Uncertainty Reduction Theory (URT): Practical Applications

Subject: Healthcare Research
Pages: 5
Words: 1381
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URT is a theory that focuses on human interactions and the development of relationships between strangers. When interacting with others, people typically experience uncertainty, which is an aversive state that they may try to reverse (Hogg & Belavadi, 2017). To do this, one can attempt to seek information about the other individual to gain more understanding and reduce the uncertainty. The basic premise of this theory is that people need information about another individual before communicating with them because this knowledge reduces vagueness (Hogg & Belavadi, 2017). This allows making assertions about the other person’s reactions and potential actions. The primary assumption of the URT is that these predictions and information is what helps form a relationship between people. URT is relevant to me because this theory applies to all human interactions, both professional and personal, and can help one enhance their ability to communicate and leadership qualities. This paper will examine the premises of URT, present a literature review, and discuss practical applications of this theory.

Review of Literature

People encounter uncertainty in various settings, and it affects their decisions and attitudes towards information. Etienne et al. (2018) focus on studying how uncertainty about scientific information affects people’s perception of it. The underlying goal of this study is to determine the best transparent communication practices with an assumption that uncertainty hinders the perception and attitudes towards facts. The authors study the effect of having uncertainty on risk perception and comprehension of information (Etienne et al., 2018). As a result of quantitative assessment, the authors conclude that clarity of information and lesser degrees of uncertainty affect people’s perception positively. This study contributes to the UTR research because it provides evidence for the ways in which uncertainty affects people’s perceptions. Mainly, uncertainty in communication leads to negative consequences in terms of understanding information and trusting it. The same issues occur with uncertainty about another individual, according to URT, which implies that people should communicate more information about themselves to establish trust.

Communication is linked to uncertainty, and several theories, including URT and anxiety management theory, attempt to conceptualize this element of interactions. Hogg and Belavadi (2017) base their research on examining the background and implications of URT. URT was introduced by Charles Berger and Richard Calabrese in 1975 (Hogg & Belavadi, 2017). The scholars created this theory on the basis of the uncertainty concept linked to seven variables. There are two main types of uncertainties with the face to face interactions. These are behavioral and cognitive. Next, there are several ways in which one individual may initiate a search for information about the other: passive, active, and interactive (Hogg & Belavadi, 2017). The interactions and communication between people develop in three key stages. According to Hogg and Belavardi (2017), uncertainty is a result of “reduced predictability of and control over events and the world around us” (p. 1). Hence, this article contributes to the knowledge about URT by examining its basic principles and summarizing the key elements of this theory.

URT, in combination with the social exchange and other theories, can help enhance the understanding of people’s behavior in various settings, for example, at work. Neves, Almeida, and Velez (2017) study the application of URT for organizational change management. Notably, implementing changes is vital for any organization, both private and public, because, in the current path of technology development, many fields are disrupted and need to adapt. However, change is often faced with resistance from the employees who subconsciously try to maintain the workflow they are used to, which is why many change initiatives fail. Hence, the contribution of this article is an expansion of the change management theories using URT. The central premise is that information and communication are essential to reduce the personnel’s hesitancy about the change. Neves, Almeida, and Velez (2017) conclude that commitment from the leaders and human resource management decreases employee’s intention to resist change and increase affective commitment to participate in the process. Based on this study, the URT and social exchange theories help understand how to communicate effectively in an organizational setting to lead changes.

Communication is especially vital during a crisis, and UTR can help explain some of the best approaches to managing crisis communication. Xu (2018) conducted a mixed-method study to assess the responses of college students regarding their perceptions of a crisis. Xu (2018) argues that this study contributes to the development of best practices for community building and crisis response strategies. Hence, in the context of this study, UTR, together with chaos theory, helps explain how people seek information about unpredicted events. Therefore, this research contributes to the comprehension of URT because it suggests that people are in the necessity of data during a crisis event, and uncertainty reduction strategies can assist in community development.

Based on the premises of the uncertainty theory, people seek information about others because it increases trust and helps reduce the negative emotions caused by uncertainty. Wegwarth et al. (2020) study the effect of uncertainty in communication between government officials and the public using the case of the COVID-19 pandemic. The premise of this study is the examination of the trust towards the government officials based on the information they convey. Wegwarth et al. (2020) state that “when facts are uncertain, policymakers and health experts sometimes shy away from communicating scientific uncertainty” (p. e2032335.). In its turn, this results in the citizens’ lesser commitment towards adhering to the safety and health recommendations of the officials. In this study, the researchers showed several scenarios linked to COVID-19 and assessed the people’s motivation to comply with safety recommendations based on the amount and certainty of the communicated data (Wegwarth et al., 2020). Although his study’s design is not built on the premises of the uncertainty theory, the authors discuss how uncertainty affects people’s perceptions and actions. This study contributes to this research because the findings show that people perform better when they have information rather than when they face uncertainty.

Justification of URT’s Relevance

The interest in the URT is linked to the real-world application of this theory. URT is a communications theory, meaning that it can be used in real life to improve personal and professional interactions. Moreover, this theory can be used to form better relationships with other people. The premise of the idea is that people need information about others as they feel negative emotions when communicating with a person they do not know anything about (Hogg & Belavadi, 2017). The idea is based on the need to predict the actions of others, linked to the biological and psychological safety mechanisms. As shown by the studies above, URT is applicable to all types of communication, including interactions between government officials and citizens or community crisis communications. Clearly and possessing the information as opposed to uncertainty is linked to better outcomes in terms of crisis management or adherence to recommendations (Xu, 2018; Wegwarth et al., 2020). The underlying cause of this is, most probably, the reduction of adverse emotions linked to uncertainty.

The researched theory is an important area relevant to the field of communication and society because it explains the factors that hinder communication and contribute to mistrust and misunderstandings. It appears that in most studies, for example, by Xu (2018) or Neves, Almeida, and Velez (2017), this theory is used in combination with other theories, for instance, the social exchange theory or chaos theory, and sense-making theory. Moreover, Hogg and Belavadi (2017) examine URT in contrast to anxiety reduction theory explaining some of the differences, such as the nature and purpose of uncertainty. This prompts one to conclude that URT should be used in combination with other theories to approach a better understanding of human interactions. Thus, uncertainty, together with other concepts, contributes to the comprehension of human interactions.


In summary, the uncertainty theory is versatile, and its approach to the people’s desire to gain some knowledge about others prior to an interaction can be applied in different fields, including education, technology, human resource management, and others. As a result of this research, the author found that URT is applicable in different settings and for varied purposes. URT helps understand why providing information and reassurance is vital for proper communication and can be used to develop tools and strategies of communications management.


Etienne, J., Chirico, S., Gunabalasingham, T., & Jarvis, A. (2018). Final report: Clear Communications and Uncertainty. EFSA Supporting Publications, 15(5). Web.

Hogg, M., & Belavadi, S. (2017). Uncertainty management theories. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Communication, 1-50. Web.

Neves, P., Almeida, P., & Velez, M. (2017). Reducing intentions to resist future change: Combined effects of commitment-based HR practices and ethical leadership. Human Resource Management, 57(1), 249-261. Web.

Xu, S. (2018). Crisis communication within a community: Bonding, coping, and making sense together. Public Relations Review, 44(1), 84-97. Web.

Wegwarth, O., Wagner, G., Spies, C., & Hertwig, R. (2020). Assessment of German public attitudes toward health communications with varying degrees of scientific uncertainty regarding COVID-19. JAMA Network Open, 3(12), e2032335. Web.