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Uncertainty Reduction Principle

Uncertainty reduction principle states that individuals often experience uncertainty regarding things they don’t know, and the primary objective of communication is to reduce this uncertainty. It was developed by professors Charles Berger and Richard Calabrese upon realizing the predictability in the initial interaction of individuals. The axioms, principle, and theorems of the uncertainty reduction theory is necessary because it helps develop a relationship through observing behaviors and interaction making predicting a person’s behaviour predictable.

There are certain circumstances under which a person feels the need to reduce uncertainty acting as a motivation for the communication process. One of these motivators are the anticipation of future interaction, where the amount information we seek or give a stranger will depend on our expectation to meet in your future. For example, on an airplane, when seated next to a stranger whom we may never meet again, it will help reduce uncertainty for me and hence, I will one be focused on being polite.

The first axiom of this theory is, “the high levels of uncertainty causes an increase in information seeking behavior. As uncertainty levels decline, information seeking behavior decreases.” For example at a party, when we meet a person who shows interest in us, we usually seek more information. As we get more information regarding the individual, the uncertainty on whether to continue with the friendship or not reduces since it becomes more evident whether the two individuals are compatible.

In an on-going relationship, the principle of the theory “Uncertainty is increased when people we know violate the expectations we have for them,” creates uncertainty (Berger and Calabrese, 1974). The principle can be used to determine whether to increase or decrease the levels of uncertainty depending on the action of the other individual. In an ongoing relationship, a partner has already gathered enough information to predict the behavior of the partner, deviation from the expected behaviors raises uncertainty. For example, a friend whom you need to meet up came in late and upon texting him/her could not reply like they energetically before, and later announcing that he/she could not make it. This deviation raises the uncertainty since this kind of behavior is unexpected of a friend.


Berger, C. R., & Calabrese, R. J. (1974). Some explorations in initial interaction and beyond: Toward a developmental theory of interpersonal communication. Human communication research1(2), 99-112.



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