Expectancy Violations Theory Essay

Pages: 6 (1844 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 8  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Junior  ·  Topic: Communication

Expectancy Violations Theory (EVT) begun by Judee K. Burgoon, concerns the way in which people interact with each other in a non-verbal way. Initially, the theory was known as "Nonverbal Expectancy Violations Theory." Burgoon later dropped the word "nonverbal," as the theory concerned somewhat more than simply nonverbal clues. Indeed, it also concerned the way in which people interacted as a result of mental assumptions and expectations (Russo, Chapter 8). As such, the theory can be used to enhance an understanding not only of communication, but also of interpersonal relationships and how to manage these best.

At the heart of Burgoon's early theory on Expectancy Violations Theory was personal space and the expectation regarding conversational distance. The study of this use of distance and space is known as proxemics (Russo, Chapter 8). This concerns not only one's own use of space, but also the perception of how others use conversational distance. Burgoon's more specific examination of this use of space was based upon the work of Edward Hall, who identified four proxemic zones after studying North Americans. These include the intimate, the persona, social, and public zone of proximity. In conversation, each of these zones are used based upon a number of reasons and assumptions.

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Intimate distance is a zone that encompasses 0 to 18 inches from the body. Behaviors that are included here are touch, observing a person's facial characteristics, and whispering. According to Hall, elevator use is an instance of non-voluntary intimate space sharing, which is why people in elevators are so often uncomfortable and display behavior such as staring at the floor numbers.

Personal distance is a little further from the body, including the zone from 18 inches to 4 feet. This type of distance includes interactions with family members or even less personal interactions such as those with sales clerks.

TOPIC: Essay on Expectancy Violations Theory Assignment

Social distance span a proxemic range of 4 to 12 feet, which includes most conversational interactions, such as conversations with colleagues, at cocktail parties, and the like. This proximity range is preserved for casual relationships. Several tasks can be completed within this zone. Others can be monitored while tasks are being completed, for example.

Finally, public distance is the space beyond 12 feet from the body. This distance is generally used in interactions such as conversations between teacher and students or an actor and audience. This proximity is therefore reserved for relatively formal interactions among people who are unlikely to know each other personally (Russo, Chapter 8).

There are three assumptions that guide the Expectancy Violations Theory; it primarily concerns how messages are presented and the behaviors displayed during conversation. The three assumptions are that: 1) expectancies drive human interaction; 2) Expectancies for human behavior are learned; and 3) people make predictions about nonverbal behavior (Russo). When entering a conversation, for example, there is a certain expectation regarding the conversation partners" nonverbal reactions and ability to maintain the conversation. These expectations may be violated by an argumentative conversational style, passivity, or a lack of prolonged eye contact.

These expectations are often culturally driven. In the United States, for example, the professor-student relationship is expected to be driven by respect from students towards the professor. The latter has a larger amount of social status because of his position in the classroom, his years of study, and so on. These factors are expected to earn him a certain degree of respect. At the same time, the professor is expected to use his social status in the classroom as an aid to the learning process. Students who offer thoughts, for example, expect to be acknowledge for these, while those with questions or confusion expect the professor to use his expertise to help them. These are then predictions that are made about the behavior by both professors and students (Russo).

Another important aspect of EVT is distance violation and threat threshold. In people's interaction with each other, space violation might occur, which is either tolerated, reward, or punished, according to the threat threshold that accompanies it (Russo, Chapter 8). Burgoon basis this assumption upon research regarding liking and attraction. If a person violates another's space, the degree of attraction experienced towards this person can lead to a high or low threat threshold; a greater degree of attraction leads to a higher threat threshold.

Other theories that function upon similar assumptions as the Expectancy Violations Theory include Arousal Labeling Theory, Discrepancy-Arousal Theory, and Cognitive Valence theory. These all concern reciprocity or compensation in conversation, and share the assumption that individuals expect certain things from an interaction; and arousal is created when expectations for nonverbal behavior are violated. Such expectation violations can occur when people attempt to maintain inappropriately close conversation distances or stare at their conversational partners for an inordinately long time (Stacks and Salwen, 2008, p. 265).

A very interesting current application of Expectancy Violations Theory is in terms of the new conversation media such as online communication. Kalman (2010), for example, conducted a study that examined the expectations of applicants to job positions, where such applications were submitted by email. Time related, or chronemic, cues were found to be an important component of nonverbal online communication. To demonstrate this, the author created three zones of email response latency, where candidates related their expectations to the amount of time they waited to receive a response from the prospective employer. Higher valence was associated with higher valence; in other words, candidates who received a 1-day response expected greater success than those who received a response only 2 weeks later or never.

A very negative connotation was experienced with a response that never followed the application. Indeed, in other forms of conversation, no email response is generally considered an extreme violation of expectation and therefore a negative social cue (Kalman, 2010).

Ms. Burgoon's theory therefore acts as an excellent framework for studying not only interpersonal and intercultural conversation, but also for a better understanding of the online communication framework. This is interesting, as online communication is very limited in terms of nonverbal clues, being that it relies mainly on verbal cues to maintain an interactional framework. To identify non-verbal clues like response latency has an important effect upon the way in which such conversations are conducted, especially in terms of the more formal business and educational frameworks.

It can also apply to more personal interactions among not only cultures, but also between the genders, where sexual interaction is the desired goal. Streetman (2005), for example, conducted a study upon the expectations of persistence in the potential for sexual relations between two partners of different genders, where such a relationship might be mitigated by initial friendship. The study highlights the danger of expectations violation in terms of a possible sexual relationship if both partners do not make their expectations clear by means of verbal communication.

Indeed, the importance of such communication found by means of studies like this has implications for the health of both romantic and friendship relationships. In the case of sexual persistence and expectation, the author in this case finds that verbal communication is vital to supplement nonverbal cues, as the latter could be severely misleading, especially when the relationship is particularly close. In such a case, EVT provides an important clue to the potential dangers that these violations could hold for friendships and closer interpersonal relationships. Indeed, the theory could even be used in therapy, where partners receive counseling on their communication skills, whether this relates to sexual interaction or not. The value of EVT therefore extends beyond mere research into human interaction within the social field, but also relates to much more personal, closer relationships and the often misplaced expectations romantic partners could have of each other. A clearer understanding of this can lead to a better, healthier communication paradigm and ultimately a happier relationship.

Critique that might be raised against Burgoon's original theory is that it does not provide sufficient platforms for prediction regarding touch outcomes, the reciprocity in interpersonal reactions, or the importance of communicator valence as it relates to the importance of behavior valence. Alternative explanations for behavior are also somewhat lacking in this theory, as is an integrated approach towards communications among cultures (Jacob, 2008).

Although these are all valid critiques, it must be kept in mind that Burgoon's theory is focused on a very specific paradigm of communication; the nonverbal. The limitations highlighted above relate simply to the fact that it cannot encompass all aspects of the conversation itself. When thinking about Burgoon's theory, its benefits far outweigh any limitations it might impose.

In terms of interpersonal interaction between romantic partners, the theory can have important implications for the therapeutic process. Partner who harbor incompatible expectations, for example, can receive therapy that demonstrates how these expectations, without verbal communication, can harm their relationship. Many relationships can benefit from such an understanding, as mentioned above. Healthier romantic relationships can also ultimately have a beneficial effect upon family life and the formative years of children. Ultimately, this translates to a better society in general.


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