To function effectively in today’s society people must communicate with one another. Yet for some individuals communication experiences are so unrewarding that they either consciously or unconsciously avoid situations where communication is required. (McCroskey & Richmond, 1979) The term communication apprehension’ was coined by James McCroskey (1976a) and is defined as “an individual’s level of fear or anxiety associated with either real or anticipated communication with another person or persons” (McCroskey, 1984).
In the last two decades communication apprehension and related constructs, such as reticence and unwillingness to communicate, have received extensive research and theoretical attention by scholars in communication and psychology. In 1984, Payne and Richmond listed over 1000 entries in a bibliography of publications and papers in this area (Payne & Richmond, 1984). Overwhelmingly the underlying theme of the articles has been the negative effects that these constructs can have on academic and social success.
It has been forwarded that two out of ten people suffer some form of communication apprehension (CA). The focus of this paper is on communication apprehension as a construct and on how it affects the behaviour and lifestyle of an individual. Although constructs such as CA, communication reticence, and unwillingness-to-communicate have often been treated in literature as interchangeable, (McCroskey, 1982) particularly in earlier work, some researchers have found the need to distinguish between them.
Reticence was originally thought of in relation to CA, particularly in connection with stage fright, and anxiety was identified as the causative agent that produced the characteristic behavior patterns. (McCroskey, 1977b; McCroskey, 1982) However during the 1970’s the constructs of reticence and CA evolved and changed to become quite disparate. According to McCroskey (1982) the contemporary view is that reticent people are those who do not communicate competently.
Phillips (1984) further states that reticent people “avoid communication because they believe they will lose more by talking than remaining silent” (p. 52). So while the construct of reticence was initially the same as CA, reticence is now perceived as a concept that represents a broad range of communicative incompetence while CA relates to communicative incompetence that stems from anxiety or fear. (McCroskey, 1982) The unwillingness to communicate construct, which was introduced by Burgoon (1976, as cited in McCroskey, 1982) focuses on the individual’s unwillingness to communicate with others.
This construct was an attempt to look beyond the concepts of CA and reticence (as it was perceived at the time) and along with fear and anxiety, considers low self esteem, introversion, anomia and alienation. “Thus this construct can be viewed as intermediary between CA and the contemporary view of reticence. More simply, reticence is concerned with people who do not communicate effectively; unwillingness-to-communicate is concerned with one of the reasons that people may not do so (i. e. hey do not want to); and, [although it is highly associated with ineffective communication], CA is concerned with one of the reasons that people may be unwilling-to-communicate. ” (McCroskey, 1982, p. 4) Types of Communication Apprehension A person may be apprehensive in one situation but not in another. Additionally, as communication does not confine itself to just talk, a person may, for example, be apprehensive about communicating by engaging in talk but feel quite comfortable about writing. McCroskey & Richmond (1987) identify four types of communication apprehension: traitlike, context based, receiver based, and situational.
Traitlike CA concerns mainly oral communication and refers to a relatively stable and enduring predisposition of an individual towards experiencing fear and/or anxiety across a wide range of communication contexts. Context based refers to a relatively enduring, personality type CA that an individual experiences in a specific context. For example a person may experience high levels of CA when speaking in groups but be not in dyadic interactions or when speaking to others who are from a different cultural group. Receiver based CA depends on the person or type of person or group that is involved in the communication.
For example, being fearful or anxious when communicating with the boss or with strangers but not with friends (McCroskey & Richmond, 1987). Situational CA depends upon changes in the environment in which communication takes place. Causes of Communication Apprehension Causes of Traitlike CA. When we consider the aetiology of human behaviour generally two primary explanations are hereditary and the environment. In other words, we can either be born with certain characteristics or we can acquire them through learning.
While no specific “CA gene” has ever been identified, as a result of studies on infants and twins, most writers today agree that there may be a hereditary component. (McCroskey, 1982; McCroskey, 1984) It is argued that children are born with certain personality predispositions or tendencies which affects how they will react to environmental stimuli. However, although heredity may have an impact on traitlike CA most researchers propose that the patterns of reinforcement that an individual experiences in the environment are the dominant components.
The notion is that children make attempts at communication and if they are positively reinforced they will be encouraged to communicate more but if they are negatively reinforced the child will communicate less. Causes of Situational CA. While many different elements have been forwarded as causes of situational CA some of the main ones are novelty, formality, subordinate status, conspicuousness, unfamiliarity, dissimilarity, the degree of attention from others, evaluation and prior history (McCroskey, 1984).
When an individual is presented with a novel situation (ie: one that is unfamiliar or occurs infrequently such as an interview) concerns such as how to behave can result in anxiety. Formal situations tend to be more restrictive with more rigid behaviour rules and CA increases because of the narrower confines. Similarly, CA can result when a person is in a subordinate position because the person with the higher status defines the boundaries of acceptable behaviour. Generally, the more conspicuous a person feels, or the more unfamiliar the situation, the more CA is likely to be experienced.
Likewise people often feel less apprehensive with others who are most like themselves. Sometimes, however, an individual will be more apprehensive with similar peers because they become more concerned with how they will be evaluated by them and the feeling of being evaluated in any situation often leads to anxiety. Studies have shown that the majority of people are most comfortable with a moderate degree of attention. (McCroskey, 1984) When individuals are ignored or stared at the level of CA often rises. The level of CA also often rises where a prior history of failure increases the likelihood of failure again.
Clearly, some of these causal elements stem from reticence due to inexperience and/or communicative incompetence within certain contexts, while others are the result of learning or conformity to social norms and expectations. Effects of Communication Apprehension It has been argued that “learning proceeds best when [an] organism is in a state of tension” (Phillips, nd, as cited in Devito, 1985, p. 325) so it should be noted that while the effects of CA for the individual generally tends to be negative CA is not always detrimental.
Low levels of fear can energise us to try harder and learn more. However, as CA is heightened, feelings of discomfort tend to increase and the willingness to communicate declines (McCroskey & Richmond, 1987). Hence, “high CA is seen as a potential inhibitor of the development of both communication competence and communication skill and as a direct precursor of negative communication affect. Low CA, on the other hand, is seen as a facilitator of the development of communication competence and communication skill and as a precursor of positive communication affect”. (McCroskey, 1982, p. )
Studies have shown high CA can impact on a person’s behavior, relationships, the perceptions of others, occupational choice and employment opportunities and education. (McCroskey, 1976b; McCroskey & Richmond, 1979; McCroskey & Richmond, 1987; Richmond, 1984) Behaviour. Many studies have shown that the behaviours of people with high CA actually discourage interaction (McCroskey, 1976b). When approached, mannerisms such as averting eyes, staring into drinks, appearing generally anxious, aloof and unfriendly are all typical (Richmond, 1984). In this way high communication apprehensive’s attempt to avoid communication.
When avoidance is not possible they will contribute far fewer ideas, make less relevant comments and agree with the ideas of others more often. (McCroskey, 1976b; McCroskey & Richmond, 1987; Richmond, 1984). Compared to low communication apprehensive’s, in small groups high communication apprehensive’s also tend to use more pauses and rhetorical interrogatives (such as “you know”) in speech; exhibit more tension; and participate less (McCroskey, 1976b; Richmond, 1984). High communication apprehensive people also tend to physically locate themselves where they are less likely to have interaction (McCroskey, 1976a; McCroskey, 1976b).
In rooms they choose seats that are to the sides and rear and avoid influential seats and, in wider society, choose housing that is more remote from centres of interaction. (McCroskey, 1976a; McCroskey, 1976b) Relationships. As the behavioural response of CA is to avoid andor discourage interaction with others it is not surprising that CA has been linked to feelings of loneliness, isolation, low self esteem and the ability to discuss personal problems (Daly & Stafford, 1984; McCroskey, Daly, Richmond & Falcione, 1977; McCroskey & Richmond, 1987; Richmond, 1984; Scott & Rockwell, 1997).
High communication apprehensive individuals have difficulty in forming and maintaining close relationships and when they are formed will try to hang on to the relationship for dear life’ (Richmond, 1984). Compared to low communication apprehensive’s, they interact less with peer strangers, have fewer friends, are less likely to accept blind dates, are more likely to engage in exclusive dating, are more devastated on relationship breakups and have more difficulty in re establishing new relationships (McCroskey, 1976b; McCroskey & Sheahan, 1978; Richmond, 1984).
Characteristically, compared to low communication apprehensive people, high communication apprehensive’s are perceived to be less socially attractive and less attractive by members of the opposite sex, less likely to be opinion leaders or leaders in a group and less successful in the social environment. (McCroskey, 1976b; McCroskey, Richmond, Daly & Cox, 1975) Occupational Choice and Employment Opportunities. For the communicative apprehensive individual prospects of employment, retention and advancement are all significantly lowered.
Richmond, 1984) High communication apprehensive’s are less likely to receive job interviews, be offered employment, or retain their positions than are other people (McCroskey & Richmond, 1979). Research indicates that high communication apprehensive people tend to self select jobs with low communication requirements even though they may offer less status and lower incomes; have less desire for advancement; are less satisfied with their jobs and their supervisors; and find it more difficult to establish good relationships with co workers than do low communication apprehensive people (McCroskey, 1976b; McCroskey & Richmond, 1979).
They are also perceived as being less productive, less competent and needing more training than low communication apprehensive people (McCroskey & Richmond, 1979). Education. High CA has been found to have a significant impact on an individual’s learning and education (McCroskey, 1977a; McCroskey & Daly, 1976). Students who are highly apprehensive tend to score lower on standardised achievement tests, have lower Grade Point Averages and benefit less from personalised instruction than low communication apprehensive students (McCroskey, 1977a; McCroskey & Daly, 1976).
Literature has suggested that CA can even affect language acquisition (Asker, 1995). High communication apprehensive students will try to avoid classes which involve communication; have a higher school drop out rate and experience lower teacher expectations than others (McCroskey & Daly, 1976). McCroskey (1976a) has suggested that communication apprehension “may be the single most pervasive handicap confronting children in our schools and citizens in our society” (p. 3). Culture While communication exists in all cultures and subcultures communication norms and expectations may be vastly diverse as a function of culture.
For instance, in the United States and many other western nations oral communication is highly valued with positive social evaluation while silence is often perceived as representing high CA. In other cultures, however, silence may be an integral part of the communication process. In Apache culture, for example, strangers who come together in an environment such as work may remain silent for several days and young Apache women are explicitly taught that silence is a sign of modesty (Devito, 1985).
In Papua New Guinea individuals learn to remain silent in the presence of an elder as a sign of respect (Francis, 1992). They believe that overriding the talk of an elder may endanger key relationships and networks within the whole group. Thus, one’s communication norms and competencies are culture bound. Unfortunately, the majority of the studies in communication have been carried out in the United States and have rarely made allowance for the differences in communication styles between cultures.
Consequently remaining silent is considered a problem and silent cultures are interpreted as representing a high prevalence of communication apprehension. ” (McCroskey & Sallinen Kuparinen, 1991, p. 56). However, CA may still play a part when different cultural groups come together. When individuals find themselves in situations where their culture or sub culture is in the minority they are said to be culturally divergent’ (McCroskey & Richmond, 1990). To be effective communicators in another culture the onus is generally on the culturally divergent individual to adjust to the communicative norms of the dominant group.
Culturally divergent individuals may be likened to people who have deficit communication skills. Because they do not have effective communication skills, they tend to be much less willing to communicate at all for fear of failure and possible negative consequences. This may be particularly so when speaking a second language. For example, one study found that 43 % of Puerto Rican students experienced CA when speaking their second language, English, compared to only 11% when they were speaking their native language, Spanish (McCroskey, Gudykunst & Nishida, 1985).
Therefore, the difference between the culturally divergent person and the skill deficit one is that a culturally divergent individual may have excellent communication skills in their own culture and within the confines of their own culture CA may not be a problem (McCroskey & Richmond, 1990; McCroskey & Richmond, 1987). The conclusion that we can draw from the research and studies that have been conducted so far is that communication is an ongoing process that involves constant changes within the people involved and their environment.
When communicating with others, individuals are influenced and affected by many variables and CA may be the result of any number of different causes. The degree of CA that an individual experiences can vary depending on their personality and the context of situation. Nonetheless, the notion that high levels of CA negatively affects an individual’s success both academically and socially appears to be supported by the research.