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A Survey of Scientific Communication Theory

Charles Pavitt

This detailed survey of present-day scientific communication theory rejects the outmoded «levels» organizational scheme in favor of a system based on the underlying model and fundamental explanatory principle each theory presupposes. In doing so it shows the fundamental similarities among all communication-relevant contexts. Most theories included in the book are causal in nature, derived from one of three underlying models: message production, message reception, or interactive. A few theories take on a functional form, sometimes in dialectic or systemic versions. An introductory chapter describes what is meant by scientific explanation, how that concept is instantiated in scientific communication theory, and delineates the three causal models prevalent in these theories. A useful resource for scholars, this book is suitable for graduate and advanced undergraduate courses in communication theory.
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Chapter 4 Understanding-Driven Message Reception Theories


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Understanding-driven message reception theories share the following characteristics: A person motivated by the need for understanding perceives a message, and then cognitively processes the message in terms of that need: as a piece of information allowing for greater understanding of the topic to which the message is relevant. This greater understanding will make it easier for the person to predict and control phenomena relevant to that topic. Thus, we can conceive of the person as a “naïve scientist” who is using communication as part of an attempt to construct a theory relevant to that topic. The OSPR model is again relevant; the person’s understanding need motivates message reception and processing, during which the information gleaned from the message interacts with preexisting cognitions. The result is a greater understanding of the world.

The impression formation process has been examined in depth by social psychologists, and, although their theories are not fundamentally communicative in nature, the process is partially a result of communication. I begin the chapter by interpreting it in that manner. I then turn to a set of message reception theories that feature two or more processing avenues between the perception of messages and any responses to them. They cover a wide range ← 109 | 110 → of contexts, both face to face and mediated. I finish with work relevant to intercultural and media processes.

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