Other Free Encyclopedias » Online Encyclopedia » Encyclopedia - Featured Articles » Contributed Topics from A-E

Apprehension and Communication - Communication Apprehension as a Trait, Communication Apprehension with a Given Individual or Group

people person low talkers

Communication apprehension (CA) is the fear or anxiety associated with either real or anticipated communication with another person or persons. Although some people desire to communicate with others and see the importance of doing so, they may be impeded by their fear or anxiety. People who do not have appropriate communication skills or whose communication is ethnically or culturally divergent may also develop communication apprehension. Most people who are communication apprehensive, however, are neither skill deficient nor different from others in the general culture. Typically, they are normal people who are simply afraid to communicate. Because it is natural for people to avoid things that they fear, communication-apprehensive people tend to be less willing to communicate. Therefore, they may be labeled shy by others around them. It is important to note, also, that many communication-apprehensive people do not feel restricted by their feelings about communicating—they can be as happy and as productive as nonapprehensive communicators. Most of the social problems that are experienced by these individuals stem from how they are perceived by others and how others respond to them.

This entry focuses on the discussion of communication apprehension on norms from the Personal Report of Communication Apprehension (PRCA) 24 scale. Completing the scale allows the user to know where he or she falls within the normative range of scores. Scores on the PRCA24 scale should range between 24 and 120 (if they are below 24 or more than 120, a computational error has been made). The PRCA24 scale is designed to measure a general trait of communication apprehension—how a person typically reacts to oral communication with others. The higher a person scores on the PRCA, the more apprehension that person generally feels about communicating.

Between 60 percent and 70 percent of the people who have completed the PRCA scale have scores ranging from 50 to 80. This is called the “normal” range. If one’s score falls anywhere outside this range, the idea of communication apprehension may be especially relevant to that person. If one’s score is between 24 and 50, that person is among those people who experience the least communication apprehension. This individual is apt to be higher talkers and may actively seek out opportunities to interact with others. Very few, if any, communication situations cause this individual to be fearful or anxious. If one’s score is somewhere between 50 and 60, that person experiences less communication apprehension than most people. However, he or she is likely to feel some fear or anxiety about a few situations. If one’s score falls between 60 and 70, that person’s level of communication apprehension is similar to that of most people. There are some communication situations that may cause this person to feel anxious or tense; in others, he or she will feel quite comfortable. If one’s score is between 70 and 80, that person experiences more communication apprehension than most people. Probably, many communication situations cause this person to be fearful and tense, but some do not. If one’s score falls between 80 and 120, that person is among those who experience the most communication apprehension. This individual is likely a low talker, one who actively avoids many communication situations because he or she feels much anxiety and tension in those situations.

Those people who fall within the various score ranges on the PRCA scale will now be examined more closely. People in the “normal” range (50 to 80) tend to respond quite differently in different situations. They may be very tense in one situation (when giving a speech) but quite comfortable in another (when out on a date). Those who score in the “low” (below 50) and “high” (above 80) ranges tend to respond to most communication situations in the same way. Researchers consider both extremes to be abnormal. The “low” communication-apprehensive person is considered abnormal because this person is unlikely to feel any fear or anxiety about communicating, even in situations in which he or she should be anxious (e.g., when entering his or her very first job interview). Although it is often an advantage not to be bothered by oral communication, it is also normal to feel some fear in response to a threatening situation. The person who experiences no fear in such situations usually makes poor decisions about when to communicate and when not to communicate. The “high” communication-apprehensive person is considered abnormal because this person usually experiences fear and anxiety about communicating—even in presumably nonthreatening situations such as calling a friend on the phone. Such people are likely to avoid communication in many, even most, situations. This avoidance can be quite costly when communicating would be advantageous. A common example is the student who never participates in class discussion even when participation is a criterion for a higher grade.

Communication Apprehension as a Trait

By the phrase “as a trait,” it is meant that communication apprehension is a part of the personality of an individual. Such a trait is most important for those people who have either very high or very low levels of communication apprehension. It is this trait that the total score on the PRCA scale was designed to measure. An extreme score on this measure suggests that the behavior of an individual is influenced as much, if not more, by general fear or anxiety about communication as by any specifics of a communication situation in which the individual find him-or herself. At the extremes of the trait, an individual either experiences high degrees of anxiety in most communication situations or experiences very low degrees of anxiety in most communications situations.

From 15 percent to 20 percent of the population falls within each extreme category. Thus, if an individual scores very low or very high on the PRCA scale, that person is outside the normal range of scores where about two-thirds of the population score. At one end are the people who are called “high CAs” (those who have high communication apprehension), and at the other end are the people who are called “low CAs” (those who have low communication apprehension). The people who are called “moderate CAs” (those who have moderate communication apprehension) are those who fall in the normal range. All three of these terms refer to trait communication apprehension.

Communication Apprehension with a Given Individual or Group

Nearly 95 percent of the American population has felt apprehension at least once when communicating with some specific person or group. It is not the communication context that triggers the problem; it is the other people. Some people simply cause others to be apprehensive. It may be a parent, a teacher, a certain salesperson, the IRS agent, the principal, or the boss. This anxiety may be a function of how others behave toward one (e.g., “Bring home an F, and you’re on your own.”) or perhaps the role they play in one’s life (e.g., “Hello. I’m here to audit your tax returns for the past five years”). For most of people there is someone, such as a friend or relative, who makes them feel totally relaxed during interactions. It also is quite normal for individuals to find talking with some specific person or group, such as a police officer or a doctor, to be anxiety-producing.

Virtually all people experience communication apprehension with a given individual or group in a given situation . Most examples of this seem extreme—such as a person who is forced to apologize to a friend for offending that person, a person who arrives home to find a message that a date has had a last-minute change of heart, or a person being confronted by a teacher after class with the accusation of cheating. What separates communication apprehension in these situations from the other forms of communication apprehension is that these situations are unique encounters with a specific individual. Thus, although one generally would not be apprehensive about communicating with the other person, the specific situation arouses anxiety. Most people can communicate quite easily with their mothers, but forgetting their mother’s birthday can lead to quite a hair-raising communicative event.

Communication apprehension, therefore, is a fear or anxiety about communicating that can stem from one’s basic personality, from the type of communication expected, from the person or persons with whom one anticipates communicating, or from the unique circumstances that surround a given interaction. No matter what its source is, communication apprehension causes people discomfort, it may lead people to avoid communication, and it can result in people being ineffective in their communication with others.

Causes of Communication Apprehension

Trait-like communication apprehension is thought to be a matter of personality. Thus, the causes of this type of communicative anxiety are much like those of any personality variable; namely, it is a function of either the environment or genetic factors, or most likely a combination of the two. The discussion that follows focuses on potential environmental causes of generalized apprehension. As for situational communication apprehension, many causes are possible. Some of these have to do with the nature of specific interactions, the relationships between the participants in the interaction, and past experience—all functions of the environment.

Generalized Communication Apprehension

Research has failed to find out with absolute certainty the causes of trait-like communication apprehension. Research has been able to show statistical correlations between communication apprehension and theoretically proposed “causes.” One particular theory, however, does permit a causal explanation of generalized communication apprehension because it takes into account both personality traits and situational constraints. The theory is expectancy learning, or, more specifically, a type of expectancy learning known as learned helplessness.

The underlying assumption of expectancy learning, as applied to communication apprehension, is that people develop expectations about other people and situations and about the probable outcomes of communication with those people and/or in those situations. A person develops confidence in his or her communication to the extent that such expectations are fulfilled. When expectations are not met, the individual develops a need to form new expectations. If expectations continually are not met, the person may develop a lack of confidence. Anxiety is produced when no appropriate expectations can be formed. Fear is produced when expectations lead to negative outcomes that are difficult or impossible to avoid. These two occurrences, according to expectancy-learning theory, are the foundation of communication apprehension.

An example will illustrate this point. Heather had recently made a new acquaintance, Mike. At their first meeting, Heather was quite attracted to Mike and felt that the interest was reciprocal. After crossing paths a few more times, she was certain that Mike liked her and that he would soon call. At this point, Heather had formed two expectations: (1) Mike liked her and (2) he was likely to ask her out. After many more meetings, Heather began to wonder why Mike had not called her. Later, at a movie, Heather saw Mike with another woman and discovered that the couple had been dating for several weeks. At this point, Heather developed a lack of confidence in her predictions about Mike and his feelings for her. Having failed to form any appropriate expectations about their actual and potential relationship, Heather became anxious about her interactions with the opposite sex. If this happens to Heather with several different male acquaintances, she could very well develop a fear of interacting with men and experience communication apprehension when placed in that type of situation.

The example of Heather is greatly oversimplified and perhaps overdramatized. The process portrayed would require a great amount of time and more than one relationship and situation. It does help to illustrate, however, how expectations can serve to heighten apprehension about communication. Regularity of appropriate expectations is the key. One of the most general expectations in life is to have regularity in one’s environment. People expect to be reinforced for some behaviors and not reinforced for others. Reinforcement, or the lack of it, is the outcome that people learn to expect by continually engaging in certain behaviors over time and across situations. From this process, three things can happen: (1) people develop new positive expectations, (2) people develop new negative expectations, or (3) people become helpless.

When a person engages in communicative behaviors that work i.e., when he or she receives reinforcement for the communication), that person develops positive expectations for those behaviors. The behaviors become a regular part of the person’s communicative “storehouse.” Had Mike called Heather for a date, she would have developed positive expectations for her communicative behavior that led to the date. She would have continued engaging in them since Mike reinforced them. Neither anxiety nor fear is associated with such positive expectations. Negative expectations are developed in much the same way as positive expectations. People discover that some communicative behaviors lead to punishment or lack of reinforcement, and they tend to reduce those behaviors. This is what happened to Heather in the above example. Mike offered no reinforcement for how Heather communicated with him (at least as she saw it). Thus, Heather began to question the appropriateness of her behavior. The next time that she meets a new potential date, having no other behaviors readily available from which to choose, Heather’s fear will be her natural response.

Learned helplessness results from irregular or inconsistent reward and punishment. Perhaps the last young man whom Heather met was very responsive to her and they had a good relationship for quite some time. Now Mike comes along and offers no reinforcement for her behaviors. If this inconsistency were to occur through several relationships for Heather, and if she were unable to determine the appropriate (reinforced) behaviors from the inappropriate, she would become literally “helpless” in her relationships with males. Learned helplessness and negative expectations are the primary components of communication apprehension. The more general the helplessness or negative expectations, the more trait-like the apprehension. In other words, if an individual constantly forms negative expectations about and becomes helpless in her or his communication with others, then he or she is more likely to have communication apprehension as a trait.

Situational Communication Apprehension

The causes of situational apprehension may be generated by the following eight elements: novelty, formality, subordinate status, conspicuousness, unfamiliarity, dissimilarity, excessive attention, and evaluation from others.

The first day of a new class or a new job can be a difficult situation to deal with initially. It is the novelty of the situation that causes the anxiety. In fact, such novel situations may prevent people from being comfortable communicating with others.

Formal situations are associated with highly prescribed behaviors. In these situations, the prescribed behaviors are deemed appropriate and there is little latitude for deviation from them.

The same is true for subordinate status. In this situation, the person holding the higher status (e.g., an instructor to a student) defines what is appropriate behavior.

Being conspicuous can increase a person’s communication apprehension. For example, when a person is put “on the spot,” such as when giving a speech or introducing a speaker to an audience, the person can experience heightened anxiety.

Unfamiliarity is involved when a person attends a social gathering and only know one or two other people. Generally, the more unfamiliar the people and situation around one, the more apprehensive a person feels.

In much the same way, dissimilarity of those around one causes communication apprehension to increase. For the most part, talking to people who are similar to oneself is easier than talking to people who are different. For example, if an individual is an English major, he or she may find it hard to carry on a conversation with a person who is a diehard engineering major. There are exceptions. Some people are less comfortable when they are talking to people who are like themselves than when they are talking to people who are very different, or even strangers. This happens because the former is more likely to make evaluations that may prove threatening.

Most people do not like others staring at them. Neither do they care to be ignored by others. A moderate degree of attention from others is usually the most comfortable situation. Excessive attention, such as staring or having someone probe into one’s private thoughts, can cause the level of communication apprehension to rise sharply.

Many students have little trouble conversing with their teachers—until the teacher begins evaluating the student’s classroom performance. The same holds true for workers in relation to their supervisors. When people are evaluated, they tend to become more anxious than they would otherwise be. As the intensity of the evaluation increases, so might the level of apprehension.

Of all of the causal elements of communication apprehension that have been discussed, the most important may be previous failure. When a person fails at something once, he or she will probably fear failing again. It is a case of expectations. If one expects to fail and does so, the negative expectations are reinforced. If a person is unable to decide the successful behavior to engage in, he or she is quite apt to develop apprehension. Of course, success causes confidence, which leads to more success, which reduces apprehension.

Effects of Communication Apprehension

The most obvious effects of communication apprehension are internal discomfort, avoidance or withdrawal from communication situations, and communication disruption. People experience communication apprehension internally. That is, the experience of communication apprehension is a mental one—it is felt psychologically. Thus, while some individuals may experience communication apprehension to greater or lesser degrees than other individuals, or only with certain people or in certain situations, the one thing that people all share when they are anxious about communicating is an internally experienced feeling of discomfort. Typically, the lower the communication apprehension, the lower the discomfort.

People tend to differ in their individual responses to communication apprehension. Some handle it well and can communicate effectively despite their internal discomfort. However, most people who experience communication apprehension, particularly those who experience high levels of it, communication is a problem. Three typical response patterns emerge when communication apprehension is experienced: communication avoidance, communication withdrawal, and communication disruption.

When people are confronted with a situation that they expect will make them uncomfortable and they have a choice of whether or not to enter the situation, they can decide either to confront the situation and make the best of it or to avoid it and thus avoid the discomfort. An analogy is the student who receives poor midterm grades and decides not to go home for spring break. By not going home, the student avoids the discomfort of having to face his or her parent’s wrath about the grades (this assumes, of course, that the student has a choice of whether to go home). Frequently, people who have high communication apprehension will avoid situations that require them to communicate orally with others.

It is not always possible for a person to avoid communication. Sometimes there is no reason to expect a situation to cause discomfort, so a person may enter it with her or his psychological guard down. When situations such as these arise, withdrawal is the typical response for the person who is experiencing communication apprehension. The withdrawal may be total (e.g., absolute silence) or partial (e.g., talking only when absolutely necessary). An example of possible withdrawal is the student who speaks in class only when directly called on by the teacher. Another is when a person in a one-on-one interaction only answers questions and gives responses but never initiates conversation. When unable to avoid a communication situation, the communication-apprehensive person usually will, if possible, withdraw from interaction.

A third typical response to communication apprehension is communication disruption. This disruption can take two forms. One form is disturbed or nonfluent communication. Examples include stuttering, stammering, speaking too softly, increased pauses, use of inappropriate gestures and expressions, and poor choices of words and phrases. The other form of disruption is overcommunication. This is an overcompensation reflected in one’s attempt to succeed in the situation despite the internal discomfort it causes. An example is the person who, in spite of her or his apprehension, attempts to dominate interactions with others, refuses to acknowledge cues that others want to leave, or tries to answer every question a teacher poses in a class. Thus, the highly communication-apprehensive individual is likely to use inappropriate behaviors in a discomforting communication situation. It is important to note, however, that disruption is also characteristic of people with inadequate communication skills and that overcommunication is often mistaken for low apprehension.

Perceptions about Quiet People

As noted earlier, society places a great deal of importance on communication. It is no surprise, then, that low talkers are usually perceived as being unfriendly. Low talkers are also viewed as being less attractive than talkative people. Moreover, even low talkers perceive other low talkers to be less attractive than talkative people. Low talkers are perceived as being less competent than talkative people. Research has found people to have a stereotype of a quiet person as being less competent and less intelligent. Fortunately, this is only a stereotype (i.e., a generalization that generally does not hold true for all members of a group). There are just as many intelligent low talkers as there are intelligent high talkers. Nevertheless, the general perception of low talkers is that they are less competent and less intelligent.

A frequently accurate perception of low talkers is that they are generally more anxious than talkative people. Although not all low talkers are apprehensive about communication, many are apprehensive. Their tendency for apprehension is generalized to other low talkers. This leads to another stereotype: that low talkers are anxious people.

The role of leader in most situations requires at least a moderate degree of communication with other people. Thus, low talkers are perceived to be poor leaders. This perception is very often correct. There are, of course, instances in which quiet people provide leadership functions. For example, they might provide some necessary information that helps a group reach a decision. However, even in these situations, the low talker is unlikely to be perceived as a leader.

Perceptions such as the ones just presented are important for several reasons. How people perceive others determines the nature of the relationship between them. In addition, how people perceive others will have a significant effect on interactions in certain settings. Three of these settings are school, social environment, and the workplace.

School

The perception of low talkers as less competent and less intelligent than talkative people greatly affects how they are responded to in school. For example, since teachers tend to expect low talkers to do less well in school, they treat low talkers as if they were less intelligent. Low talkers are less likely to be called on in class, receive less attention from teachers, and ask for help less frequently than do talkative people. Therefore, with so little interaction, the low talker has fewer opportunities to correct mistakes and to receive reinforcement.

Does this affect their achievement? Research suggests that it does. Take, for example, the classroom in which much of the final grade depends on “participation”: the low talker is less likely to participate in class activities, and this student’s grade is apt to be lower than that of talkative students. As this type of evaluation affects the achievement of the low talker throughout school, it ultimately has an effect on the student’s general learning. Lack of opportunity and even discrimination lead to less learning for the low talker in the long run, although the low talker is no less intelligent than the talkative person. In short, low talkers tend to fare poorly in school while talkative people tend to fare well.

Social Environment

Social relationships require communication for their establishment and maintenance. Typically, when someone does not want to talk, people disregard that person and move on to someone else. As noted earlier, low talkers are perceived as being both less friendly and less attractive than talkative people. Low talkers have fewer dating relationships than talkative people, and, to some extent, they have fewer people whom they can call “friends.”

In one study that asked high communication-apprehensives and low communication-apprehensives to indicate how many people they knew that they could classify as “good friends,” the high apprehensives indicated a range from zero to two, with more than one-third indicating none. More interesting was the finding that, when asked to list the names of their good friends, the high apprehensives most often named relatives while the low apprehensives seldom listed relatives. Just as in school, then, it seems that low talkers tend to fare less well in the general social environment than do talkative people.

Workplace

The many perceptions that people have of low talkers are perhaps most felt in the work setting. Low talkers are less likely than talkative people to be given job interviews, especially when their qualifications are equal. Even when an interview is granted, the low talker will garner negative perceptions from the interviewer because of her or his likelihood of engaging in dysfunctional communication behaviors. This is not to suggest that low talkers never get job interviews or obtain employment. Most do, but it is much harder for them than it is for talkative people.

Similarly, low talkers and talkative people are not equally successful once employment is gained. Research in a variety of occupations has found low talkers to be less satisfied with their jobs than are talkative people. The most dramatic work-related difference between low talkers and high talkers, however, appears at promotion time. Not only are low talkers less frequently promoted than talkative people, but they often report not anticipating or even wanting to be promoted. This is because promotions to higher positions typically require greater communicative responsibilities. In short, then, as in the school setting and social environments, life at work seems much more difficult for low talkers than it is for more talkative people.

People have perceptions about low talkers being incompetent and, therefore, being in a highly undesirable condition. Is this necessarily true? Fortunately, it is not. Many quiet people are most happy and content with their lives, and they are successful at what they do. When offered help to overcome communication apprehension, many quiet people decline. Many have adjusted well to their lifestyle and have no desire to change. Nevertheless, people who are highly willing to communicate and happily engage in communication with others generally have a major advantage over those who are less willing to communicate.

Conclusion

Willingness to communicate can be a dominant force in a person’s behavior. This is particularly true when the person’s low willingness to communicate is generalized, or trait-like. In such cases, any communication situation may cause discomfort. As a result, the person is likely to avoid the situation or withdraw from it if he or she cannot avoid it. Perhaps, at worst, an inability to avoid or withdraw will lead the source to engage in dysfunctional communication. Essentially, if communication is dysfunctional for the person, it will be dysfunctional for the person with whom he or she is trying to communicate, thereby resulting in an ineffective encounter.

The willingness to talk is central to the outcomes of communication. Through talk people realize the fulfillment of their expectations for a given communication situation. Through talk people reduce the uncertainties that they have about various situations, other people, and themselves. Through talk people establish, maintain, and, when necessary, terminate relationships. Too little talk is usually an inappropriate form of communication. Too much talk can be too, but if the quality of that talk is high, it probably will not be perceived as being too much. The effective communicator is one who knows when to talk, when to be silent, and what are the appropriate responses to communications from another person.

Ar, Müjde (1954–) - PERSONAL HISTORY, BIOGRAPHICAL HIGHLIGHTS, PERSONAL CHRONOLOGY:, INFLUENCES AND CONTRIBUTIONS, CONTEMPORARIES, THE WORLD’S PERSPECTIVE, LEGACY [next] [back] Applications of Face Recognition and Novel Trends

User Comments

Your email address will be altered so spam harvesting bots can't read it easily.
Hide my email completely instead?

Cancel or

Vote down Vote up

almost 3 years ago

Apprehension and Communication - Communication Apprehension as a Trait, Communication Apprehension with a Given Individual or Group

Vote down Vote up

almost 3 years ago

Apprehension and Communication - Communication Apprehension as a Trait, Communication Apprehension with a Given Individual or Group