Foundations of Communication Theories

Individual System Model, Uncertainty Reduction Theory, Social Penetration Theory

Individual System is a foundation for the communicative competency model that communication professionals need to understand. This system denotes that, “the more a person wants to make a good impression and communicate effectively, the more likely it is that this person will view self, and be viewed by others, as competent” (Samovar, Porter, & McDaniel, 2009, p. 383). A competent communicator will be motivated to understand any culture, and will take steps to decrease uncertainty while increasing knowledge.

West and Turner (2004) indicate the main tenets of Uncertainty Reduction Theory are that people experience uncertainty within interpersonal settings, which creates cognitive stress.  Strangers work toward cognitive consistency so that communication between people becomes predictable.  As relationships move from uncertainty to predictability, Social Penetration Theory becomes apparent.  West and Turner (2004) state that through Social Penetration Theory, relationships move from informal to intimate and self-disclosure is a core component of relationship development.

Samovar, Porter, and McDaniel (2009) describe the process of permeating a culture to create mastery of cultural knowledge as necessary strategies that increase knowledge. Similar to the methods a researcher might use, acquisition of cultural knowledge begins with interrogation, surveillance, and information exchange. Cultural knowledge is increased with methods including posturing, bluffing, and engagement (Samovar, Porter, & McDaniel, 2009). By asking questions, observing customs, disclosing information, gauging reactions to behaviors, and engaging the help of local nationals, a communication professional can create an effective strategy using the Individual System model to achieve cultural competency.


Samovar, L. A., Porter, R. E., & McDaniel, E. R. [Eds.]. (2009). Intercultural communication: A reader (12th ed.). Boston, MA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning

West, R., & Turner, L.  (2004).  Introducing Communication Theory: Analysis and Application.  Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill.



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