Project #38306 - Comm 300 discussion

Uncertainty Reduction Theory


Life is full of uncertainties, and nothing is more uncertain than meeting someone for the first time.  Your text states that “when strangers first meet, they are primarily concerned with increasing predictability in an effort to make sense out of their communication experience.”  Thus, researchers Charles Berger and Richard Calabrese devised the Uncertainty Reduction Theory to explain what happens on first encounters. 

One of my favorite films is “The Goodbye Girl,” a 1977 romantic comedy starring Richard Dreyfuss and Marsha Mason.  Mason, an unemployed dancer, is reluctantly forced to share an apartment with Dreyfuss, a struggling off-Broadway actor.  This scene depicts an early encounter in which they try to decide if this living arrangement can possibly work.

(You can read more about the film at

On page 150 of your text, the authors identify seven assumptions about the Uncertainty Reduction Theory.  As you review the film clip, try to see how these assumptions apply to the scene. 


Social Exchange Theory

As we know from the Social Penetration Theory, not all relationships go in a perfectly straight line.  Often people experience problems that make them want to consider the costs and rewards of those relationships.  That’s the major idea behind the Social Exchange Theory

The Social Exchange Theory, according to your text, “is based on the notion that people think about their relationships in economic terms.”  In other words, costs versus rewards.  My initial interpretation was that the theory was limited to dollars and cents.  However, the text goes on to define costs as “the elements of relational life that have negative value to a person” and rewards as “the elements of a relationship that have positive value."

“The Social Exchange perspective argues that people calculate the overall worth of a particular relationship by subtracting its costs from the rewards it provides,” the authors state.  Pretty simple, n'est-ce pas?

Well, it turns out to be somewhat more complicated than that.  The Social Exchange Theory is based on several assumptions about human nature:

·         Humans seek rewards and avoid punishments.

·         Humans are rational beings. 

·         The standards that humans use to evaluate costs and rewards vary over time and from person to person. 

(How true do you think those assumptions are?)

Moreover, your text identifies two assumptions that Social Exchange Theory makes about the nature of relationships:

·         Relationships are interdependent.

·         Relational life is a process. 

(Probably not too much to disagree with about that!

One of the best examples of the application of the Social Exchange Theory is domestic violence.  Most victims of domestic violence, as you know, are women.  Those of us who have never experienced such abuse often ask “Why does she stay in an abusive relationship?”  An answer to that question comes from Leslie Morgan Steiner, an American author, blogger and businesswoman, whose 2009 memoir Crazy Love talked about surviving domestic violence. Here is her story: 

As you view her presentation, please address the questions raised by the assumptions about human nature and relationships listed above.  How did Ms. Steiner evaluate the costs versus the rewards of her relationship?  Finally, why do you think she stayed in that relationship for so long?


Question 3: Social Penetration Theory


Have you ever had a relationship that evolved over time, going from superficial to intimate?  Well, that’s what the Social Penetration Theory is about.  It’s an effort to understand how relationships develop.  The interesting thing is, they aren’t necessarily linear or progressive.  They have their ebbs and flows, their ups and downs. 

The Social Penetration Theory was developed by Irwin Altman and Dalmas Taylor.  They based their theory on several assumptions: 

·         Relationships progress from non-intimate to intimate. 

·         The development of relationships is generally systematic and predictable. 

·         Relationship development includes de-penetration and dissolution (that is, we go in and out of them or sometimes end them entirely).

·         Self-disclosure is at the core of relationship development. 

Consider the way the relationship develops between Harry and Sally in “When Harry Met Sally.”  You will recall from last week that they began as strangers sharing a car trip from Chicago to New York discussing why (according to Harry) men and women can’t be friends.  They come in and out of each other’s lives over a period of years, trying to figure out exactly what they mean to each other.  They even have fights that damage the relationship.  (CAUTION: SPOILER ALERT!) Finally, Harry decides that he’s in love with Sally, despite the fact that they are friends (thereby disproving his original theory).  Sally agrees.  Happy ending.  Fade to black. 

There’s a visual depiction of the Social Penetration Theory here that does a pretty good job at illustrating the theory in two minutes.  After you’ve viewed the clip, think about a relationship you’ve had (not necessarily a romantic one) and briefly discuss the assumptions listed above. For example: 

·         Have you ever had a relationship that went from intimate to non-intimate? 

·         Based on your experience, do you think that relationships are ALWAYS (or mostly always) "generally systematic and predictable"?  

·         Have you ever had a relationship in which you or the other party became emotionally separated ("de-penetrated")?  Do you think that USUALLY leads to dissolution of the relationship? 

·         Finally, do you agree that "self-disclosure is at the core of relationship development"?   

I look forward to reading your thoughts. 



Question 4: Relational Dialectics Theory

Well, I don’t know about you, but I had to look up the meaning of “dialectic.”  According to Webster’s New World Dictionary, dialectic is “the art or practice of examining opinions or ideas, often by the method of question and answer, so as to determine their validity.” 

It’s similar to the Social Exchange Theory, where people think about their relationships in terms of costs versus rewards.  Only Relational Dialectics suggests that relationships are often characterized by ongoing tensions between contradictory impulses.  Perhaps that’s why victims of domestic violence have such a difficult time deciding whether to stay or to go.  “On the one hand,” she says, “he’s a loving father to our children.  On the other hand, he beats me every day.  Our children need a father.  Therefore, I must stay and endure the beatings.” 

Like the other theories we’ve discussed, RDT is based on several major assumptions:

·         Relational life is characterized by change

·         Relationships are not linear.

·         Contradiction is the fundamental fact of relational life. 

·         Communication is central to organizing and negotiating relational contradictions. 

As I read through this chapter, I began thinking about one of my favorite movies: “Casablanca.”  The film is set during World War II, when Nazi Germany is threatening to take over all of Europe and Northern Africa.  The main characters, Rick Blaine (played by Humphrey Bogart) and Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), meet in Paris as the Nazis are closing in.  They carry on a brief love affair and agree to leave together on a train to avoid capture.  However, Ilsa doesn't show up. 

Heartbroken, Rick travels to Casablanca in Morocco and opens a night club.  Some time later, Ilsa shows up with a Czech resistance fighter, Victor Laslo (Paul Henreid), whom we learn was her husband when Ilsa was seeing Rick in Paris; however, Ilsa had been told he was killed in a concentration camp.  As she and Rick are planning to leave Paris, she learns that Victor was alive, but injured, on the outskirts of Paris.  Ilsa decides that she must give up Rick to take care of her husband.  

Victor and Ilsa have come to Casablanca to seek passage to the United States, where he can continue his fight against Germany without being captured by the Nazis.  Understandably upset and angry, Rick refuses to help them.  His feelings soften when he learns that Ilsa still loves him.  In the closing scene, Rick gives up Ilsa so Victor can continue his work.  Here, Rick explains why. 

As you view the film clip, think about how the Relational Dialectics Theory applies to the relationship between Rick and Ilsa.  From what you know about the movie plot, how do the assumptions on which RDT is based apply? Finally, how do you think Rick arrived at his decision? 

(If you're not familiar with the film, go to




Subject English
Due By (Pacific Time) 08/27/2014 12:00 am
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