ABCD: Impression Management and Impression Formation

Most textbooks in communication (especially those in interpersonal communication) discuss impression management and impression formation, ways in which you communicate the impression you want to communicate and the ways in which you evaluate others. But, the concepts are equally applicable to the small group context, to interviewing, to organizational communication, to computer-mediated communication, and to public speaking. These are crucial concepts for understanding the role of the self and perception in all forms of communication.

Impression Management

Impression management (some writers use the term “self-presentation” or “identity management”) refers to the processes you go through to communicate the impression you want the other person to have of you. The strategies you use to achieve this desired impression will depend on your specific goal. Here are six of the major goals people have in seeking to communicate a specific impression and the strategies they’re likely to use. As you read these, consider your own attempts to communicate the “right” impression to others and the strategies you use to achieve this unique kind of communication.

To Be Liked
If you want to be liked—say you’re new at school or on the job and you want to be well liked, included in the activities of other students or work associates, and be thought of highly by these other people—you’d likely use what are now called affinity-seeking strategies; for example, you might display altruism and be of help to others, or show respect for the other person and help the person feel positive about himself or herself, or you might present yourself as socially equal to the other person.

To Be Believed
Let’s say you’re a politician and you want people to vote for you or to support a particular proposal you’re advancing. In this case you’d probably use credibility strategies, a concept that goes back some 2300 years and supported by contemporary research, and seek to establish your competence, your character, and your charisma. For example, to establish your competence, you might mention your great educational background or the courses you took that qualify you as an expert. To establish that you’re of good character, you might mention how fair and honest you are, your concern for enduring values, or your concern for others. And to establish your charisma—your take-charge, positive personality—you might demonstrate enthusiasm, be emphatic, or focus on the positive while minimizing the negative.

To Excuse Failure
If you were about to tackle a difficult task and were concerned that you might fail, you might use what are called self-handicapping strategies. In the more extreme form of this strategy, you actually set up barriers or obstacles to make the task impossible and so when you fail, you won’t be blamed or thought ineffective—after all, the task was impossible given the circumstances. Let’s say you aren’t prepared for your interpersonal communication exam and you feel you’re going to fail. Well, with this self-handicapping strategy, you might go out and party the night before so that when you do poorly in the exam, you can blame it on the all-night party rather than on your intelligence or knowledge. In the less extreme form, you manufacture excuses for failure and have them ready if you do fail. “The exam was unfair” is one such popular excuse but you might blame a long period without a date on your being too intelligent or too shy or too poor.

To Secure Help
If you want to be taken care of and protected or simply want someone to come to your aid, you might use self-deprecating strategies. Confessions of incompetence and inability often bring assistance from others. And so you might say, “I just can’t fix that drain and it drives me crazy; I just don’t know anything about plumbing” with the hope that the other person will offer help.

To Hide Faults
Much impression management is devoted not merely to presenting a positive image, but to suppressing the negative, to self-monitoring strategies. Here you carefully monitor (self-censor) what you say or do. You avoid your normal slang so as to make your colleagues think more highly of you; you avoid chewing gum so you don’t look juvenile or unprofessional. While you readily disclose favorable parts of your experience, you actively and strategically hide the unfavorable parts.

To Be Followed
In many instances you’ll want to get people to see you as a leader, as one to be followed in thought and perhaps in behavior. Here you can use a variety of influencing strategies. One set of such strategies are those normally grouped under power. And so, for example, you’d stress your knowledge (information power), your expertise (expert power), your right to lead by virtue of your position as, say, a doctor or judge or accountant (legitimate power). Another set of strategies are those of leadership where you might stress your prior experience, your broad knowledge, or your previous successes.

Impression Formation

Impression formation (sometimes referred to as person perception), on the other hand, refers to the processes you go through in forming an impression of another person. Here you would make use of a variety of perception processes, each of which has pitfalls and potential dangers. Here are a few:

Implicit Personality Theory
You might have a subconscious or implicit theory that tells you that certain qualities go with certain other qualities. And so if someone is energetic and eager, you may also infer that this person is intelligent because in this theory, energy, eagerness, and intelligence seem to go together. And so, in forming an impression of someone you might fill in qualities that you don’t observe but nevertheless have confidence that they exist in this person. If you believe a person has a variety of positive qualities, you’re likely to conclude that this person also has other positive qualities that even though you haven’t observed them, you’re pretty sure are present. This is often referred to as the “halo effect.” Similarly, if you believe a person has various negative qualities, you’re likely to conclude that this person also has other negative qualities, a situation referred to as the “reverse halo effect” or the “horns effect.”

Perceptual Accentuation
You may see what you expect or want to see. You see people you like as better looking and smarter than those you don’t like. You magnify or accentuate what will satisfy your needs and desires. This process, called perceptual accentuation, can lead you to perceive what you need or want to perceive rather than what is really there, and to fail to perceive what you don’t want to perceive, even though it is clearly present. For example, you may not perceive signs of impending problems because you’re focusing on what you want to perceive. You may not see signs of relationship deterioration or of your partner’s dissatisfaction because you’re so in love and you want to think that everything is fine.

In some instances you may be overly influenced by what comes first (called a primacy effect) or what comes last (called a recency effect). Research seems to agree that often your initial perceptions will influence your later perceptions. So, if on first meeting you don’t like someone, you’re more likely to find fault with this person or see negative qualities in this person on subsequent meetings. If your first impression is that this person is stupid, you may not see the clever insights that this person has. Not only are initial perceptions influential, they are also very resistant to change. This tendency to give greater importance to initial perceptions and to interpret later information in light of these first impressions can easily lead you to formulate a total picture of an individual on the basis of initial impressions that may not be typical or accurate. For example, if you judge a teacher as hesitant and ill-informed on the first day of class, you may be ignoring the influence of the context (for example, that’s it’s the teacher’s first job and she or he is really nervous). The teacher may be great on subsequent days but your perception may still be influenced by your initial impression. In some instances, of course, you might be more influenced by primacy, by the most recent things, as when you evaluate a singer or movie star by their last performance rather than by earlier efforts.

Often we maintain stereotypes of different ethnic groups or nationalities or affectional orientations. And, in many instances, we may see people through these stereotypes, these generalized pictures that we hold for a group and then apply them to a specific individual. Most often stereotypes are negative and are intended to distance ourselves from those who are unlike us in any of a variety of ways.
You can appreciate the impact that stereotyping has when you realize that it is often coupled with primacy. The process would go like this: (1) you have a stereotype (All Martians are stupid), (2) you apply the stereotype to a person you’re just meeting because you notice the person is of a particular ethnic origin (Martin is a Martian and therefore must be stupid like all other Martians), (3) your initial perception acts as a filter through which your subsequent interactions are seen (That last remark showed no insight; it was pretty stupid), and (4) you continue to see the person through the stereotype (Yep, Martin is just like all the others).

We all have a tendency to maintain balance among our perceptions or attitudes; we want consistency. You expect certain things to go together and other things not to go together. For example, you expect a person you like to like you in return. And, you probably also expect your friend to dislike your enemy and your enemy to dislike your friend. As you can see, this tendency to strive for consistency may lead you astray and to fail to see that your friend actually likes your enemy.

You also try to analyze the reasons or motivations for someone’s actions (or your own actions, for that matter). For example, if someone stands you up for a date, you probably want to figure out the reasons for this. Let’s say the person met some friends and preferred staying with them. If this is the case then you’d likely consider the person responsible for standing you up and you’d likely be disturbed by the behavior. But, let’s say the person was in a car accident on the way to meet you. In this case, you’d not consider the person responsible and you’d likely not be disturbed by being stood up. Generally, if you see the person as being in control of positive behavior, your perception is likely to be favorable. If you see the person as being in control of negative behavior, your perception is likely to be unfavorable. Of course, the down side to this analysis and the reason why so many attributions are incorrect is that you seldom can be certain of whether or not someone was or was not in control of his or her behavior. And when it comes to our own self-perceptions, you may come to excuse your failures by claiming that you weren’t responsible (if you do poorly at an interview you may blame it on the interviewer, for example). One of the dangers of this is that if you do make such excuses, you may not come to grips with the problem and its potential solution; after all, if it’s the interviewer’s fault why bother improving your own interviewing techniques.

Both impression management and impression formation are largely the result of the messages communicated; you manage the impression you give to other people by what you say (your verbal messages) and how you act and dress as well as how you decorate your office or apartment (your nonverbal messages). And you form impressions of others largely on the basis of how they communication, verbally and nonverbally.
Communication messages, however, are not the only means for impression management and impression formation. For example, you also communicate your self image and judge others by the people you and they associate with; if you associate with A-list people, then surely you must be A-list yourself. Similarly, you might form an impression of someone on the basis of that person’s age or gender. Or you might rely on what others have said about the person and form impressions that are consistent with these comments. And of course, they might well do the same in forming impressions of you.
Part of the art and skill of communication is to understand and be able to manage the processes by which others form impressions of you—to master the art of impression management, to present yourself as you want others to see you. Equally important is the ability to understand and be able to recognize how you form impressions of others. Are your impressions logical? Are they based on prejudices? Are they in need of updating? Are they the result of jealousy or compassion?


ABCD: Communication Apprehension and Related Terms

Communication apprehension is a fear of speaking (see, for example, Richmond & McCroskey, Communication: Apprehension, avoidance, and effectiveness, 5th ed. (Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 1998). Communication apprehension comes in two different forms: (1) trait apprehension influences all communication situations (you’ll fear and try to avoid all forms of communication interaction) and (2) state apprehension influences only certain situations. So, if you have state apprehension you may fear public speaking but have no fear or very little when speaking in groups or interpersonally. Or, you may fear speaking with new people. According to one survey between 10 and 20 percent of college students suffer “severe, debilitating communication apprehension” and another 20 percent suffer from apprehension to the degree that it interferes with their normal functioning (McCroskey & Wheeless, 1976).
Shyness refers to a general reluctance to interact with others. The term generally refers to a disposition, a general personality trait that influences all interactions. Yet, shy people are often more shy in some situations than in others. For example, people may be more shy in interacting with those in superior positions and much less shy when interacting with peers or family members. According to the Encyclopedia of Mental Health, in an article by Lynne Henderson and Philip Zimbardo, shyness may be defined as “discomfort and/or inhibition in interpersonal situations that interferes with pursuing one’s interpersonal or professional goals.” Notice that Henderson and Zimbardo define shyness as dysfunctional—it interferes with your pursuing your own interpersonal or professional goals. Among the behavioral symptoms of shyness are: gaze aversion, dry mouth, low speaking voice, little body movement, dysfluencies in speech, sweating, and even dizziness. Affectively, shy people are more likely to feel shame, have low self-esteem, and feel lonely, depressed, and anxious.
Social phobia (more often referred to as social anxiety) is defined in the DSM-IV-TR as “an anxiety disorder characterized by a strong and persistent fear of social or performance situations in which the patient might feel embarrassment or humiliation.” As with communication apprehension, social phobia can be general—in which case you fear all or most social interactions and performances—or situational in which case only certain social situations (such as perhaps public speaking) generate fear. Notice especially that social phobia is described as a “disorder.” One researcher distinguishes it from shyness this way: “Shyness is a common human trait. Social anxiety is an emotional and behavioral illness causing immense suffering and severe impairment of functioning (Fishman, New York Times, 9/27/07, p. A32).
Reticence, developed by Gerald Philips (see Help for Shy People, Spectrum, 1981) refers to the reluctance to engage in communication and to avoid social and public interactions. Reticence is viewed as a problem of inadequate communication skills and the “treatment” is, logically enough, the acquisition of communication skills.
Unwillingness to communicate is a type of communication apprehension and refers to a person’s reluctance to communicate with others. See, for example, Judee K. Burgoon, “The Unwillingness to Communicate Scale: Development and Validation,” Communication Monographs 43 (1976):60-69.
As you can see, all of these terms refer to essentially the same phenomena—a fear of communication, a reluctance to interact with others. This fear can be mild—in which case it may even motivate you to do an especially thorough job in preparing your speech, for example—or severe (as in social anxiety)—in which case it may severely hinder your achieving your goals—to meet people, to have friends, to interview for a job, to attend company meetings, to give public presentations. Some of the definitions—mainly the ones from psychologists—view this behavior (social phobia, shyness) as dysfunctional, as a disorder. The other definitions—mainly those from communication theorists—view this behavior (communication apprehension, reticence, and unwillingness to communicate), as potentially dysfunctional but not necessarily so. These latter definitions view the behavior as one that can be changed largely through the acquisition of skills and appropriate experience.
Because of the importance of such effects most textbooks, especially in public speaking, discuss ways to reduce such communication apprehension. For example, I include the suggestion that you try to reverse the several factors known to cause apprehension. It’s helpful, for example, to gain experience with different kinds of speaking situations so that you can reduce the apprehension that newness and inexperience often bring. Additional suggestions include practicing performance visualization, systematically desensitizing yourself, and learning to think differently about yourself and your communication abilities (a kind of cognitive restructuring).
Two of the leading researchers in this general area maintain extremely useful websites; each deserves a visit. James McCroskey’s website may be found at www.jamescmccroskey.com and contains a wide variety of measuring instruments on fear of speaking along with papers and articles on the topic. Philip Zimbardo’s website may be found at www.zimbardo.com and contains a section on the shyness clinic in addition to papers and articles on a variety of topics.


ABCD: Self-Esteem

Self-esteem refers to the opinion you have of yourself; it’s your perceived self- value or self-worth. Self-esteem may be viewed as the evaluative part of your self-concept. That is, part of your self-concept consists of how valuable or worthy you think you are and that part is called self-esteem (Adler & Stewart, www.macses.ucsf.edu/Research/Psychosocial/notebook/self-esteem.html). One widely used definition is that self-esteem refers to a favorable or unfavorable attitude toward the self (M. Rosenberg, Society and the adolescent self-image, Princeton University Press, 1965). In popular usage, the term usually refers to positive evaluations (in fact, Webster’s defines it as “holding a good opinion of one’s self; self-complacency”) but it can just as easily refer to negative opinions. Thus, you may have high self-esteem and think highly of yourself or low self-esteem in which case you think negatively about yourself. And of course you may have high self-esteem when it comes to certain topics and low self-esteem when it comes to other topics. For example, you might have high self-esteem on the ball field but low self-esteem in the chemistry lab. Concepts such as “self-confidence,” “body esteem,” and “self-efficacy” (your sense of competence) refer to some of the more specific forms of self-esteem.
Another way of defining self-esteem is to examine the items in the scale presented below as you measure your own self-esteem. It’s the most widely used and most highly regarded scale to measure self-esteem:

Below is a list of statements dealing with your general feelings about yourself. If you strongly agree, circle SA. If you agree with the statement, circle A. If you disagree, circle D. If you strongly disagree, circle SD.

1. I feel that I’m a person of worth, at least on an equal plan with others. SA, A, D, SD
2. I feel that I have a number of good qualities. SA, A, D, SD.
3. All in all, I am inclined to feel that I am a failure. SA, A, D, SD.
4. I am able to do things as well as most other people. SA, A, D, SD.
5. I feel I do not have much to be proud of. SA, A, D, SD.
6. I take a positive attitude toward myself. SA, A, D, SD.
7. On the whole, I am satisfied with myself. SA, A, D, SD.
8. I wish I could have more respect for myself. SA, A, D, SD.
9. I certainly feel useless at times. SA, A, D, SD.
10. At times I think I am no good at all. SA, A, D, SD.
Scoring: to score the items, assign the following values to each of your responses.
For items 1, 2, 4, 6, and 7: SA = 3, A = 2, D = 1, SD = 0 (these are the items that are positively valenced, indicating high self-esteem). For items 3, 5, 8, 9, 10: SA = 0, A = 1, D = 2, SD = 3 (these are the items that are negatively valenced, indicating low self-esteem).
Next, add all your responses. Your score should range from 0 (indicating extremely low self-esteem) to 30 (indicating extremely high self-esteem).
*This scale comes from Morris Rosenberg, Society and the Adolescent Self-Image (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1965) and is used by permission (http://www.bsos.umd.edu/socy/grad/socpsy_rosenberg.html).

What’s particularly interesting about self-esteem is that it seems almost universally regarded as a good thing, as something that will influence positively what you do. High self-esteem, it is often thought, will lead to better academic performance, better job performance, and increased likeability—after all, it seems reasonable to assume that people with high self-esteem will perform better in school and on the job and will also be liked socially more than will people who have low self-esteem. However, the research that has been done on these topics—and there is much available—doesn’t really show that self-esteem leads to these benefits (R. F. Baumeister, J. D. Campbell, J. I. Krueger, and K. D. Vohs, Exploding the Self-Esteem Myth, www.ScientificAmerican.com, 2004). Rather, the research shows that there is a high correlation between the two. Thus, people with high self-esteem do function better academically. But, the question that this doesn’t answer is, Does the high self-esteem lead to better academic performance, or does better academic performance lead to high self-esteem? The same is true for job performance and for being liked by peers and associates. Unfortunately, some books and articles make it appear that the high correlation is somehow also causal; it isn’t.
When it comes to relationships, it may be argued that positive self-esteem helps in the development and maintenance of relationships and lessens the likelihood of relationship deterioration (C. L. Carmichael, F. Tsai, S. M. Smith, P. A. Caprariello, and H. T. Reis, “The Self and Intimate Relationships” in The Self, ed., C. Sedikides and S. J. Spencer (NY: Psychology Press, 2007, pp. 285-309). If you have high self-esteem, the argument goes, it seems you’d be more likely and more willing to initiate relationships than you would if you had low self-esteem. On the other hand, high self-esteem may lead you to wait until someone tries to initiate a relationship with you. After all, if you’re that hot, an alternative argument would hold, others should come to you.
In terms of maintenance and deterioration, you might assume that people with high self-esteem would maintain faith in themselves even when things in the relationship are going wrong. And they’ll believe that they have the ability to set things right; they’d be willing to fight for their relationship and be confident that they’d win. Low self-esteem people might feel incapable of re-directing a relationship and so may give up. On the other hand, you might argue that high self-esteem people, in a somewhat unhappy relationship, will feel that there are “other fish in the sea” and may simply move on to another relationship. A person low in self-esteem, however, might feel that this relationship needs to be saved because other relationships will not be easy to establish.
The research bearing on these issues does point to some positive benefits of self-esteem. For example, high positive self-esteem seems to improve persistence even in the face of failure, helps people perform better in groups, and decreases the likelihood that the individual will develop eating disorders (Baumeister, Campbell, Krueger, and Vohs, 2004). But, these benefits are a far cry from the larger benefits we assume will accrue to high self-esteem individuals.
It remains for research to go beyond establishing correlations to establishing causal relationships where we can say with some certainty that high self-esteem produces or leads to or causes specific positive or negative effects. One final thought. The widely acknowledged importance and usefulness of self-esteem coupled with the paucity of research confirming these values makes it difficult to know what the best thing to do is when writing the chapter on the self in an interpersonal or human communication textbook. In fact, I rethink this issue with every new edition. My solution—and please tell me if you disagree—has been to include a discussion of self-esteem but at the same time include a cautionary note that there is little research supporting the many beneficial claims. And so, for example, I also include several suggestions for increasing self-esteem: attack your self-destructive beliefs, secure affirmation from others through the exercise of effective communication skills, seek out nourishing people, and work on projects that will result in success and at the same time avoid projects that are simply impossible. But, I fear that the cautionary note gets lost because it seems so logical that self-esteem would have all these wonderful benefits and perhaps because we want it to.


College Endowments

It seems from recent reports that some of the largest fortunes are owned not merely by Bill Gates and Warren Buffet but by colleges and universities throughout the country. For example, Harvard University leads the list and has an endowment of $28 billion; Yale is second with $18 billion, Stanford is third with $14 billion, and the University of Texas is fourth and Princeton is fifth, each with a little more than $13 billion. Rounding out the top ten are MIT, Columbia, University of California, University of Michigan, and Texas A&M. Despite these enormous bank accounts, colleges pay no taxes. The people who work for them--cleaning the hallways, serving in the cafeterias, and running the physical plant, for example—pay taxes (often on minimum or near-minimum wages) but the university itself pays none. This is not to say that colleges should pay taxes—although if those with these large endowments did pay, it would ease the tax burden on every other US citizen—but rather to illustrate the sweet deal they have.
In contrast Bill Gate’s fortune is estimated at $56 billion and Warren Buffet’s at $52 billion—admittedly more than even Harvard and Yale. But, consider what these fortunes are used for. Gates has established the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (now estimated at around $33 billion) which has contributed enormously to global health and research. And Warren Buffet has pledged close to $31 billion to the Gates foundation.
Given the example set by these two individuals—who, admittedly, are not typical—we need ask what these universities—also not typical—with endowments in the billions are doing with their money. As far as I can tell, they are doing very little other than investing it for growth (Harvard’s investments grew at a rate of 16.7% this last year while Yale’s grew at a rate of 17.2%) and running campaigns to raise still more money.
With a large part of the world starving, lacking clean water, and suffering from diseases (many of which could be prevented with adequate medical treatment), it seems that these universities have an obligation to pitch in and help out the rest of the world. What are these universities waiting for before they spend some of their money? Are they guarding against inflation (even though they raise tuition at a rate far in excess of the rate of inflation)? The world would be a lot better, to take one simple example, if just the five universities with the largest endowments gave half their fortunes to charity (a total of $43 billion), death from preventable illnesses could likely be made history throughout the world. These universities would still have enough for their day-to-day operation. I suspect that Harvard could easily get along with an endowment of only $14 billion and Yale could manage to eke out an existence with only $9 billion.
And to relate this just a bit to communication: Very few people seem to ask the question of what a college's responsibility is and what purpose these enormous endowments serve. I suspect people don't question this because these schools are expert communicators--their PR is unquestionably among the best in the world.


The Task of Rhetoric (Again)

So, the Washington Supreme Court has ruled that the law making it unlawful to lie about political candidates is itself unconstitutional and thereby has given politicians the freedom to lie about their opponents. And this, of course, is not an uncommon situation; Washington is just one state to rule that truth is not required when talking about politicians. The law allows lying and, in fact, will encourage politicians to develop deceptive strategies as long as they work. The only criterion that would need to be considered is effectiveness. Ethics doesn’t have to enter the equation. Here, then, is just another example of why a useful path (maybe not the only path) for rhetoric would be the focus on deception in public discourse. Someone or some group needs to be there to point out the deceptions such rulings will encourage as well as those deceptions that just seem to have become standard political discourse. No group seems better qualified than our own rhetoricians who already have an arsenal of methods and research strategies to apply to what seems to me to be a pretty important issue. Or should we rewrite our textbooks in public speaking, persuasion, public relations, and advertising to exclude ethics from the equation?


The Task of Rhetoric

Aristotle said that rhetoric was the art of observing in any given case all the available means of persuasion. Francis Bacon said rhetoric was the art of applying “reason to imagination for the better moving of the will.” George Campbell called it eloquence and defined it as “the art or talent by which discourse is adapted to its end.” I. A. Richards, perhaps trying to give rhetoric a really useful mission, said that rhetoric ought to be “a study of misunderstanding and its remedies.” And Kenneth Burke argued that rhetoric should focus, not on persuasion, but on identification. And there are hundreds of other suggested foci proposed over the 2300 years since Aristotle.

I’d like to propose yet another focus and task for rhetoric and that is that rhetoric should be the study of deception in public discourse, its causes and effects. A case in point: President Bush claimed recently that “This government does not torture people.” Well, here’s a perfect opportunity to illustrate just how much in error that statement is. Rhetoricians would be serving a unique and extremely useful purpose in devoting at least some of their energies to the study of deception in public, why people lie in public, and what effects these deceptive messages have on an audience and a nation.


ABCD: Stereotype

The term stereotype comes into the behavioral sciences such as psychology, communication, and sociology from the world of printing. A stereotype in printing was the mold or plate that was used to print the same image or piece of text over and over again. In his Public Opinion (1921) journalist Walter Lippmann used the term to refer to the “pictures in our heads.” These pictures or ingrained images in our head lead us to interpret what we see or hear in terms of these images. And so instead of seeing a particular migrant worker as an individual, you perceive this person filtered through the image you have in your head of “migrant workers.” Stereotypes are thinking-shortcuts; instead of concerning yourself with the specific individual, it’s a lot easier to simply apply the stereotype (the fixed image).
The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy defines stereotype as “a generalization, usually exaggerated or oversimplified and often offensive, that is used to describe or distinguish a group.” The American Heritage Dictionary defines it as “a conventional, formulaic, and oversimplified conception, opinion, or image. The Media Awareness Network (www.media-awareness.ca) defines stereotype as “A fixed, commonly held notion or image of a person or group, based on an oversimplification of some observed or imagined trait of behavior or appearance.”
Although we often think of stereotypes as racial (and many are), stereotypes may actually refer to any group covered by the same label. If you can name the group to which an individual belongs, it’s possible to entertain a stereotype about that group and hence that individual.
Here’s a quick way to begin examining your own stereotypes. Consider the images that come to mind when you hear such group names as the elderly, lesbians, Republicans, grandparents, college students, or athletes. If the images that come to mind are vivid and clear cut, it’s likely that you have strong stereotypes. If no images or a varied group of very different images come to mind, then it’s likely that you don’t have strong stereotypes. Recognize too that stereotypes are, especially within the college environment, negatively perceived and so people are likely to minimize their own stereotypes at least when talking with others. Yet, stereotypes exert considerable influence on most people, even those who deny they have stereotypes.
Stereotypes—as the definitions cited make clear—are usually offensive; they have negative connotations. The elderly as absent minded, the athlete as dumb, or the mother-in-law as trouble maker—and you can easily fill in many others that are a lot more offensive—are examples that come readily to mind and that are negative. But, there are many stereotypes that are positive; the grandparent as all-loving and all-caring, the Asian student as dedicated and bright, and the African American as strong and athletic are good examples.
Three main problems that can result from stereotyping should be mentioned here.
First, stereotypes influence what you think about specific people who are members of a group. Because stereotypes are overly general, they frequently distort your perceptions of others, especially your initial perceptions. If you see a person through a stereotype, you’ll apply characteristics that go with the stereotype (illegal, loyal to family, dirty, hard working, and so on) but these characteristics may not apply to this particular individual. In this way you fail to perceive the individual accurately.
Second, you may fail to see the uniqueness in an individual if you only see him or her through your stereotype. And after all, meeting and interacting with other people are enjoyable largely because of the individual’s uniqueness. If you fail to see this, you’ll fail to enjoy and perhaps profit from this individual’s uniqueness.
Third, stereotypes—because they assume all members covered by the same label have the same characteristics—can often form the basis of (and often a misguided justification for) discrimination. If you can say that all members of X group are Y (and if Y is something negative), then discrimination in hiring, promoting, respecting, or learning from can easily follow. If all Martians are stupid or lazy or uneducated, then there’s little sense in hiring or promoting them and you certainly wouldn’t respect them or feel you could learn anything from them. General Semanticists, in their emphasis on recognizing uniqueness in everything and everyone, put it this way: “The more you discriminate among, the less you can discriminate against.” The more you distinguish among Martians, for example, the less you can discriminate against the group. The reason is simple: If you distinguish among members of a group, any stereotype will surely break down and be shown to be inadequately descriptive because you will see the enormous diversity within any group of people.
Stereotypes are relevant to all forms of communication but perhaps especially to intercultural communication. When you communicate with people who are different from you in terms of religion, nationality, ethnic background, affectional orientation, age, or gender, for example, you run the risk of interpreting them and their messages in terms of stereotypes.
With increased exposure to a wide variety of the members of any one group, your stereotypes are likely to breakdown. The reason for this is that through such exposure you’ll see the variations between and among individuals rather than the sameness that defined your stereotype. Once you see that gay men, for example, are as varied in their attitudes and values as are heterosexual men, you’ll have trouble retaining generalizations or stereotypes; you’ll see that there are just too many differences among gay men for any stereotype (despite Will and Grace) to seem reasonable.
Perhaps the best kind of exposure is through actual communication interaction. Reading about different groups or watching movies portraying group members will also help. And that, to my way of thinking, is one of the great advantages of a college education. It ensures that you’ll get this kind of exposure—to a wide variety of types of people (teachers and students) and to a wide variety of ideas about people, through lectures and readings.


Access to Research*

Here is the revised/final version of my Access to Research rant; this took a lot more time to write than I orignally thought. Hopefully, it will generate some useful discussion. I also sumbitted this to crtnet but don't know if it will appear.

The decision by many academic associations, including NCA, to partner with large publishing houses to print and market their journals has many advantages. Taylor & Francis—the publisher of NCA’s journals—identifies some of these in its position statement on copyright and author rights (www.Taylor&Francis.com). It provides for editing in a consistent style, digitizes the articles, includes meta-tags so that the research may be abstracted and indexed, registers the digital object identifier, and monitors electronic use of the research article. “In all our,” notes the T&F website, “we are working for the benefit of authors to ensure maximum access to and use of their articles, and to ensure that authors may gain from the goodwill associated with publishing in a Taylor & Francis journal. Yet, we are also seeking to enhance the reputation and prestige of the Journal, its editors and editorial board, its peer review processes, and the added value brought by the journal and its publisher.”
In addition, my understanding is that Taylor & Francis pays the professional association publishing the journals a fee (I have no idea what amount of money, if any, was paid to NCA) which the association can then use at its discretion, ideally perhaps to improve member services or to keep membership costs low (I have no idea what NCA did with the money, if, indeed, NCA did receive any money).
These advantages are important but may not fully justify this exclusive partnership. And some of these “advantages” may not be advantages at all. There may be a down side that should also be considered. Specifically, such exclusive partnering may not be in the best interests of (1) the field, (2) the authors of the articles, or (3) students and researchers trying to access this material. (4) Nor does it seem consistent with the notion that information should be available to all without consideration of financial resources.
(1) This partnering may not be in the best interests of the field of communication. If a major purpose of research publication is its dissemination throughout the academic community as well as the general population, then charging fees for access to the full-text article will clearly work against that purpose.
The aim of a professional organization such as NCA should be to get its research and theory out to others. Other things being equal, the fewer the restrictions, the more widely the material will likely be used. Psychologist George Miller, in his 1969 APA presidential address, urged his colleagues and the field in general to give psychology away by which he meant that psychologists should make a special effort to make their work available and relevant to everyone. [Speaking in 1969 Miller likely had no idea that articles could be digitized and made available to millions of people throughout the world right at their own desks. But, if he did, he surely would have been on the side of the free content movement advocating open access without restrictions to academic literature.] This idea has been echoed more recently by APA’s CEO, Raymond D. Fowler (www.apa.org/monitor/may99/rc.html) and seems a dominant theme of APA’s current website (www.apa.org).
In my view, this is exactly what the field of communication should be doing—giving its research and theory away. And, since the values of a discipline and its academic journals are measured, at least in part, by how often its theory and research are referenced, it seems only logical to make this research more, not less, readily available. This is even more important for Communication which has so often been called upon to defend its status as a discipline and its academic integrity.
The counter-argument to this is that this partnering actually increases the likelihood that NCA journal articles will be cited. The people who count, that is, professors and students—the argument continues—already have access to these articles (paid for by their colleges). In addition to this argument being obviously ethnocentric (after all, they’re really talking about American professors and students), it seems seriously lacking in supporting evidence. But, more important, before even considering the validity of this argument, it’s necessary to first examine the alternatives and compare them to the current system. My argument is that these alternatives have not been explored as fully as they should have been and should be now. And because of this, we really can’t determine if the current system is best serving the purposes of NCA members.
There are currently some good examples of giving communication away. One very good one and one that seems worthy of imitating is James McCroskey’s website which includes 43 communication research measures that “may be used for research or instructional purposes with no individualized permission. There is no cost for this use” (http://jamescmccroskey.com/measures/). Other examples include the journals Human Communication, Journal of Global Mass Communication, Russian Journal of Communication, Journal of Health & Mass Communication, Journal of Media Law & Ethics, and Journal of Communication Studies. Not only will these journals allow authors to retain the copyright of their article, but the journals will be open access, available electronically at no charge to the public.
NCA’s new online journal, Communication Currents (www.communicationcurrents.com), is another example of giving communication away. But, this is not enough, especially for an organization as large and as prestigious as NCA. In fact, after Goggling communication terms and concepts almost every day for hours each day since the advent of this new online journal, Communication Currents did not shown up once in the thousands of websites examined. And while my experience may not be typical, most members would agree, I think, that one slim online journal covering popular topics is surely not enough for a national organization and its affiliated organizations that together publish 20 or so journals and hundreds of research articles each year.
(2) This partnering may not be in the best interests of authors and researchers. Authors of the articles who want their research cited widely will suffer because fewer people will be willing to pay and go through the registration process for access to the research. It’s often easier to move on, avoid the annoying and costly paywalls, and find articles that are available in full text right there on your computer screen.
The same is true for reprinting articles or portions of articles from journals published under these restrictions. Recently, for example, I wanted to reprint five statements (a total of 52 words) that appeared as a measure of apprehension in the employment interview from a 1993 article in Communication Research Reports by Ayres, Ayres, and Sharp. Taylor & Francis, the journal’s publisher, wanted a fee of $638. Since the book was to be made available free with the purchase of other books, it did not have a budget that could support this kind of permission fee, and so the piece was deleted from the manuscript. I suspect (though I have no evidence) that the authors of the research were never consulted and had no say in the price Taylor & Francis put on their work or of the request to reprint their material.
While this was not a major inconvenience given the purpose of this piece in this particular text, the practice of charging such high rates can seriously damage new scholarly books or textbooks or their revisions. For example, if an author contemplates doing a reader—traditionally a book with a small audience and hence a small permission budget and yet a type of book that is crucial to small and emerging areas within communication—but the most relevant articles are from NCA publications and are too expensive, the alternatives are, unfortunately, to not use NCA articles or to cancel the proposed text. It’s a situation where no one wins.
Of course, having research reprinted in a textbook is certainly not a researcher’s major goal, nor should it be; but, it seems a nice bonus for researchers to know that their work is being read by students numbering in the 10s of thousands as well as by colleagues using the text.
Professional organizations like NCA do, I understand, maintain certain rights and can, in some cases, override these permission fees; yet, the control is still largely in the hands of the journal owners, not the author. For example, I, a not unseasoned author, didn’t know that I could have appealed the $638 fee to NCA. And anyway, this kind of appeal is simply not in the organizational system; permission editors wouldn’t know that they could do this. Further, and most important, it would just make work for NCA’s National Office which has more important business.
Nielsen/Net-Ratings estimate that 92 percent of all Internet searches that were conducted in the United States in June of 2007 were through Google, Yahoo, or Microsoft (www.mercurynews.com/portlet/article/html/fragments/print_article.jsp.?ARTICLEID=64, accessed 7/28/07). This means that at least 92 percent of all Internet searches would not yield one full-text NCA article without hitting a paywall.
Further, authors should consider the consequences of putting their research into another’s hands. For example, there are a number of restrictions identified on the Taylor & Francis website—not an easy read, btw, and so this is my interpretation—in a statement oddly called “the rights that you retain as author” (www.Taylor&Francis.com). For example, if you published an article in an NCA journal partnered with Taylor & Francis you would not be able to post your own published article on your own website or blog for a period of 12 to 18 months after publication. You would also be restricted from including your article in a dissertation if the dissertation is to be published commercially. At least this is what I get from reading the website. Authors should naturally check for themselves and not rely on this abbreviated account.
At this point, it becomes interesting to realize that the authors, journal referees, and journal editors all work for free (with perhaps some released teaching time also given free by the college) but that the publisher or printer is the only one to earn a profit.
NCA’s partnering with one publisher (in this case, Taylor & Francis) hands this publisher a virtual monopoly on communication research which is probably not in the best interests of the field. It’s also not clear, to me at least (one with no legal expertise at all), how this differs from what I understand to be the recent situation in which Wadsworth was encouraged by the Department of Justice to divest itself of certain communication textbooks, lest they be found in violation of DOJ regulations regarding monopoly in interpersonal and human communication.
For good or ill, the current academic system requires the vast majority of academics to publish in the field’s journals. They have no choice but to offer their work free of charge to a publisher and to agree to turn control of that research study over to the publisher that will then earn income from selling access to the research study. But, while the individual researcher has no choice, academic associations do. NCA, for example, has the choice to partner with these publishers and thus restrict the work of its own members to those who will pay for it or grant wider access and in fact encourage the giving away of our research and theory.
And while it may be argued that the interests of national academic associations are consistent with the interests of their members, this may not be true in all cases and certainly seems questionable here. The young assistant professor is not interested in how much money the association makes but with the access that others will have to his or her research so that it might get cited widely and thus help secure promotion or tenure.
(3) This partnering may not be in the best interests of students and researchers trying to access communication research. One of the reasons why access to these articles is of little concern to most professionals in communication or in any other academic field in the United States (and perhaps why so few people I’ve contacted actually know the terms of these agreements) is that we, as already noted, have access to these research databases through our college libraries. Similarly, students in most colleges in the United States have access through their college libraries. But, not everyone is so fortunate. Independent writers and researchers, for example, who are not associated with colleges that pay for access, will likely not have the financial resources to purchase the articles themselves. One of my former students and sometime communication instructor is perhaps typical of many; she has no access to full length articles—“the costs are high,” she writes, “and certainly not in the budget of a retiree.” Again, everyone loses in this situation—the retiree wanting to conduct her research and make a contribution as well as those who would learn from her research.
As a result, these people are likely to rely on the abstracts (which are generally available without charge) or on the more general (and much less authoritative) articles that are available on blogs and commercial websites. These articles—many of which are ill-informed, overly general, and often lacking any ethical foundation—will come to define the field of communication to the general population and to the non-communication professional unless we supplement (or even supplant) these with the solid research and theory studies that NCA’s journals publish regularly and that is easily and inexpensively available (or free). If you have a Google alert on “nonverbal communication” or regular search the web for this topic, you’d see a perfect example of this. Just about every day and sometimes more than once a day, articles report that 93% of our meaning is communicated nonverbally. This is not the kind of disinformation that communication professionals should want disseminated. But the important point to see is that we are actively supporting a system that make this type of information readily available (and hence easily cited) but our research and theory available only after paying a fee. So, while our (NCA and its members) objective is to disseminate well tested principles of communication (among other functions), we are actually helping to create a situation where much less reliable information becomes more readily available and more likely believed and acted upon.
Colleges pay for the databases to which their students are given access. And many textbook publishers also pay for the databases that they offer with their textbooks—Research Navigator at Allyn & Bacon and InfoTrac at Wadsworth are good examples. Not surprisingly, the cost of these databases is figured into the tuition a college charges its students and the cost of the textbook that publishers charge. The question that needs to be asked here is why should academic associations contribute to this increase in the cost of tuition and textbooks? And, perhaps more important, are there any alternatives?
One of the problems here is that once these large publishers gain more control over a discipline’s journals, their prices are likely to rise, creating an even greater information divide between those colleges that have the money and those that don’t. Harvard students have greater access to information than students at hundreds of small, private, and under-funded colleges throughout the country and especially throughout much of the world. And of course the prices for these databases often figure into the tuition charged which does nothing to lessen the culture gap between the haves and the have-nots. Small private colleges and their students suffer disproportionately since there is seldom the kind of money available that is needed to purchase access to these databases. While it may not discourage the start-up of new and innovative colleges (though I’m not completely sure of this), surely it would figure into what other academic programs or college services would need to be reduced to pay for this essential but expensive access to research. A college may chose to sacrifice a multitude of programs and services, but it cannot exist without providing their faculty and students with access to research. The current system, in fact, forces colleges to sacrifice certain services to pay for access to research that researchers gave to the journals without charge—a rather disconcerting irony.
Students and researchers in developing countries will suffer even more and will never be able to acquire the information they’ll need to become truly educated and truly competitive; their libraries and schools simply do not have the financial resources needed to purchase access to this research. These are problems that NCA’s current policies, and those of similar professional organizations, actively help to create and enlarge when they should be acting to minimize such discrepancies. [In fairness, I should add, that it is quite possible that NCA did investigate the impact of these decisions on, say, the access that schools in Southeast Asia, Africa, and Latin America would have to NCA journals; I really don’t know. I hope these questions were raised.]
(4) Last, this partnering may not be justifiable in an ethical sense. We need to consider the ethical issues concerning the extent to which research and theory should be free or should come with a price tag, often a high tag. Taylor & Francis currently charges $25 per article to read online. (I have no idea if this fee can be increased by Taylor & Francis, by NCA, by both, or if the membership of NCA has any say in determining or in raising such fees.) If NCA journals become “iOpenAccess” journals—Taylor & Francis currently publishes 175 such journals largely in the science areas—authors will be able to make their own articles available for free on the Taylor & Francis website for a “one-off fee of $3100”. In addition, there is no 12 to 18 month embargo for posting your own iOpenAccess article. Is this the direction that NCA wants to go? Colleges with large budgets will be able to pay the fee for their faculty while less well-off colleges will not, creating a different but equally pernicious division between the haves and the have-nots. As you can easily imagine there will likely be few researchers in the developing world who will be able to afford this $3100 fee.
It is not at all clear by what right an organization takes possession of the research it publishes, sells it to a profit-making organization such as Taylor & Francis, and pays the author—not anything that the author negotiates, but what the professional organization negotiates, or, in most cases, nothing at all. The college or university that provides a reduced teaching load for a professor to conduct and publish research also gets nothing and yet it, in some ways, paid for the research. Similarly, these colleges (as well as the various government and private agencies that fund research) get only the prestige from the published research; they get no money which, it might be hoped, could be recycled to support more research.
All this is not to say that there are no advantages to such partnering. Publishing journals is obviously expensive and the cost of these publications must be taken into consideration. But, the easy way out—allowing the printer to control the published research to this large a degree—may be a cost too high to pay given that (1) the primary mission of an academic association is to disseminate its findings and make them available to all; (2) the needs and desires of those who conduct, write, and publish is to get their research disseminated as widely as possible and not just to those willing to pay for it; (3) the needs of students, researchers, and the population in general are to access the research and theory of a discipline easily and at no or low cost; and that (4) there seem reasonable ethical principles that would argue that information must be free and available to all.
All this is not to fault NCA or any professional organization or even Taylor & Francis and similar publishers but rather to suggest that it may be profitable to consider alternatives. There may be other (and better) ways to accomplish the goals of making our research readily available that do not include this exclusive partnership, but without sacrificing the advantages that publishers like Taylor & Francis do offer. Perhaps NCA could partner with other professional organizations and make their research available at a much reduced cost or even free. With more and more members opting to receive their journals online (rather than in print form), the cost of journal publishing decreases and becomes more easily capable of being covered by membership fees. Alternatives should, it seems, be considered.

*A bit of history. I began writing this essay to encourage the field of communication (I guess, mainly NCA members) to look at the potential down side of the practice of partnering with publishers who require a significant fee for accessing articles. I originally submitted this piece (cut to the required 1000 word limit) to Spectra. Oddly enough, I got two rejections (for the same submission). The first rejection (9/14/07) read: “Unfortunately we are not able to include it in Spectra as it is written as an OP Ed piece and Spectra does not have an OP ED section.” The second rejection (9/24/07) read: “After careful consideration, we have decided not to run it in Spectra, in part due to length.” In my submission letter I also asked that I would appreciate NCA pointing out any errors or misinterpretations in this essay and that I would correct or amend it accordingly. There were no comments from NCA other than the rejections. I also sent this piece to Taylor & Francis for the same reason and received a response saying “there are no comments to pass on.”
I also sent this to a number of people in the field who seemed much more interested in this issue and offered a variety of supportive and encouraging comments (some of which I’ve included in this revised version). All urged that this issue should be discussed more broadly than it has been. I thank them all for their input.


Bolinger and Ahmadinejad

I write this post as an open letter to Lee Bolinger, President of Columbia University.

Dear President Bolinger:

I would like to know how we, lowly professors and textbook writers, should teach cultural sensitivity to our increasingly diverse student body when you, the President of Columbia University, widely acknowledged as one of the premier universities of the world, act like a culturally insensitive bigot in your introduction of Iranian President Ahmadinejad? What standard are you setting for Columbia University students and for students throughout the country? Are you saying that it’s o.k. to insult people your own university has invited to speak because they disagree with you or even because they espouse views you consider untrue or politically unpopular? I would never think of introducing you as “Lee Bolinger, culturally insensitive clod.” Was your introduction an indication of your lukewarm commitment to free speech? Was this an indication of the extent of your commitment to free and open debate? Is this the way someone who bills himself as a scholar of the First Amendment and of free speech (and the author of The Tolerant Society and Images of a Free Press) introduces someone with whom you disagree? Introducing a speaker as a “petty and cruel dictator” hardly seems a useful way to set the stage for a free exchange of ideas. Is this the image of America—who will only play fair with people with whom we agree and be totally insulting to those with whom we disagree—that you want to communicate to people throughout the world? If these were your goals, then you have been very successful.
But, what I’m particularly interested in is if you intend to apologize—not merely to the Iranian president—who, by the way, also holds a Ph.D.—you’re not that special—but more importantly to the entire academic community, to students at all levels and throughout the country and the world, and to everyone who holds views different from your own who you have insulted and for whom you have set a horrible example of intolerance, bigotry, and cultural insensitivity.