In Study 1, we examined CU effects during dyadic interactions between strangers. Participants first engaged in a brief unstructured interaction. However, interactions between strangers tend to be relatively superficial, and more intimate aspects of a conversation, such as self-disclosure and emotional support, are critical features to building successful relationships (Rook, Pietromonaco, & Lewis, 1994). Thus, to make interactions more meaningful, participants engaged in two additional conversations: one in which participants discussed a personal problem with their partner and another in which participants listened to their partner's problem. Assessing participants' perceptions of these different conversations provided us with a more comprehensive understanding of how CU affects social exchanges.
Specifically, we examined how CU influences participants' perceptions of conversational effectiveness (i.e., if participants achieved their specific goals during the conversation) and conversational appropriateness (i.e., if participants violated conversational norms) for each conversation. Because these measures do not distinguish between dyad members, participants also rated their partner's overall interpersonal competence after the last conversation to obtain more specific information about how causally uncertain people perceive conversational partners. Given that higher levels of uncertainty are associated with less effective (Gudykunst & Nishida, 2001) and less satisfying (Neuliep & Grohskpof, 2000) communication, we hypothesized that because of their confusion about social dynamics, causally uncertain participants would rate all three conversations as less appropriate and effective and would rate their partners more negatively (i.e., less interpersonally competent).
Furthermore, because Uncertainty Reduction Theory predicts that similarity should lead to greater uncertainty reduction (Berger & Calabrese, 1975) and, in turn, more positive interactions, we also examined if partners' CU would moderate participants' perceptions of the conversation. Because these analyses were largely exploratory, we made no specific predictions for these effects. However, Rosenblatt and Greenberg (1991) have shown that depressed people have more positive interactions with other depressed people and CU is positively correlated with depression (Weary & Edwards, 1994, 1996). Thus, high CU participants may perceive their conversations more positively when they are interacting with another high CU participant.
Results and Discussion
As predicted, the actor effect was significant for CAS, CES, and CSRS-CF scores. Consistent with the Anxiety/Uncertainty Management Theory (Gudykunst, 1993, 1995), relative to low CU participants, high CU participants rated all three conversations as less appropriate, β = −.22, t(83.10) = −3.09, p = .003, and less effective, β = −.23, t(99.68) = −3.90, p < .001, and rated their partners as less conversationally skilled, β = −.30, t(101.61) = −3.16, p = .002. Actor effects on CAS and CES scores were not moderated by conversation type (β = .08, p = .42, and β = −.01, p = .93, respectively) or problem type (β = .10, p = .39, and β = −.08, p = .46, respectively), suggesting that causally uncertain participants' negative perceptions of conversational appropriateness and effectiveness were consistent across all three conversations.
In contrast, partner CU did not affect participants' perceptions of conversational appropriateness (β = .03, p = .70) and conversational effectiveness (β = .09, p = .11) or of their partner's conversational skill (β = .05, p = .59). These preliminary findings suggest that although high CU participants generally perceived their interactions negatively, their partners did not share these negative perceptions. Furthermore, unlike matching effects observed with depression (Rosenblatt & Greenberg, 1991), the interaction between participants and partner CU was not significant for conversational appropriateness (β = .02, p = .83), conversational effectiveness (β = −.04, p = .59), or the partner's conversational skill (β = .11, p = .25). That is, high CU participants' perceptions did not improve when interacting with another high CU participant, suggesting that high CU individuals may not prefer interacting with other high CU individuals. Although these effects should be replicated before drawing conclusions from such null results, Tobin and Osika (2011) also found that people reported liking high CU others less than low CU others, regardless of their own CU level.
These data demonstrate that high CU participants perceive their conversations as less appropriate and effective, replicating previous uncertainty research (e.g., Gudykunst & Nishida, 2001; Neuliep & Grohskpof, 2000). According to Uncertainty Reduction Theory, high levels of uncertainty also should lead to lower levels of intimacy and liking (Berger & Calabrese, 1975), which has been corroborated in several studies (Clatterbuck, 1979; Douglas, 1990; Douglas, 1994; Kellerman & Reynolds, 1990; also see Lee, 2001, for an uncertainty reduction explanation for mere exposure effects). Although these findings suggest that causally uncertain people's negative perceptions may extend to liking, Tobin and Osika (2011) found that the only situation in which high CU participants liked others less than low CU participants was when targets were extremely low CU. However, Tobin and Osika examined liking for hypothetical targets after participants viewed the target's completed CUS; thus, we might observe different effects with real conversational partners, when a partner's CU is not as clear. In fact, in the current study, causally uncertain participants rated their partners as less conversationally skilled, which could result in reduced liking.
In addition, although we examined participants' perceptions across a series of conversations, all conversations were with the same conversational partner. Thus, whether these negative perceptions extend beyond an initial interaction with one partner to subsequent interactions with new partners remains unclear. Conceivably, an initial meeting with a stranger may be sufficient to activate participants' CU beliefs, but when given the opportunity to engage in similar interactions with new partners, the practice from the first interaction could reduce their behavioral uncertainty (i.e., uncertainty about how to act or react) and consequently lead to more positive perceptions of these subsequent interactions (and conversational partners). We explored this idea in Study 2.