ethics.
In this section, we examine ethics, or the perceived rightness or wrongness of action
or behavior. Ethics is a type of moral decision making (May, 2013), and determining
what is right or wrong is influenced by society’s rules and laws. For example, although
some may believe Wigand’s efforts were laudable, others may note that Wigand apparently knew what was going on when he signed a contract prohibiting him from
disclosing company secrets. Furthermore, the murkiness of ethics is evidenced when
one considers that Wigand made a lot of money before disclosing what was occurring.
The United States is built on standards of moral conduct, and these standards
are central to a number of institutions and relationships. Because ethical standards
tend to shift according to historical period, the environment, the conversation, and
the people involved, ethics can be difficult to understand. Let’s briefly discuss ethical
issues as they pertain to cultural institutions; a more comprehensive explanation of
ethics can be found elsewhere (see MacKinnon, 2012).
To begin, George Cheney, Debashish Munshi, Steve May, and Erin Ortiz (2010)
posit the following: “Communication, as both a discipline and an ‘interdiscipline’ or
field, is poised to play a unique role in advancing discussions of ethics because the
field offers an array of concepts and principles attuned to the examination of ethics”
(p. 1). Their words resonate throughout this discussion.
Let’s start here by asking why we should understand ethics, next explain ethics as
it relates to society, and finally, explain the intersection of ethics and communication
theory. As you think about this information, keep in mind that ethical decision making is culturally based. That is, what we consider to be ethical and appropriate in
one society is not necessarily a shared value in another society. For instance, though
14   Chapter 1 • Thinking About Communication: Definitions, Models, and Ethics
Business and Industry
Perhaps no cultural institution has been under more ethical suspicions of late than
“corporate America.” Unethical behavior in corporations has reached proportions
never before seen. In fact, many of these scandals prompted the Occupy Wall Street
protest movements in 2011 and 2012, and in 2016, the rise of a (then) little known
U.S. Senator from Vermont: Bernie Sanders.
Because a corporation is usually obsessed about its reputation (Carroll, 2015),
companies have tried to hide costs, use creative accounting practices, commit accounting fraud, and a plethora of other ethical breaches. The exa…
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