Argumentative and Aggressive Communication

Theory, Research, and Application – Second edition

by Andrew S. Rancer (Author) Theodore A. Avtgis (Author)
©2014 Textbook XII, 290 Pages


Now in its second edition, Argumentative and Aggressive Communication is the only text dedicated to the presentation and synthesis of research, theory, and application efforts on the aggressive communication traits of argumentative and verbal aggressiveness.
In this updated edition, Rancer and Avtgis present new research and theory on argumentative and aggressive communication that has been influential in communication and in other social science disciplines since the first edition was published in 2006. The volume includes a discussion of new contexts in which argumentative and aggressive communication has become salient as well as new areas of research which extend into the domains of healthcare, sports, politics, digital media, and nonverbal communication. This edition includes over 100 new studies and references.
With student-friendly features such as discussion questions at the end of chapters, the text is ideal for courses in communication and conflict, interpersonal communication, communication and personality, and personality theory and research, among others. It is also an invaluable resource and reference for scholars and graduate students who conduct research on argumentative and aggressive communication.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the Authors
  • About the Book
  • Advance Praise
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Preface
  • Part I: Foundations of Aggressive Communication
  • Chapter 1: The Development of Aggressive Communication
  • Chapter 2: Measurement and Assessment of Aggressive Communication
  • Chapter 3: Theoretical Explanations of Aggressive Communication
  • Part II: Contextualizing Aggressive Communication
  • Chapter 4: Relational Implications of Aggressive Communication
  • Chapter 5: Aggressive Communication in the Organization
  • Chapter 6: Classroom Interaction and Aggressive Communication
  • Chapter 7: Cultural Influences on Aggressive Communication
  • Chapter 8: Aggressive Communication in Mediated Environments
  • Chapter 9: Aggressive Communication in Persuasion
  • Part III: Understanding Aggressive Communication Processes and Functions
  • Chapter 10: Training and Educating in Aggressive Communication
  • Chapter 11: Aggressive Communication and Its Relationship to Personality
  • Chapter 12: Aggressive Communication: Tributaries and the Future
  • References
  • Additional Resources
  • Appendices
  • Index


The authors would like to thank the following individuals who have contributed greatly to the publication of this text. First, we offer thanks to Ms. Mary Savigar, Senior Acquisitions Editor at Peter Lang Publishing. Mary enthusiastically supported our suggestion of the need for an updated edition of our 2006 text. With great zeal, she championed our ideas for a revision, and guided this project through the proper channels at Peter Lang. We would also like to thank Ms. Bernadette Shade, Director of Production at Peter Lang Publishing. Bernadette’s competence and expertise allowed the production process to proceed in a smooth and expeditious fashion. We would also like to recognize Mr. Stephen Mazur, Editorial Assistant at Peter Lang. Stephen assisted us greatly in securing permissions for the publication of many important scales contained in the Appendix of the text. Thank you to all of our Peter Lang colleagues.

It goes without saying that we would like to thank our family members and friends who provided the support to complete this project. In particular, Andrew and Ted would like to recognize their spouses and children, Kathi and Aimee, and Mary and Aiden, for their encouragement and love.

We also want to recognize the many scholars and researchers across the United States and internationally whose research is cited in this text. Because of your efforts, we are moving in the direction to better understand how to manage and control conflict more productively.

Andrew S. Rancer

Theodore A. Avtgis

← IX | X → ← X | XI →


Argumentative AND Aggressive Communication

It is especially gratifying to us that argumentative and aggressive communication has become one of the most well-researched areas in the communication discipline. Since the first edition of Argumentative and Aggressive Communication: Theory, Research, and Application in 2006, almost 150 studies have been conducted which focus primarily on the argumentative and verbally aggressive communication predispositions. Interest in this line of inquiry from other social science disciplines such as social psychology, business, and education have also accelerated with numerous studies emerging during this period.

This research growth has resulted in the application of the two communication traits to new and emerging contexts which include sport, health, and biological applications. The study of aggressive communication has also extended into the domain of nonverbal aggression. Further, the importance of several aggressive communication-related constructs such as hurtful messages and verbal and nonverbal bullying have been highlighted in both the scholarly and applied communities.

Since its inception, Argumentative and Aggressive Communication has been used in a variety of ways. It has been identified as an invaluable resource and reference for scholars and graduate students who conduct research on argumentative and aggressive communication. It has also been used as a textbook by instructors in a variety of higher education venues for courses such as Communication and Conflict, Advanced Interpersonal Communication, and Communication and Personality, among several others.

The second edition of Argumentative and Aggressive Communication continues this mission. The text is designed as an upper-level textbook as well as a resource for researchers and scholars interested in aggressive communication. The response from researchers worldwide concerning the value of the first edition in their own research was quite positive. Indeed, a perusal of articles on aggressive communication published in the last seven years often includes a citation of the first edition within the Reference section of those published works.

In this second edition, we kept a similar voice to that used in the first edition which appeals to a broad range of readers that range from upper-level undergraduates, graduate students, researchers, teachers, and the lay public. We have synthesized the large corpus of new research studies on argumentative and aggressive communication produced during the last seven years and present the result of these efforts across the many chapters of the text. We have added a new chapter, “Aggressive Communication: Tributaries and the Future,” in which we introduce the reader to research on argumentative and aggressive communication that has been ← XI | XII → extended into the domains of healthcare, sports, politics, and digital media. This chapter includes a discussion of cutting-edge research on the biological expressions of aggressive communication including a discussion of germinal research on how our brains respond to aggressive communication contingent upon the influence of our psychological trait orientations. This new chapter introduces the reader to the development of an expanded taxonomy of nonverbal “verbal” aggression. As nonverbal communication is one of the most potent forms of human communication, the addition of this line of inquiry allows us to better understand different channels employed when sending and receiving aggressive communication.

Having received positive feedback on the inclusion of discussion questions at the end of the chapters, we have expanded these questions to address the new voluminous material that has emerged since the release of the first edition. The addition of over one hundred new studies and references, as well as the discussion of new contexts in which argumentative and aggressive communication is salient, we believe, results in the most comprehensive volume of work of its kind dedicated to the study of argumentative and aggressive communication. It is our hope that your understanding of aggressive communication will be illuminated after reading this text, and your appreciation of the importance of these traits in understanding how to manage conflict will be expanded. ← XII | 1 →


Foundations of Aggressive Comunication

← 1 | 2 → ← 2 | 3 →


The Development of Aggressive Communication

To say that conflict and disagreement exists everywhere would be to state the obvious. Conflict occurs between all people and in all contexts. If you were to review your interactions with people you encounter from day to day, you can probably recall numerous instances in which your communication with them was marked by disagreement and divergence. That is, you and others seem to see the world in very different ways, and the positions you hold on various issues appear to be incompatible.

For example, you may recall conversations you had with friends, such as, “What is the best comedy program on television?” “Which major in college creates the greatest chance for getting a job after graduation?” “Who makes the best pizza in the city?” “Which brand of jeans is the most attractive?” or “Which current musical performer or group is the best?” One of your authors can recall arguments he had with friends many years ago about who were the better musical groups: the Beatles or the Rolling Stones, the Temptations or the Four Tops. The excitement felt when arguments were presented on a variety of such subjects, and the feelings of satisfaction experienced when he was able to win them over to his side are still palpable decades later. Today, we might hear music critics debate the artistic superiority of Kanye West versus Jay Z. Although the issues, topics, and characters have changed, these types of arguments and the positive feelings about arguing continue today.

You may even consider arguing with friends and colleagues “fun” or a type of recreational activity that is a satisfying alternative to watching television, listening to the radio, or even surfing the internet (Rancer, Baukus, & Infante, 1985; Rancer, Kosberg, & Baukus, 1992). In this context, arguing with someone is seen as stimulating, exciting, and exhilarating, and the outcomes produced by a good argument are deemed constructive and beneficial. These feelings of excitement, interest, and enjoyment may have led you to believe that arguing is a constructive activity and an effective and satisfying way to communicate with people.

As you review your interactions with parents, relational partners, supervisors, spouses, colleagues, children, and even strangers, another, less favorable view of arguing may also emerge. You can no doubt recall instances in which an argument was anything but fun and constructive. That is, the argument you were in might have led to feelings of anger, hurt, embarrassment, or humiliation and may have even led to damaging or the termination of the interpersonal relationship. Perhaps you can recall an example of an argument that became so destructive that it quickly turned to name-calling and may have culminated with the individuals engaged in some form of physical aggression (e.g., shoving, pushing, hitting) or other forms of ← 3 | 4 → violence. Although hopefully less common, these situations may have led you to believe that arguing is something to be avoided at all costs, even if it means having to suppress your true feelings and yield to another person’s wishes. As such, you may have come to believe that arguing is a very destructive form of communication.

Examples of destructive communication behavior during conflict are often highlighted by stories in magazines, in newspapers, on radio, on television, and on the internet. Incivility abounds in the political communication context. In an encounter on an airport tarmac in 2012, Arizona governor Jan Brewer was observed “wagging her finger” in the face of President Obama during a heated interpersonal exchange. Political campaign messages often contain these destructive forms of communication. For example, political attack ads are now ubiquitous. Seiter and Gass (2010) suggest that “the unique nature of politics suggests that, although attacking issues is preferable, attacks on personal characteristics are sometimes fair game . . . in political contexts, it is aimed at damaging the image of an opponent in the eyes of an audience” (p. 219). Morning drive radio is peppered with attacks on people’s character, competence, and physical appearance by so-called “shock jocks.” National radio programs such as The Howard Stern Show and the Rush Limbaugh Program contain numerous instances of this type of communication. In February 2012, Sandra Fluke, a law student at Georgetown University, appeared before Washington lawmakers to advocate the use of free contraception distribution by the Univerity’s health plan. Shortly afterward, Rush Limbaugh described her as a “slut” and a “prostitute” (Walker, 2013). The use of profanity in communication is more ubiquitous than ever. Profanity is pervasive in movies and cable television programs and was becoming more commonplace even on broadcast television programs before the recent crackdown by the Federal Communications Commission (Peterson, 2000).

Constructive communication has taken a marked downturn, even in contexts in which officials and rules are supposed to prevail. According to reports in the media, if you watch children play organized sports you are likely to observe parents shouting obscenities and threats at coaches, referees, and other players (Bayles, 2000, p. 3A).

Even the workplace is not immune from these forms of aggressive behavior. Labeled “workplace aggression” and “workplace bullying,” it is defined as “behavior by an individual or individuals within or outside an organization that is intended to physically or psychologically harm a worker or workers and occurs in a work-related context” (Schat & Kelloway, 2005, p. 191). It includes examples of insults, gossip, hostile e-mail messages, snide comments, threats, spreading rumors, cursing, and even physical aggression (Avtgis & Chory, 2010). It occurs between managers and subordinates and between workplace colleagues and has increased in recent years (Lutgen-Sandvik & Tracy, 2012).

You may have even experienced some conflict today. Consider the following examples: As you got ready to prepare to go to class this morning, both you and your roommate may have wanted to use the bathroom at the same time. With only one bathroom in the apartment, this was impossible and an argument erupted about who should use it first. In a fit of frustration, your roommate says that it was probably a mistake for the two of you to live together and accuses you of being spoiled.

Later in the day, you call your mother and ask if you can borrow some money to repair your car. During the conversation, you and your mom get into it when she states that you lack ← 4 | 5 → control and spend your money recklessly. In your communication research class, the instructor hands back the results of the exam you took the other day. You receive a grade of C- and feel that you were graded unfairly. You follow the professor back to her office and argue that several of the questions were ambiguous and irrelevant to the chapters covered on the test. The professor decides not to yield to your challenge, and your grade of C- stands.

Later on, you open your cell phone bill and find roaming charges for calls that you understood to be unrestricted and part of the plan you signed up for. You call customer service and argue about exactly what is and what is not covered on your “unlimited” plan.

Looking forward to some evening relaxation, you and your significant other discuss where you will go out to eat for dinner. You want Chinese food; your partner wants Italian. An argument erupts when your partner calls you selfish and stubborn because you do not see the merits of Italian over Chinese food. These scenarios represent a few of the situations in which conflict may have emerged in your daily life. Of course, these are but a few of the many forms of conflict communication but the latter examples typify verbal aggressiveness.

The Genesis of the Theory of Argumentative and Aggressive Communication

In 1978, one of the authors was a doctoral student in communication studies at Kent State University. He and his professor, Dominic Infante, were interested in developing a measure of interpersonal communication competence and were discussing what constitutes a competent interpersonal communicator. After a rather exhaustive review of literature, they identified a number of factors research had indicated might be associated with interpersonal communication competence. Among those factors identified were openness and self-disclosure, listening, feedback, supportive communication, empathy, trust, and perspective-taking ability. The list, however, seemed to contain only those factors that might come into play during interpersonal communication in which agreement and interpersonal bonding was the goal. In examining this list of interpersonal communication competence behaviors, they noted the absence of behaviors that deal with communication during interpersonal conflict, communication behaviors that are considered argumentative and aggressive in nature.

Much interpersonal communication takes place when individuals disagree with each other about important relationship issues or when individuals espouse significantly different positions on issues they feel are important to the relationship. After all, almost everyone has held a position contrary to their partner on an important (and sometimes unimportant) relationship issue. As a former intercollegiate debater and debate coach, as well as a student and scholar trained in argumentation, Infante suggested that it might be profitable to explore the influence of personality when people hold different positions on controversial issues. He observed that people seem to differ in their desire and motivation to engage in argumentative behavior. Some people may be seen as incessant arguers, who enjoy engaging in an argument with others no matter who they are arguing with or what the topic of the argument is. Some of these highly argumentative types even talk back to their radio when they disagree with what is being said on one of the many national and local talk radio programs.← 5 | 6 →

It is also apparent that many other individuals rarely voice their position at all on controversial issues. These types of people appear to avoid arguing with others, even when they feel passionate about an issue and despite the fact that it would be in their best interests to do so. For others, the tendency to argue seems to be influenced by factors in the situation; that is, they either increase or dampen their desire to argue depending upon who they are arguing with, what they are arguing about, and the situation or context in which the argument takes place. It was clear, however, that people seem to differ in their underlying motivation to engage in argumentative communication. Thus, a systematic research program was designed to study aggressive communication. We began by defining aggressive communication and then developed a conceptualization and measure of one form of aggressive communication, argumentativeness. In so doing, we made sure to distinguish argumentativeness from another form of aggressive communication, verbal aggressiveness. A few years later, Infante and Wigley (1986) developed a more complete conceptualization and measure of verbal aggressiveness.

Purpose of This Book


XII, 290
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2012 (December)
social science healthcare sports politics digital media verbal aggressiveness nonverbal communication
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2014. XII, 290 pp.

Biographical notes

Andrew S. Rancer (Author) Theodore A. Avtgis (Author)

Andrew S. Rancer (PhD, Kent State University) is Professor of Communication at the University of Akron. He is co-author of four books, including Contemporary Communication Theory; Arguments, Aggression, and Conflict; and Organizational Communication: Strategies for Success. He is the recipient of the Eastern Communication Association’s Centennial Scholar Award and Kent State University’s Distinguished Alumni Award. Theodore A. Avtgis (PhD, Kent State University) is Chairperson and Professor of Communication at Ashland University. He is co-author of six books including Medical Communication: Defining the Discipline and Arguments, Aggression, and Conflict. He is an Eastern Communication Association (ECA) Centennial Scholar and Research Fellow.


Title: Argumentative and Aggressive Communication
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