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Examining The Development Of The Theory Of Interpersonal Communication Motives

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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 relationshipsÐ'--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 useÐ'--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 interpersonal communication. Nine motives were based on the television-viewing motives mentioned earlier (Rubin, 1981). Researchers suspected that people would communicate interpersonally for relaxation when they needed to rest or relieve tension. They would interact within a group when they felt a social need for companionship. Sometimes communication would occur out of habit in established patterns or to pass the time when there is nothing better to do. Some would communicate for information when they wanted to learn new things. People would often communicate for entertainment because it is enjoyable or arousal and the thrill produced. Frequently people would use communication for social interaction, which researchers defined as the need to offer others information about oneself. Others want to escape and use communication in an attempt to avoid something unpleasant.

The additional nine motives were taken from various studies. Rubin and Rubin (1982) suggested that people would communicate for self-learning in order to monitor their behavior and out of convenience because someone happened to be there. Social norms would require people to communicate in certain situations. Sometimes people would begin conversations to cheer up or to help others in a selfless act of altruism. Schutz's (1966) research suggested that people would communicate for affection and control. Two communication motives were based on Maslow's (1954) needs for safety and self-esteem. Finally, research suggested that people would communicate for emotional expression when they needed to vent anger or frustrations.

Further testing and analysis produced six pertinent motives for interpersonal communication: (1)affection, or communicating to show kindness and appreciation for someone; (2)pleasure, or communicating for enjoyment and thrills; (3)control, or communicating to achieve power over someone; (4)escape, or communicating to kill time or to put off stressful tasks; (5)inclusion, or communicating within a group to relieve feelings of loneliness; and (6)relaxation, or communicating to relieve tension. Rubin, Perse, and Barbato constructed the Interpersonal Communication Motives Scale to help determine a person's reasons for conversing with others.

The development of the interpersonal communication motives theory generated additional research, and the theory broadened to include factors found to be influential in determining a person's motivation. Rubin and Rubin (1992) suggested that interpersonal communication motives follow locus of control. People with an external locus-of-controlÐ'--believing that powerful individuals and chance control their livesÐ'--appear to communicate for inclusion. People with an internal locus-of-controlÐ'--believing they control their own livesÐ'--seem to communicate for

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