Expectancy Violation Theory

Topics: Sociology, Interpersonal relationship, Psychology Pages: 5 (1573 words) Published: October 9, 2008
Expectancy Violation Theory

“Expectancy violations exert significance on people’s interaction patterns, on their impressions of one another, and on the outcomes of their interactions” (Burgoon 1993:40). In other words, Judee Burgoon, founder of the expectancy violation theory, concluded from various experiments that people evaluate communication with others in a negative or positive regard, based on their expectation of the interaction and their opinion of the communicator. When people do not act in accordance with ones expectations, one resorts to evaluating their communication behavior, be it verbal or non verbal as well as how this behavior makes one feel. The following essay will further explore and explain the expectancy violation theory, as well as provide the reader with an application of the theory regarding the initial relationship between myself, Shanaaz and my brother’s girlfriend Nishad.

Explanation of selected theory
Burgoon (1993:33) defined personal space as an “invisible, variable volume of space surrounding an individual which defines that individual’s preferred distance from others”. If a stranger had to stand too close to you in elevator when there are just two of you in the elevator, your natural reaction would be a heightened sense of arousal and discomfort because one does not expect an unfamiliar person to get inside his/her personal space. The expectancy violation theory explains this feeling of uneasiness. Individuals set their own definition of personal space depending on both the situation they are in and the relationship they have with the other people involved. Naturally, people feel more comfortable interacting closely with people they are intimate with than standing next to complete strangers. Firstly, the theory suggests that personal space expectations are influenced by two factors: “the social norm and the known idiosyncratic spacing patterns of the initiator” (Burgoon & Walther 1990:235). The distance people are used to in situations, which vary in every culture, is their social norm. Whereas, idiosyncratic norms are defined by knowledge of an individual’s unique interaction style (Burgoon 1993:31). Social norms, such as conversational distance norms, are affected by various characteristics such as age, gender, and personality, as well as culture. Secondly, recent findings of the theory applicable to both verbal and non verbal behaviour suggests a two stage process. In this it states that a person first attempts to interpret a violation and then goes on to evaluate it based on the interpretation attached and the sender. . “The amount of deviation from proxemic expectations influences the amount and direction of the effects” (Burgoon & Walther 1990:235). In other words, people feel rewarded when someone they like stands near them, and punished when someone they dislike or don’t know stands near them (Bachman & Guerrero 2006:944). According to Burgoon and Afifi, positive regard is often directed toward attractive, powerful, or credible sources, while negative regard can be associated with unattractive, powerless individuals (Burgoon & Afifi 2000:205). This is why some violations are seen as negative and others as positive. An important point to remember is that a violation ultimately has a valence attached to it that defines the violation as positive or negative, and the interpretation of the as well as the desirability of it decides whether negative or positive valence will be attached to the behaviour.

Brief description of the relationship used for the application At some point in a person’s life, he or she will experience something that violates his/her behavioural expectations. The degree of deviation from their initial expectations will determine the valance attached to the behaviour (positive or negative). According to Burgoon, “personal space invasions produce anxiety responses and efforts to increase distance, which implies that close distances are...
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