Role of "Plastics" in Film "Mean Girls"

Categories: FilmFilm Analysis

The movie “Mean Girls” takes you through the trials and tribulations of being a new girl in high school. Cady Heron is the new girl in school who moved from Africa and was homeschooled in the movie. She is very smart and was raised to be kind and close to her family. She meets two very down to earth friends, Janis and Damian, and then some other people who she thinks could be her friends, but she comes to find out they aren’t all she thought they would or could be.

Janis and Damian warn Cady about the catty and backstabbing clique known as the “Plastics” who are both admired and hated by their fellow classmates. Karen, Regina, and Gretchen are considered to be the “mean girls,” the ones who think they are the best of the best in their high school. They believe that no one can mess with them and see themselves as royalty. Regina George is the head backstabber and would even throw her two sidekicks under the bus in order to remain on top.

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Here they are being introduced. After a while, Cady gets too close to the clique and starts to become just like the girls that she didn’t really care for from the beginning. The uncertainty reduction theory is about the struggle people have in their everyday lives. This theory is about peoples’ need to reduce uncertainty about other individuals by gaining information about them. We live in a social world that is in a constant state of change as the high school in “Mean Girls” depicts.

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People typically feel uncertain due to an anticipation of a future interaction, an incentive value, or a discrepancy. An example of anticipation of prior interaction is when you think you’re going to see a friend you just met and you want to know more about them so you continue to hang out with them. When the “Plastics” ask Cady to sit with them in lunch in this movie, you see the anticipation of future interactions. With incentive value, you may feel uncertain about someone if that person has something you want.

In “Mean Girls”, Cady begins to question whether she should continue being overly academic because the “Plastics” are more appealing and it gives her a socially artificial friendship with the most popular girls in school with the best clothes and looks. In deviance, you may feel uncertain about seeing a person that acts in an unusual way knowing they are different than you. When Cady was a new student who was feeling uncertainty, she experienced deviance because the students in her new school are much different than her. Since Cady was raised to be kind, when she experiences cruelty, she compares it to what she knew from Africa as seen in this portion of the movie. There are three different ways to reduce uncertainty about a person: passive, active, and interactive strategies. With a passive strategy, you would observe how the person reacts with others from a distance. Many people these days cyberstalk on social media and this would fall into a passive strategy of uncertainty.

People will look at other’s pages trying to learn about them to reduce uncertainty. A point in the movie that suggests a passive strategy is when this student learns of a fashion she imitates after observing them. An active strategy would be in asking others about the target person you’re wanting to learn about. This strategy does involve risk if the person you’re asking about finds out that you have been asking about them. It could be embarrassing and make for an awkward situation. Not only that but the information retained from someone else may not always be accurate. The “Mean Girls” movie is once again demonstrative of an active strategy in this scene. Then there is the interactive strategy. This would be comparable to when you walk into a classroom and look for a seat that is next to someone you believe would share commonalities with you. When the two of you begin conversing you find out where they live and their interests. So, with the interactive strategy, it involves two-way communication by actually talking to the person.

Again, this type of interaction is seen in this scene. Our primary compulsion during initial interaction is to reduce uncertainty about our communication partners by gathering enough information about them so their communication becomes predictable and explainable. The two types of uncertainty that we try to reduce are behavioral and cognitive. Behavioral uncertainty is when you are most concerned with other people’s behaviors and cognitive uncertainty is more concerned about what another person may be thinking. Keeping up with the importance of physical appearance, we see the transformation of Cady’s behavioral uncertainty through her clothes, hair, and makeup as she becomes more involved as a member of the “Plastics.” Aaron, the boy she crushes on, sees her room filled with memorabilia from Africa and pictures of Cady’s family and is reminded of how Cady was when she first started school. This scene appeals to behavioral uncertainty in order to be accepted as a social status and changing your image to adapt to an image for acceptance.

When Regina is asking Cady about her thoughts of being pretty, it is exemplifying cognitive uncertainty. Regina knows that Cady is pretty and is taking on the, “Keep your friends close and your potential enemies closer,” as she thinks Cady could be a threat. With this thinking, Regina tries to pick Cady’s brain to see how she thinks. The “Plastics” learn from observation by Regina’s demonstrations. We see this again in this scene where whatever the queen bee of the school does, the other’s follow in order to fit in and get the approval to have the “Plastics” feel they could fit in with them. The desire for the uncertainty reduction theory is particularly strong in the early stages of relationships when the people involved know little about one another.

In order to choose appropriate behaviors to interact with one another, we must be able to predict each other’s behavior. When uncertainty is reduced the parties will feel more comfortable with each other and like one another more. This results in more intimacy. You can’t speak of the uncertainty reduction theory without the next step of the social penetration theory. The social penetration theory seeks to explain how interpersonal closeness can come to be. The social penetration theory needs to be gradual, orderly, and reciprocal for self-disclosure. You don’t tell someone about yourself all at once. This would make someone uncomfortable. Good things take time and you have to wait to take relationships to deeper levels. Self-disclosure must reciprocate. It’s a two-way street. Self-disclosure is the act of sharing personal information with another person or group of people who you believe can keep the secret private.

In this movie, the “Plastics” do not disclose major secrets with one another because they are basically fake, and their relationships with one another remain very bland not leaving much room to share any personal feelings. They create a “burn book” which is full of their schoolmates’ secrets and private issues that they keep in order to bash others. Eventually, the pages get photocopied and spread throughout the school and a lot of peoples’ feelings are brutally hurt. To get revenge, Regina added an entry about herself in the book so that she would look innocent and then turned it into the principal putting all the blame on Cady, Gretchen, and Karen who happened to be the only girls not mentioned in this “burn book”.

The book was then exposed to the students and total chaos occurs. Cady then became targeted as the most hated girl in the school. In this clip you can see social disclosure and how it wrong. This scene shows what happens when you open up to one another with intimate portions of your life and they get retold breaking down trust to self-disclose again. If we’re going to act in ways to achieve our desired goals, getting what we want, we have to be able to anticipate and predict what the environment around us is going to do. It’s basically a social survival skill. We need to do this in meeting people and with people we think we know well too. We instinctively use uncertainty reduction in our everyday life. We like people who are similar to us. As similarity goes up, so does attraction. As attraction goes up, we seek less information and ask fewer questions. We all have mental plans for achieving goals. Life is filled with uncertainties. The next time you feel uncertain about an interaction, don’t forget to refer to the uncertainty reduction theory for guidance.

  • Berger, C. R., & Calabrese, R. J. (1975). Some Explorations In Initial Interaction And Beyond: Toward A Developmental Theory Of Interpersonal Communication. Human Communication Research, 1(2), 99-112. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2958.1975.tb00258.x
  • Bradac, J. J. (2001). Theory Comparison: Uncertainty Reduction, Problematic Integration, Uncertainty Management, and Other Curious Constructs. Journal of Communication, 51(3), 456-476. doi:10.1093/joc/51.3.456
  • Dainton, M., & Aylor, B. (2001). A relational uncertainty analysis of jealousy, trust, and maintenance in long‐distance versus geographically close relationships. Communication Quarterly, 49(2), 172-188. doi:10.1080/01463370109385624
  • Mean girls [Video file]. (n.d.). Pennsylvania State University World Campus (PSU WC). (2015). PSYCH 424: Applied Social Psychology. Lesson 6: Intergroup Relations. Retrieved from

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Role of "Plastics" in Film "Mean Girls". (2021, Sep 14). Retrieved from

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