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A Critique on Berger’s Uncertainty Reduction Theory


When people first satisfy and communicate with each other, they are unpredictable with their habits and with what to state. When this happens, they have the propensity, of course, to minimize that uncertainty. This is what the uncertainty decrease theory of interaction talks about. This theory is very suitable in people’s daily living and experiences. Nevertheless, although it is commonly used, some are still ‘uncertain’ with this theory. This paper intends to provide the reader an analysis of the unpredictability decrease theory.

Background on Unpredictability Reduction Theory

Uncertainty reduction theory or URT was started off by Charles Berger in 1975. During the start of his career, a variety of his college student challenged that interaction was too diverse and unforeseeable. That means that it is impossible to be dealt scientifically. Due to the fact that of this, Berger was challenged to discover and provide some evidence that would support his theory. He believed that human interaction can be studied systematically and exactly.

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The uncertainty decrease theory was developed.

In the start of personal relationships, high level of uncertainty is about the other individual exists. Throughout the initial phases of interaction amongst complete strangers, Uncertainty Reduction Theory looks for to direct communication behavior. Then, the significant objective or purpose of this theory is to minimize the unpredictability. Together with this, it also intends to increase the predictability. Shared qualities occur eventually in the initial dialogue between strangers. These consist of frequent concerns and responses throughout the very first couple of minutes.

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There is also an exchange of information with the absence of opinion and usually their conversation is focused on topics like hometown and occupation. In order to minimize uncertainty, URT ponders on how people use communication in obtaining knowledge and discernment. At the first meeting of strangers, their behaviors while communicating are influenced by a set of communication rules and norms. These norms are both explicit and implicit. Furthermore, these rules and norms put up expectations and precedents for early interactions which eventually, cause predictability in the discussion and a diminution in uncertainty. (Moncrieff, 2001)

The Uncertainty Reduction Theory proposes that people, particularly strangers, have a want to reduce uncertainty or hesitation about others. This is done by gaining information from each other. This information can be used to predict the behavior of the other. The specific importance of the reduction of uncertainty is in relational development. Successful decrease of uncertainty supports or gives way for positive future interactions.

There are two types of uncertainty, behavioral and cognitive. Behavioral uncertainty concerns the prediction or calculation of behavior in certain circumstances. For example, one can predict that interaction will go well because of positive behaviors like smiling. On the other hand, cognitive uncertainty is associated with mind-set or beliefs and attitudes people embrace and is reduced through the gaining of information. (Moncrieff, 2001)

The Seven Axioms of Uncertainty Reduction Theory

Berger suggests a series of axioms to further discuss the relation between uncertainty and seven vital variables. This is the axiomatic theory, certainty about uncertainty.

Axiom 1 says that as the amount of verbal communication increases, there is a decrease in the uncertainty level of the two strangers that has just met.  As a result, the decrease in their uncertainty increases the verbal communication.

Axiom 2 is known as the nonverbal warmth. Decline in uncertainty level will cause proliferation in nonverbal affiliative expressiveness. It is because as nonverbal affiliative expressiveness rises, uncertainty levels will lessen.

Axiom 3 is about information seeking. Because of the high levels of uncertainty, increases in information-seeking behavior occur. When the uncertainty level drops off, information-seeking also decreases.

Axiom 4 is self-disclosure. The reduction in the intimacy level of communication content is usually caused by relationship’s high level of uncertainty. When there is a decrease in the levels of uncertainty, high levels of intimacy are produced.

Axiom 5 is known as reciprocity. Like Axiom 3, high rates of uncertainty also yield high levels of reciprocity. When there is low level of uncertainty, there is low level of reciprocity.

Axiom 6 is about similarity. Likeness between persons decreases uncertainty. Much difference between persons produce high rate of uncertainty.

Last but not the least, Axiom 7 tells about liking. When there is high uncertainty level, a person tends to dislike the other person. Hence, when there is a decrease in uncertainty, increase in liking is produced. (McGlish, 2006)

Critique on the Uncertainty Reduction Theory

Natalie Wright critiques Charles Berger’s Uncertainty Reduction Theory in terms of scientific and humainstic. She believes that Berger uses scientific method in dealing with humanistic values to prove and certify his theory. In the Uncertainty Reduction Theory, Wright said that ‘Berger addresses the humanistic feelings of understanding how people feel in unfamiliar relationships and the appeal we have to reduce those anxieties by learning more about others’. However, still according to her, URT is scientific because Berger makes used of all five elements of the scientific model to substantiate and defend his theory. Wright presents a table that would further explain the distinction between scientific and humanistic models (Wright, 2000):

As a researcher, I support the claim of Natalie Wright. Berger’s theory is scientific because he has clear definition and explanation of his theory. He even provides theory’s purpose and seven axioms that explain how to reduce uncertainty.

It is true that it is cored to humanistic ideas. However, its scientific strategies make this theory useful and practical in everyday living. I could say that his axioms are effective. For example, when someone observes two persons who have just met and interact for the first time follow Berger’s patterns of uncertainty reduction, that someone may prove that Berger’s axioms are very accurate. Furthermore, I can say that these axioms are true based on my personal relationships. I also experience meeting a stranger and has applied the uncertainty reduction theory in my own ways.

In general, Uncertainty Reduction Theory focuses on how to reduce uncertainty by using human communication in gaining knowledge about the other person. Hence, it results in creating a more predictable and directed relationship. Charles Berger, who designed the theory, comes up with seven axioms. These axioms are accurate and practical enough to be understood and applied by anyone.


McGlish, G. (2006). A First Look at Communication Theory Retrieved November 21, 2006, from

Moncrieff, K. (2001). Uncertainty Reduction Theory.   Retrieved November 21, 2006, from

Wright, N. (2000). A Critique of Berger’s Uncertainty Reduction Theory Retrieved November 21, 2006, from

Cite this page

A Critique on Berger’s Uncertainty Reduction Theory. (2017, Mar 14). Retrieved from

A Critique on Berger’s Uncertainty Reduction Theory

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