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communication theory and the family

Communication Theory and The Family

Fitzpatrick, M. A., & Ritchie, L. D. (1993). Communication Theory and the Family. In P. G. Boss, W. J. Doherty, R. LaRossa, W. R. Schumm, & S. K. Steinmetz (Eds.), Sourcebook of family theories and methods: A contextual approach (pp. 565-585). New York: Plenum Press.

the academic discipline of communication
The Academic Discipline of Communication
  • Develop testable hypotheses in order to understand the production, processing, and effects of symbol and signal systems.
  • It focuses on one category of behavior -- communication -- across many levels of analysis.
  • There are various distinctions (e.g., mass communication versus interpersonal, applied versus theoretical).

Dr. Ronald J. Werner-Wilson

mass communication research
Mass Communication Research
  • Early theoretical interests: propaganda and persuasion; free expression and regulation; political participation; influence of technology.
  • Influence on discipline:
    • Increased popularity of television.
    • Fear about unethical persuasion techniques.
  • Research on families compared the influence of families to the influence of television.

Dr. Ronald J. Werner-Wilson

interpersonal communication research
Interpersonal Communication Research
  • Early research focused on characteristics of speakers, seeking to understand variables associated with persuasiveness.
  • Contemporary research examines factors which influence interpersonal communication.

Dr. Ronald J. Werner-Wilson

terms
Terms
  • Definition of Human Communication
    • Dimensions of communication:
      • Symbols: something that can be used to represent something else.
      • The medium for transmitting symbols.
      • Cognitive processes which influence transmission and interpretation of symbols.
      • Social norms which govern meaning.
  • Two Key Communication Constructs
    • Intersubjectivity: sharing of cognitions in a communicative event. There are three ways intersubjectivity may affect communication:
      • Communication may require a shared set of meanings.
      • Communication may occur in the context of shared relationship norms.
      • Communication may lead to a shared set of ideas about the environment.
    • Interactivity: the degree to which symbol creation and interpretation are linked. This requires encoding by the sender and decoding by the receiver(s).

Dr. Ronald J. Werner-Wilson

code model i the strong code model
Code Model I: The Strong Code Model
  • Communication is linear.
  • Words and meanings are mapped in a simple one-to-one correspondence with “meanings.” A dictionary is a “codebook.”
  • Communication failure is attributed to
    • incompetent coding,
    • incompetent decoding,
    • or degradation of the signal (a/k/a/ “noise”).
  • Implication of this model: limited opportunity to distinguish family communication from other forms.

Dr. Ronald J. Werner-Wilson

code model ii the weak code model
Code Model II: The Weak Code Model
  • Early computer translation experiments discovered that natural language is ambiguous and nonlinear.
  • This refined model was more elaborate; it recognized that each symbol can have multiple meanings.
  • A decoder is responsible for interpreting the meaning of the message.
  • Implication of this model: limited opportunity to distinguish family communication from other forms.

Dr. Ronald J. Werner-Wilson

the inferential model
The Inferential Model
  • Fundamental assumption: many, if not most, symbols are ambiguous.
  • Communicative act requires the speaker to direct attention toward facts from which certain inferences are likely to be drawn.
  • Communication occurs when
    • one person produces some representation of their thoughts,
    • and anther person constructs a mental representation of that representation.
  • Comprehension is dependent on knowledge of goals and plans of participants in the interaction. We supply information from our knowledge.
  • Implication of this model: opportunity to develop unique theories of family communication which requires that we account for the influence of distinguishing family features on
    • family members’ expectations;
    • structure of relevancies within the family;
    • and how family context shapes perception.

Dr. Ronald J. Werner-Wilson

metaphor 1 the family is a private miniculture
Metaphor 1: The Family is a Private Miniculture
  • Family culture is created and sustained through communication.
  • Emphasizes knowledge, ideology, rules, values, and day-to-day rituals.
  • Although families are private cultures, it is still possible to identify predictable patterns in families.
  • Influenced by symbolic interactionism.
  • The relational typology (see FITZ2&3.DOC for a typology and research about marital satisfaction):
    • Measures relational (e.g., traditionalism) and information exchange aspects of communication (e.g., sharing, and conflict avoidance).
    • Most research has been conducted with couples residing in the same house, although limited research has been conducted on cohabiting heterosexual and homosexual couples.

Dr. Ronald J. Werner-Wilson

metaphor 1 the family is a private miniculture cont
Metaphor 1: The Family is a Private Miniculture (cont.)
  • Family communication patterns:
    • Examines the influence of communication on shared understanding between family members.
    • Research often emphasizes the influence of family structure on communication.
    • Accuracy: match between impression of one person and the thoughts of another.
    • Congruency: first person presumes that the second person thinks in a compatible way.

Dr. Ronald J. Werner-Wilson

metaphor 1 the family is a private miniculture cont11
Metaphor 1: The Family is a Private Miniculture (cont.)
  • The Family as an information-processing group (exemplified by Reiss, 1981):
    • Focuses on entire family rather than on a dyad within the family.
    • Families are classified according to the effects of observed behavior of the family on individuals’ behavior.
    • Central theoretical proposition: families develop fundamental and enduring assumptions about the world based on it’s own development.
      • Families develop constructs.
      • Paradigm change occurs because of crisis.
      • Family structure is generated and sustained in the daily interactions among family members.

Dr. Ronald J. Werner-Wilson

metaphor 2 the family is a resource exchange system
Metaphor 2: The Family is a Resource Exchange System
  • Assumption: family members exchange resources (e.g., time, expertise); exchanges are guided by the desire to maximize rewards and minimize costs.
  • Family scientists, using exchange theory, focus on the resources; communication scientists, in contrast, focus on
    • communication as the means for exchanging,
    • communication as a resource to be exchanged.

Dr. Ronald J. Werner-Wilson

metaphor 2 the family is a res exchange system cont
Metaphor 2: The Family is a Res. Exchange System (cont.)
  • Coercive family process theory
    • Problematic interactional patterns between parents and children may cause antisocial and aggressive behavior in children.
    • There are five major forms:
      • Family members are generally critical and punitive.
      • Parents are poor observers of their child’s behavior so deviant behavior reaches unmanageable proportions.
      • Punishment is used in an inconsistent manner.
      • Parents display lower levels of positive contact and are less likely to use positive reinforcement.
      • Rewards are used coercively.

Dr. Ronald J. Werner-Wilson

metaphor 2 the family is a res exchange system cont14
Metaphor 2: The Family is a Res. Exchange System (cont.)
  • Social learning models of marital interaction
    • Assumptions: people only enter and stay in relationships that are equitable.
    • Positive interaction is associated with relationships satisfaction.
      • John Gottman, for example, has demonstrated that couples with at least a 5:1 ration of positive to negative interactions are less likely to divorce.
      • See also Fitzpatrick, 1988; Ting-Toomey, 1983; Schaap, 1984; Gottman, 1979, 1995; Jacobson et al., 1982; Margolin and Wampold, 1981; and Revenstorf et al., 1984).

Dr. Ronald J. Werner-Wilson

metaphor 3 the family is a set of relationships
Metaphor 3: The Family is a set of Relationships
  • Subsystems are the focus of research and theory.
  • Relationship: conceptualized as a series of interactions between individuals
    • Each interactions is limited in duration.
    • Each interaction is influenced by previous interactions.
  • This approach has had a strong influence on family systems theory and research.

Dr. Ronald J. Werner-Wilson

metaphor 3 the family is a set of relationships cont
Metaphor 3: The Family is a set of Relationships (cont.)
  • Relational control model
    • Messages are bimodal, featuring two levels:
      • Content level: what was said.
      • Report level: what is meant or interpreted.
    • Messages are interconnected.
  • Patterns of interaction:
    • Complementary: two messages are paired which are “opposite” or compatible forms (e.g., a dominant message with a submissive responsive). Example: messages to assert control is paired with a message that relinquishes control.
    • Symmetrical: two messages have similar intent. Example: both speakers seek to assert control.

Dr. Ronald J. Werner-Wilson