Application of Uncertainty Reduction Theory to Online Dating

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Rationale

Communication has undoubtedly acquired a foundational role in relationship building for as long as humans have recognized the urge to form social and romantic relationships. It serves to bridge the gap between all phases of interpersonal relations, from incipience to maintenance. Relationships can be viewed as systems of information exchange and interaction in order to survive (Redmond, 2015). A key construct in the relational initiation process as emphasized by Berger and Calabrese (1975) is the motivation to primarily reduce uncertainty. Individuals employ different communicative strategies such as information-seeking behaviors to make actions more predictable as the relationship develops.

With technological innovations, the expansion of communication through online platforms has changed how individuals initiate and maintain personal relationships. Online dating, for example, has fundamentally altered the process of finding romance and company and has rapidly become a pervasive means of seeking potential partners. New emerging forms of media, for example, the prevalence of mobile dating applications provide unique communicative affordances for strangers to build relationships (Gibbs, et al., 2011). The recent popularity of mobile dating applications, like Tinder, creates a new context for individuals to form relational connections that affect the ways how certain uncertainties can be perceived, appraised, and acted upon being encountered.

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The lack of shared physical context and nonverbal cues in Tinder often brings greater uncertainty about the other user and affects the process of relationship building. Users, however, find it more convenient to interact with the online platform conveniences that can easily connect across vast geographic regions, and employ a series of interactions, such as sharing of images and texts that replaces the traditional interpersonal cues in meeting potential partners (Walther,2012). Tinder had more people subscribing to the application to connect and build relationships online. This has become a common practice for people looking to form new relationships (Whitty &Carr, 2006).

The Tinder app had been around since the year 2012 with its growing amount of users. The app’s unique mobile design has generated a wide range of user applications to locate individuals who want to have either long- or short-term relationships (Duguay, 2016). Within the Philippines, Tinder is said to carry a 53% rating for being considered a respectable mobile dating app, with 56% of Filipino millennials subscribing to it (YouGov, 2017).

The Tinder app specifically works on bringing individuals who have no prior relationship with one another. The initial interaction only revolves through viewing the user’s profile, choosing to swipe left or right, and then trying to initiate a conversation with the other user. The online dater’s anticipation for future offline interaction induces continual information seeking and knowing more about the identity of the potential relational partners by using different communication strategies (Gibbs et al.,2006).

With this communication environment, the theory of Berger and Calabrese’s (1975) Uncertainty Reduction Theory and Brashers’ Uncertainty Management Theory (2001) is applied in the study. Both theories’ key concepts revolve around reducing or managing uncertainties during the initial interaction through different information-seeking strategies. Although these theories are commonly used in face-to-face (FtF) interactions, they can also shed light on uncertainty management in online communication platforms.

This current study, thus, looks into the Tinder users’ uncertainty management strategies, by looking at the user’s uncertainty perception/s facilitated by different factors, such as the Tinder user’s level of attraction, user purpose, and user duration of engagement with the application. It also investigates the Tinder user’s uncertainty appraisal or emotion/s toward the person he/she is interacting with and explores the different information-seeking behaviors executed during the interaction.

To investigate this study, the researcher would employ an embedded mixed-method research design in measuring the respondents’ uncertainty perceptions, appraisal, and information-seeking behaviors. The chosen subjects are Tinder users around a large city in the southern part of the Philippines. This study may give way to new knowledge regarding online relationship building and interactions since there are still few studies regarding this subject in the Philippine context.

Statement of the Problem

Uncertainty is an important key construct in relationship formation among individuals, particularly strangers, during the initial stage of the relationship. The initial interaction is characterized as when individuals first meet and create new topics that facilitate the interaction (Berger & Calabrese, 1975). During the interaction, it is theorized that the primary concern of strangers is to reduce uncertainty by means of gathering enough information to make communication predictable.

There are various theories related to uncertainty, primarily, its defining theory is the Uncertainty Reduction Theory by Charles Berger and Richard Calabrese (1975) which explains how individuals employ various communicative strategies to reduce uncertainty. However, studies for URT are mostly situated in face-to-face interpersonal settings. It is important to note that with the advent of social media, communication, and relationship are advanced through different online communication platforms.

Uncertainty reduction theory is a study of interpersonal communication and it focuses on how communication is used to gain an understanding of interpersonal relationships as well as new technologies or systems(Gudykunst & Hammer, 1987: 191). Uncertainty reduction theory examines how individuals encounter new situations and that their primary focus is to reduce the associated uncertainties (Srivastava & Chandra, 2018: 782). Individuals will use their ability to communicate with interaction partners in order to seek relevant information and alleviate anxieties associated with uncertainty. When people meet they are motivated to form impressions of each other in order to reduce uncertainty (Antheunis, et al., 2012: 761). The individual will gather the information that will allow them to predict someone’s attitudes and behaviors. Uncertainty reduction theory aims to explain and predict when, why, and how individuals use information-seeking behavior and minimize their doubts about an interaction partner (Srivastava & Chandra, 2018: 782). Atheunis, et al. (2012: 761) identify three strategies to get to know a target person. They are passive, active, and interactive strategies. A passive strategy is where the individual unobtrusively observes the target's characteristics such as their nonverbal behaviors. Active strategies involve a more proactive approach to getting to know the person without confronting them, this would entail questioning other people to get to know the person. Interactive strategies are more direct and there is face-to-face communication (Antheunis, et al., 2012: 761)

Mobile dating apps like Tinder, foster initial communication between potential partners. Users of this dating application often form relationships with people they do not know. Given the communicative affordances of Tinder, it should be emphasized that it has unique features that create new context on how people perceive and act upon uncertainty when forming interpersonal connections (Corriero &Tong, 2016).

In Tinder, it is necessary to look at and investigate how uncertainty management strategies are employed given the communication environment of the application. Thus, this research aims to ask:

How do Tinder users manage uncertainties related to relationship formation through different information-seeking strategies? How is uncertainty management moderated by other factors?

Because uncertainties are primarily a self-perception about one’s own cognitions, these uncertainties can be contextualized in different situations. Online users may have different perceptions of uncertainty and may vary depending on different factors available. This study examines communicator- and goal-related factors that contextualize Tinder users’ uncertainty perceptions as it influences one’s emotions given the specific contextual circumstances involved. It focuses on three factors, namely, (1) the level of attraction the Tinder users have (2) the Tinder user’s purpose of using the app, and (3) the duration of engagement the Tinder users have with the app.

‘Liking’ or the positive feeling or regard for another individual is one of the variables in URT (Redmond, 2015). With Tinder, being a dating app, ‘liking’ or attraction is considered a big factor in the user’s interaction inside the online communication setting and can influence one’s emotions and communicative behaviors in seeking a potential relationship.

In building a relationship with another user, one’s intention in using the app is important. According to Corriero (2016), while the Tinder application is often associated with its popular impression as a mobile app that facilitates dating, and “hookups”, other motives for use also exist. Another factor that involves a relative valuation in determining the uncertainty is the user’s personal purpose in using the Tinder application.

Lastly, an inevitable factor is a time that is spent as users consume the application. One may spend weeks, months, or even years in using the app until the user wants to. Time is a fundamental dimension of cognition and decision-making (Shuur, 2012) that can affect the user’s context in interpersonal connections and behaviors. There had not been much of many related studies regarding the temporal dimension of uncertainty reduction strategies in interpersonal communication. However, this study aims to explore this aspect by considering the duration of using the Tinder application as a factor.

With these perceived uncertainties, the study specifically aims to answer the following inquiries:

RQ 1: How does the Tinder user’s uncertainty perception/s influence the user’s uncertainty appraisal?

  1. How does the Tinder user’s level of attraction influence the user’s uncertainty appraisal?
  2. How does the Tinder user’s purpose of using the app (a) romantic (b) sexual and (c) social influence the user’s uncertainty appraisal?
  3. How does the Tinder user’s duration of engagement with the application influence the user’s uncertainty appraisal?

The current study also adopts Uncertainty Management Theory by Dale Brashers (2001). Within UMT, responses to types of uncertainty are shaped by appraisals or one’s emotional reactions to the experience. Rather than relying on the classic assumption in URT that uncertainty is intrinsically negative, the theory suggests that uncertainty is determined by its valence with the individual’s emotional response that may influence one’s communicative behaviors. This study asks:

RQ 2: How do the Tinder users’ uncertainty appraisal influence the user’s information-seeking behavior during the interaction?

Furthermore, it is important to note that there are different types of information-seeking behaviors. Information-seeking behavior ranges from more to less direct methods. The types of information-seeking behaviors are Passive as observing the person without direct contact, Active as asking other people about the person, Interactive as directly asking the person for information, and a newly added strategy for online communication, Extractive, as acquiring information by searching about the person online (Ramirez et al., 2002). Most of the previous studies involving uncertainty reduction strategies and information-seeking behaviors have been tested primarily within the context of health communication (Cohen, 1993), and only a few related studies on information-seeking behavior examined social settings like online communication. This study aims to know the different types of information-seeking behavior that Tinder users employ during their interactions. Moreover, the study asks this question:

RQ 3: What are the specific types of information-seeking behaviors the Tinder users execute to manage or reduce uncertainties?

Tinder encompasses various users with different ages, gender, educational background, and employment status. Studies have found that age differences can affect one’s physical and social needs which influence one’s motivations in using online communication sites (Barker, 2009). In the aspects of gender socialization, it emphasized the difference in one’s gender orientation in one’s physical and social preferences and different needs (Haferkamp et al., 2012). Sorting on one’s educational attainment and employment status, a study by Hitsch (2010) noted that often one’s educational level and employment status influence one’s result of preference for a mate. Thus, with the Tinder users’ different socio-demographics, the study specifically asks:

RQ 4: How do the Tinder users’ socio-demographic characteristics (age, gender, educational attainment, and employment status) influence the user’s uncertainty perceptions, emotional appraisal, and information-seeking behaviors?

In online relationship building, topics such as uncertainty and other online relationship behaviors have not been the subject of much communication research. With these research questions, the researcher aims to evaluate and measure the variables being presented in the study as an avenue to contribute information to the body of knowledge.

Statement of Hypotheses

Given the set of research questions, the study aims to test the following hypotheses:

  • H1: There is no significant relationship between the Tinder user’s uncertainty perception and uncertainty appraisal.
  • H2: There is a negative relationship between the Tinder user’s level of attraction to the user’s uncertainty appraisal.
  • H3: Tinder users whose purpose is for a romantic relationship are negatively related to the user’s uncertainty appraisal.
  • H4: Tinder users whose purpose for sexual engagement is negatively related to the user’s uncertainty appraisal.
  • H5: Tinder users’ purpose for social relationships is negatively related to the user’s uncertainty appraisal.
  • H6: Tinder user’s duration of engagement does not affect the user’s uncertainty appraisal.
  • H7: There is no significant relationship between the Tinder user’s uncertainty appraisal and information-seeking behavior.
  • H8: Tinder users’ socio-demographic characteristics do not influence the user’s uncertainty perceptions, appraisal, and information-seeking behaviors.

Objectives of the Study

The current research generally aims to explore the uncertainty management strategies of the Tinder users through their information-seeking behaviors Thus, this study intends to: determine the influence of the Tinder user’s uncertainty perceptions with the user’s uncertainty appraisal; find out the influence between the Tinder user’s level of attraction to the user’s uncertainty appraisal; measure the influence of the Tinder user’s purpose of using the application to the user’s uncertainty appraisal; evaluate the influence of the Tinder user’s duration of engagement to the user’s uncertainty appraisal; determine the influence between the Tinder user’s emotional appraisal towards the user’s information- seeking behavior; identify the specific types of information-seeking behaviors the Tinder users execute to manage the uncertainties; and ascertain the influence of the Tinder user’s socio-demographic characteristics to the user’s uncertainty perception, appraisal, and information-seeking behaviors.

Significance of the Study

Most of the previous studies involving information-seeking behaviors and uncertainty had been mainly focused on the context of medical communication (Brashers, 2001). As emphasized by Afifi (2010), individuals often value the understanding of uncertainty, however, there are inadequate current communication studies that approach the theoretical account of such phenomenon. Consequently, only a few studies had been done investigating communication relating to online relationships. This study aims to contribute to the theory-building regarding uncertainty reduction/ management in online contexts, especially the subject of the recent mobile dating application platforms.

Uncertainty in communication is an undervalued concept, in which there is little appreciation for its wide dimensions in understanding about its varied characteristics, magnitudes, and means of dealing with it (Walker, et al., 2003). It is important to emphasize that this factor contributes largely to relationship building. Hence, with the increasing amount of people who are using mobile dating applications to find suitable social partners and develop relationships, it is essential to explore this study as it contributes to further research regarding online relationship building since relationships online can be precarious and there are still concepts that are needed to be explored in this communication context.

Scope and Delimitation of the Study

Previous studies involving uncertainty management strategies and information-seeking behaviors frequently include self-disclosure and privacy risks as factors in conducting the study. However, this study only focuses on the type and level of uncertainty in the Tinder platform to further nuance the information-seeking behaviors and their relation to uncertainty management strategy. This will also give way to exploring more levels and types of uncertainty provided in a mobile dating application platform, Tinder.

Since the study deals with mobile dating applications, the online dating environment represents an opportunity to include individuals creating profiles. However, it is emphasized that this study does not explore how participants manage their online self-presentation. This study solely investigates the communicative strategies employed in information seeking to gain more insight into aspects of online behavior and uncertainty management in the relationship development of Tinder users.

In exploring the information-seeking behaviors of the respondents, the researcher cannot obtain the textual conversations of the respondents due to ethical and privacy concerns, even though it is a vital element in the research to further explore the communication techniques and patterns the Tinder users employ in their conversations. However, the researcher addresses this gap by applying a research design which is embedded mixed methods research design that provides a more complete and comprehensive understanding in answering the research problem through an extensive analysis done both quantifiable and qualitatively.

Also, this study only revolves around the boundaries of the online mobile dating application, Tinder. The researcher chose Tinder as the dating application to be studied since there are a huge amount of users of the Tinder application and it is also open to various types of audiences, ranging from gender differences, age, and various backgrounds. Variance in the socio-demographic characteristics is also needed in the study since the researcher considers such as a variable. Moreover, the researcher values the different contexts that are used in other mobile dating applications but solely focuses on Tinder as the mobile dating application investigated in the study.

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Application of Uncertainty Reduction Theory to Online Dating. (2023, April 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 16, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/application-of-uncertainty-reduction-theory-to-online-dating/
“Application of Uncertainty Reduction Theory to Online Dating.” Edubirdie, 21 Apr. 2023, edubirdie.com/examples/application-of-uncertainty-reduction-theory-to-online-dating/
Application of Uncertainty Reduction Theory to Online Dating. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/application-of-uncertainty-reduction-theory-to-online-dating/> [Accessed 16 Jun. 2024].
Application of Uncertainty Reduction Theory to Online Dating [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Apr 21 [cited 2024 Jun 16]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/application-of-uncertainty-reduction-theory-to-online-dating/
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