Examining the Development of the Theory of Interpersonal Communication Motives

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  • Topic: Communication, Love, Motivation
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  • Published : November 6, 2006
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Rebecca Rubin, Elizabeth Perse, and Carole Barbato(1988) developed the theory of interpersonal communication motives in hopes of identifying the reasons why people choose to initiate conversations with others. The researchers designed their theory in correlation with several theoretical constructs, including the functional approach to interpersonal communication, the theory of interpersonal needs, and the media uses and gratifications theory. Also, the theory of interpersonal communication motives builds on the communication behaviors found in earlier studies.

The functional approaches to interpersonal communication emphasize the purposes served through communication. Dance and Larson (1976) found that communication connects individuals with their surroundings by helping them establish self-concepts (linking), allows individuals to shift from self-oriented to group-oriented tasks (mentation), and enables individuals to control their own or others' behavior (regulation). Another functional model illustrated relationship orientation according to four functions being served in relationships—emotional-expressive, confirmatory, change-influence, and instrumental (Bennis, Schein, Steele, & Berlew, 1968).

Additionally, researchers incorporated Schutz's (1966) Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation theory that identifies three fundamental needs satisfied by interpersonal communication. Inclusion is an individual's need to feel that he or she is part of a group. Control is the need to exude power over other people or to relinquish power to someone else. Affection is an individual's need to engage in a loving relationship with others.

Finally, they drew from the media uses and gratification theory. The primary focus of the uses and gratification research identifies the functions of media use—surveillance, correlation, entertainment, and socialization (Lasswell, 1948). Research then focused on motives for television viewing, and Rubin's (1981) research suggests that people watch television to pass time, to find companionship, to become aroused or excited, to learn new information, to relax or escape, to forget, and to experience social interaction. The uses and gratification theory assumes that people's communication behavior is intentional and goal-directed. Fundamental needs produce motives that then cause the individual to behave in a way that satisfies those needs. Rubin and Windahl (1986) suggested that "communication motives are difficult to separate from needs since needs are manifested in motives. Motives are the expectations generated for communication behavior" (p. 191). The theory also assumes that people are conscious of their needs and motives, and are able to identify them.

Another focus in interpersonal communication that helped researchers pinpoint interpersonal communication motives was communication behaviors. Rubin, Perse, and Barbato used the actions identified in communication behaviors to better determine the potential motives that generated these actions, (i.e., the effect led to the cause). Several primary areas of study had emerged to explain communication behaviors.

One area concentrated on identifying communication behaviors categorically. Bochner, Kaminski and Fitzpatrick (1977) determined ten types of behavior: control, detachment-affiliation, nurturance, sociability, mistrust, dependency, deference, submissiveness, recognition, and abasement.

Another area of study focused on the major themes of interpersonal communication. Burgoon and Hale (1987) identified several major themes in relationships, including dominance, task/social orientation, nonimmediacy, and receptivity. The theories inherent in this construct were: Schutz's (1966) need dimensions; Millar and Roger's (1976) themes of intimacy, trust and control; and Leary's (1957) themes of dominance and love.

Using communication behaviors and the theories indicated above, researchers constructed 18 possible motives for...
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