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Creating Understanding

How Communicating Aligns Minds


Jessica Gasiorek and R. Kelly Aune

What, exactly, is understanding? And how do people create, maintain, and manipulate states of understanding via communication? This book addresses these questions, drawing on interdisciplinary scholarship in cognitive science, communication, psychology, and pragmatics. Rejecting classic descriptions of communication as "sending and receiving messages," this book proposes a novel perspective that depicts communication as a process in which interactants construct, test, and refine mental modes of a joint experience on the basis of the meme states (mental representations) activated by stimuli in social interactions. It explains how this process, when successful, results in interactants' mental models aligning, or becoming entrained—in other words, in creating a state of understanding. This framework is grounded in a set of foundational observations about evolved human cognition that highlight people's intrinsic social orientation, predisposition toward efficiency, and use of predictive interference-making. These principles are also used to explain how codified systems ("codes") emerge in extended or repeated interactions in which people endeavor to create understanding. Integrating and synthesizing research across disciplines, this book offers communication scholars and students a theoretical framework that will transform the way they see understanding, communication, and social connection.

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Chapter Eight: Connections and Implications



Connections and Implications

This chapter discusses how the perspective and model we have introduced complement and connect to a selection of other, extant theories in the discipline of communication. Specifically, we address links to theorizing on adjustment and adaptation in communication, entrainment, expectations and uncertainty, deception, and intercultural and intergroup communication. In this, we underscore the ways in which our framework offers an additional explanatory dimension to traditional concepts and theories in the discipline. We also discuss the theoretical and methodological implications of the conceptualizations, model, and perspective on understanding we have proposed.

The perspective and process model we have proposed in the preceding chapters draw on theoretical and empirical work on communication and understanding from a variety of sources, most of which are outside the discipline of communication. However, we believe the framework we have outlined can both complement and extend other theories in the discipline of communication that address related topics (but do not address understanding focally). In this chapter, we provide examples of some of these potential connections for a selection of theories, and then discuss the theoretical and methodological implications of acknowledging and prioritizing a focus on understanding in communication scholarship.

Adjustment and Adaptation in Communication

Many theories of communication and its effects highlight the importance of adapting or adjusting messages for one’s audience (for a review of theories of interpersonal adjustment, see Gasiorek, 2016). For example, constructivism argues that using messages...

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