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Uncertainty Reduction Theory “the Vow” and “Meet the Parents”

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Uncertainty reduction theory is “the point of view that uncertainty motivates communication and that certainty reduces the motivation to communicate” (Wood, definition). This theory was first developed by Charles Berger. He believed that when people are to meet for the first time they have a high level of uncertainty and the only way for them to reduce it is to communicate with one another. “They don’t know what each other likes, thinks and believes; how each other responds to certain reactions, and they’re unsure what each other expects or wants from interacting” (Wood,184). There are three prior conditions that are meant to help individuals want to reduce uncertainty. First is anticipation of future interaction, people will try and communicate and get to know someone as much as they can so they can reduce the possible ‘awkwardness’ in the future.

Next is incentive value, which means people will try and reduce the uncertainty in hopes for something good to come from their interaction; relationship, friendship etc. Last is deviance. The uncertainty reduction theory is something that we see and experience in our daily lives. We are constantly meeting new people, as well our movies and television shows are filled with multiple examples of this theory. So for the following project I have decided to focus my attention on two popular movies and I have observed the characters while they meet new ‘friends/family’ and ‘companions’. I hope from these two movies I will be able to prove the following theory that people try and communicate more in hopes to reduce uncertainty.

The first movie I selected is a very recent movie that just came to theatre’s, “The Vow” starring Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams. It is based off a true story, a recently new married couple get into a serious car accident where the wife is left in a coma. When she awakens she is left with severe memory loss and cannot remember anything about her new life with her husband. Throughout the movie it is as if they are strangers and they are trying to get back to what they once were like before the accident. The second movie I chose is an older film, “Meet the Parents,” starring Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro. This movie is more about Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) wanting to propose to his girlfriend, but before he can do so he needs to meet with her father, Jack Byrnes (Robert De Niro) and get his permission to marry his daughter. But her father is not an easy man to please, and from there is a roller coaster of disastrous events of the two characters trying to get to know one another.

“An axiom is a statement that is presumed to be true on its face and therefore does not require proof or explanation” (Wood, 186). There are seven different axioms of uncertainty reduction theory that can be used but I will only focusing on a few for the following two movies. “All of the axioms build on and reflect the foundational ideas that uncertainty is discomforting and we seek to reduce it” (Wood, 186). The first axiom I observed throughout the two movies was verbal communication; “Given the high level of uncertainty present at the onset of the entry phase [of relationships], as the amount of verbal communication between strangers increases, the level of uncertainty for each person in the relationship decreases. As uncertainty is further reduced, the amount of verbal communication increases” (Wood, 187). What this axiom means is that when people are first meeting one another there is a very high level of uncertainty but when they continue to talk and ask questions about one another the level of their uncertainty should decrease and they can become more comfortable around one another. This axiom was fairly evident in both of the following films, although it was slightly different for one of the movies.

For example in the movie “The Vow” Rachel McAdams has no memory of her new husband or even who she has become after marrying her husband. Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum try to reduce their uncertainty with one another by communicating and talking about the things that they once used to do together. Although their situation makes the reduction of uncertainty a lot more difficult because for Channing he remembers all the stuff they once did together, but Rachel cannot seem to place any remembrance on what they were like. She keeps remembering who she used to be before she met him, which was a completely different person. This causes him to get very frustrated with her, and this in turn puts a strain on them continuing of the reduction of uncertainty.

There is a scene in the film where Channing takes Rachel out on a date and he brings her to all the places that they shared special moments at; where they first met, first date, and a ritual they would always do once a month. During this date the couple was able to talk and began to restart their relationship. I was able to see that from their communication it began to break the barrier between the couple, and allowed them to start to grow some feelings towards one another again. Where as in the film “Meet the Parents” the verbal communication between the father and the possible son-in-law they both do not know each other so everything is completely new about one another. I found that verbal communication actually decreased the chance of reducing the uncertainty between the two. For example the more they talked and learned about one another the more the conversation started to change because it helped them realize that they don’t have much in common.

Which brings me to the next axiom, similarity. “Similarities between persons reduce uncertainty; dissimilarities produce increases in uncertainty” (Wood, 187). The more similarities people share with one another the more likely they are going to get along and reduce their uncertainty with one another. Where as if they have barely any similarities this will increase the level of uncertainty. I personally find it very hard to continue a conversation with a person when not having many similarities. It is difficult to talk to someone when everything you have to say the person they disagrees with. Similarities are a way to make connections with people and a way to strengthen a relationship. This was evident in both of the films, they both showed that similarities and dissimilarities are able to increase or decrease uncertainty between individuals. In the beginning of “The Vow” after Rachel’s accident she can only remember her old self, which was a preppy law student, who was engaged, and carried a lot about her appearance. But the person Channing was married to was not that, his wife was a carefree artist, who did not want anything to do with her family.

For the couple this made it difficult for them to try and find their similarities again. With her not be able to remember the person she was with her husband it brought up a lot of differences in their likes resulting in increasing their uncertainty with one another. For example there was one scene where Rachel and Channing go out to a bar with Rachel’s sister and while out she acts like a completely different person, she is ordering all of these girly drinks and talking differently. This causes Channing to get over whelmed and frustrated that he cannot even be at the bar anymore. From these difference it increased their uncertainty just like the theory says. The similarity axiom is also visible in the movie “Meet the Parents.” There are multiply scenes where I got to see that the father and the possible son-in-law had a lot of differences causing it very hard for them to continue any conversation.

One example that really stood out to me and showed that differences can increase uncertainty with individuals is when Ben Stiller first arrives at the house of his girlfriends parents. The father mentions that he loves his cat ‘Jinxie’ and he has taught her how to do multiply different tricks, Ben happens to hate cats. This difference complicates the twos relationship because it leads them to have little to talk about. For example when they are driving in the car together the father brings up the conversation of cats again, and he says to Ben “ A dog is very easy to break. But cats make you work for their affection unlike dogs do.” (Meet the Parents) From this comment places an awkward silence in the car, and it was evident that this comment increased their level of uncertainty.

Lastly is nonverbal warmth; “ As nonverbal affiliative expressiveness increases, uncertainty levels decrease in an initial interaction situation. In addition, decreases in uncertainty level cause increases in nonverbal affiliative expressiveness.” (Wood, 187). Nonverbal communication is very key in relationships, they are a way to show deeper affection. A simple touch, hug, or even kiss can mean much more than any words combined. For instance in the movie “The Vow” Channing is finding Rachel to be getting for frustrated with her life after her memory loss, and he remembers that what use to always calm her down and make her feel better was to tickle her sides. Well in this case that did not go over to well with Rachel. This slight action of nonverbal communication actually frightened her more, possibly increasing the level of her uncertainty. Where then there was also another scene of the couple before the accident and Rachel was in her studio getting frustrated with one of her pieces of art and Channing came up behind her and began to lightly tickle her and kiss her side. This automatically calmed her showing that the two were very comfortable around one another proving that their level of uncertainty was fairly low.

In conclusion from both of the following movies I was able to see that the uncertainty reduction theory in fact was true in both of the films. Although, instead of using proof on how an increase in verbal communication, similarities and nonverbal communication can lead to a decrease uncertainty, the movies both movies proved that with the decrease in these traits/actions can increase uncertainty amoung individuals.

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