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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 6 Cognitive Consistency-Driven Message Reception Theories


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The previous two chapters summarized a series of theories consistent with the Gestaltist-inspired presumption of a need for understanding as a motivator for communication-relevant behavior. As described in Chapter One, Gestaltist thought also implies a need for consistency among our cognitions. Specifically, the law of prägnanz implies a drive for simply organized perceptions, such that disorganization results in tension and a drive to perceive the world as orderly. Both Kurt Lewin and Fritz Heider interpreted the relationships among our cognitions in the same vein. Our thoughts should be in a state of equilibrium, and when they are not we feel discomfort and strive to return to that state. The assumed need for cognitive consistency follows.

Although we are not by our nature logicians, cognitive consistency theories assume that the relationship among our cognitions follows from an analogous form of “psycho-logic” that works analogously. Simply put, if we see some connection between A and B and some connection between A and C, then it follows that there is some connection between B and C. Some cognitive consistency theories, such as the symmetry theory, balance theory, and congruity theory, make that psychological relationship explicit. Others describe inconsistencies among two thoughts, in so doing neglecting the requirement ← 181 | 182 → for a third. Cognitive dissonance theory in particular is guilty of this neglect, as I will point out below.

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