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The influence of communication traits and culture on perceptions of distance in intracultural and intercultural relationships in the United States.

Trends in technological development, economic globalization, widespread population migration, and development of multiculturalism are seen as driving the study of intercultural communication (Klopf & McCroskey, 2007). The U.S. Census has verified the changing cultural landscape. The 2000 U.S Census showed that Hispanics had supplanted African-Americans as the second largest ethic group in the U. S. It was projected that by 2050 Hispanics will make up approximately 30% of the U.S. population, and that non-Hispanic whites will account for less than 50% of the U.S. population (Passel & Cohn, 2008). However, there is evidence that the pace of foreign-born diversity may be accelerating at a faster pace. According to the 2010 Census data 12% of U.S. citizens are foreign-born (Larson, 2012). In 2010-11, a record of over 690,000 international students attended U.S. universities (Fischer, 2012). Many of these more foreign-born nationals came to work in the U.S., and expatriate students often remain to seek employment in the U.S. The American workforce has also become more ethnically diverse as a consequence of immigration, but unfortunately, immigrants and students from other cultures are not always warmly accepted, and their communication competence is often faulted by U.S. educators, students, and citizens generally (Contes & Wilkinson, 2009; Goodwin & Nacht, 2005; Rink & John, 2010; Young & Faux, 2012). Likely such judgments are based on a lack of understanding of the influence of culture has on the communication of immigrants and expatriates. As Neuliep (2012a) points out, "Although the U.S. prides itself on being a nation of immigrants, there is a growing sense of communication uncertainty, fear and distrust between different cultural, ethnic, and linguistic groups." (p. 9).

It is generally accepted that the implicit theories of communication vary across cultures (Gudykunst & Lee, 2003; Ting-Toomey & Chung, 2012), and the theoretical dichotomy of individual-collectivism is widely used to explain how communication varies from one culture to another (Triandis, 1988). As Gudykunst and Lee (2003) point out, "Communication is unique within each culture, and at the same time, there are systematic similarities and differences across culture...(which) can be explained and predicted theoretically using dimensions of cultural variability" (pp. 8-9). Hall (1976) distinguished between communication in low- and high-context cultures, and Gudykunst and Ting-Tomey (1988) convincingly argued that low-context communication norms predominate in individualistic cultures and that high-context communication norms predominate in collectivistic cultures. While the goals of individual members are emphasized more than group goals in individualistic cultures such as the U.S., in collectivistic cultures such as Asia and the Pacific Islands, groups (family, organization, business, etc.) take precedence (Hofstede & Bond, 1984). The supposition is that distinctions exist in individualistic and collectivistic cultures between ingroups and outgroups, and that ingroups exert more influence in collectivistic cultures than in individualistic cultures (Triandis, 1988). Further, Hofstede's (1980) dimensions of cultural diversity, uncertainty avoidance, power distance, and masculinity-feminine suggest relational distance is likely to increase when individuals communication interculturally, and that perceptions of relational distance needs to be accounted for in any theory of intercultural communication. In this study, our goal is to investigate the extent to which interpersonal distance in intracultural and intercultural relationships is impacted by predispositions to avoid communication conceptualized as the traits of communication apprehension and self-reported communication competence.

Predispositions toward Communication and Cultural Variability

McCroskey and Richmond (1987; 1998) have advanced the concept of "willingness to communicate" (WTC) to reference the degree to which individuals talk to others in a variety of communication situations. Thus, WTC encompasses the myriad of reasons why people avoid oral interaction (alienation, low self-esteem, lack of competence, skill deficiency, cultural norms, anxiety, etc.), suggesting that individuals may communicate more or less depending on temperament or personality traits, interactional experiences, and culture (Beatty, McCroskey, & Valencic, 2001). McCroskey and Richmond (1990) emphasized the importance of recognizing cultural differences when considering why people are more or less willing to communicate: "Although we commonly think of a person's personality as being composed of 'individual differences' between that person and others around them, people in a given culture may well have more group similarities than individual differences, and only when placed in contrast to other cultural groups are the group characteristics brought into sharp contrast" (McCroskey & Richmond, 1990, p. 74). Different cultures put more or less value on face-to-face communication, so it is important to realize WTC may be strongly influenced by culture. For example, studies have reported that Americans are higher in WTC than Australians (Barracough, Christophel, & McCroskey,1988), Fins (Sallinen-Kuparinen, McCroskey, & Richmond, 1991), Micronesians (Burroughs & Marie, 1990), Russians (Christophel, 1996), and Swedes (McCroskey et al., 1990). Individualistic, low context cultures, such as the U.S. and Western Europe, place a premium on talking, while collectivistic, high-context cultures value quietness and less talkiveness (McCann, Honeycutt, & Keaton, 2010; Merkin, 2009).Whether a person is high or low in WTC is impacted by the interaction of culture and trait-based personality orientation (Beatty et al., 2001). Therefore, our assumption is that communication predispositons or traits interact with culture to affect perceptions of intercultural relationships, and this in study we proposed to explore that assumption by isolating the affects of two traits related to WTC, communication apprehension (CA) and communication competence on selected perceptions of distance in intracultural as opposed to intercultural relationships.

Communication Apprehension (CA)

Communication apprehension (CA) is a trait highly related to WTC (McCroskey, 1997; Zakahi & McCroskey, 1990). CA, "an individual's level of fear or anxiety associated with either real or anticipated communication with another person or persons" (McCroskey, 1977b, p. 78), has been found to affect the interactions of a major segment of populations worldwide (McCroskey, 1977b; 1982; Richmond, 1984; 1997; Richmond & McCroskey, 1998).

McCroskey's (1977) original conceptualization considered CA as inherently trait-based, and though the research has included some state-like qualities, it is believed that those state-like qualities are a "manifestation of trait CA and other traits of the individual" (McCroskey & Beatty, 1998, p. 217). From this perspective traits are viewed as driving "temperament" (Eysenck, 1986; 1990) or predispositions toward behavior, and such traits are "essentially dispositional factors that regularly and persistently determine our conduct in many types of situations" (Beatty & McCroskey, 1998; p. 17). Beatty and his colleagues (Beatty & McCroskey, 1998; Beatty et al., 2001) proposed that since it is inherently trait-based, CA fits into the temperament genre, and it is contended that individuals may inherit a neurotic, introverted temperament and possess lower thresholds for anxiety activation. When confronted with novel stimuli, perceived threat of punishment or cessation of reward, such individuals have a predisposition toward anxiety proneness which is likely manifested as CA.

Communication in intercultural relationships is replete with novelty, and a degree of communication uncertainty producing high anxiety (Gudykunst, 1983, 1989; Gudykunst & Nishida, 1986; Neuliep & McCroskey, 1997a). Gudykunst (1991; 2005) contended that interacting with strangers is filled with uncertainty and anxiety, and Gudykunst and Kim (2003) asserted that intercultural relationships usually involve high degrees of strangeness and low degrees of familiarity. Yet, some research suggests that the unfamiliarity of communicating in a second language leads individuals to create biased attributions that are less threatening to self-image (Hines & Barraclough, 1993; Parks, 1994), and Neuliep and Ryan (1998) found that intercultural communication apprehension was positively associated with uncertainty about future actions and others behavior. Lin and Rancer (2003) reported that intercultural communication apprehension was negatively associated with affective-approach tendencies in intercultural interactions, and Neuliep (2012b) found that intercultural communication apprehension and ethnocentrism, were positively correlated with reduction and communication satisfaction in intercultural dyads involving interactions with unacquainted persons. However, neither CA or ethnocentrism were related to uncertainty or satisfaction when communicating with unacquainted persons in intracultural dyads.

While the latter studies above (Neuliep, 2012b; Neuliep & Ryan, 1998; Lin & Rancer, 2003) used a measure of intercultural communication apprehension, in order to effectively compare trait CA experienced in both intracultural and intercultural communication we used the PRCA-24 (McCroskey, 2010) in this study. Studies across cultures have shown that if trait CA is a major inhibiting factor in a person's fist language, it is likely to be a controlling factor when it comes to communicating in a second language (Allen, O'Mara, & Andriate, 1986; Applbaum, Applbaum, & Trotter, 1986; Fayer, McCroskey & Richmond, 1984; McCroskey, Fayer, & Richmond, 1985; Olaniran & Roach, 1994). McCroskey, Gudykunst, and Nishida (1985) reported bilingual Japanese students experienced CA in both Japanese and English extremely higher than the American norm. Because high-context Japanese cultural norms de-emphasize talkativeness, apprehension in individuals' native Japanese language was not significantly lower than when speaking English. This contrasts with studies of European and Spanish cultures where significant differences have been found between CA when speaking in a native language and when speaking English, while at same time providing support for a trait basis for CA that permeates across cultural interactions. (Allen et al., 1986; Allen, Long, O'Mara, & Judd, 2003; Fayer et al., 1984; McCroskey et al., 1985). Jung and McCroskey (2004) found that trait-like CA was consistent across first and second language speaking situations and that CA in the first language was a better of predictor of CA in the second language than self-perceived communication competence or the situational factors of years speaking English or living in the U.S.

Communication Competence

Communication competence is another concept strongly related to the extent a person is willing to communicate (McCroskey & McCroskey, 1988; Richmond, McCroskey, & McCroskey, 1989; Teven, Richmond, McCroskey, & McCroskey). Communication competence is viewed as the "adequate ability to pass along or give information; the ability to make known by talking or writing" (McCroskey & McCroskey, p. 109). McCroskey and McCroskey contended that individuals make communication choices according to how competent they believe they are, and these perceptions influence decisions about whether or not to communicate. Others have proposed viewing communication competence from different perspective such as observations of performance (Allen & Brown, 1976), effectiveness in accomplishing communication goals (Wiemann, 1977), demonstrating knowledge of communication behavior suitable for a given situation (Larson, Backlund, Redmond, & Barbour, 1978), an individuals' perceptions of the effectiveness and appropriateness of their communication (Canary & Spitzberg, 1989) (for critical reviews of the different views see McCroskey, 1984; Spitzberg, 2003). McCroskey and McCroskey's view of communication competence is used here for two reasons: 1) most research on relationship development indicates that the giving of information about oneself is essential to the progression of relationships to the acquaintanceship stage (Altman & Taylor, 1973; Berger & Calabrese, 1975; Gudykunst, 1983; 1985a); and 2) this definition has been operationalized by McCroskey and McCroskey (1988) as self-perceived communication competence (SPCC), and its measurement taps feelings that enter into decisions that individuals make about entering into or deepening a relationship.

Researchers have used self-report measures to investigate communication competence related to various cultures, such as Australia (Barraclough, Christophel, & McCroskey, 1988); Sweden (McCroskey, Burroughs, Daun, & Richmond, 1990), Finland (Sallinen-Kuparinen et al., 1991), Thailand (Dilbeck, McCroskey, Richmond, & McCroskey, 2009), and Iran (Zarrinabadi, 2012). These studies either explicitly or implicitly compared competence in the national population with norms derived from studying U. S. populations. In a study conducted in Micronesia, Burroughs, Marie, and McCroskey (2002) compared competence in first and second languages, but few studies have examined the effects of competence on intercultural relationships. In one study conducted in Australia, Arasaratnam, Banerjee, Dembek (2010) reported that sensation seeking and intercultural communication competence in the presence of the mediating variables of motivation and attitude toward people of other cultures predicted willingness to engage in intercultural relationships. In another study of intercultural communication competence, Young and Faux (2012) found that native U. S. speakers of English marginalized non-native speakers on the basis of their perceived inappropriate communication, and that nonnative speakers were more likely to blame themselves for intercultural communication difficulties and accept their status as a member of an outgroup. Other researchers have verified that perceptions of lacking competence when communicating in a second language may exacerbate difficulties between individuals in intercultural relationships (Hines & Barraclough, 1993; Sallinen-Kuparinen et al., 1991).

Individuals with lower thresholds of anxiety activation feel anxious when expectations of succeeding in situations are not reinforced, and come to perceive little control over their fate (McCroskey, 1997; McCroskey & McCroskey, 1988; Richmond et al., 1989). It is speculated that those for whom English is a second language find many modes of communicating in the U.S. ego threatening. If attempts to communicate in the second language are not positively reinforced, the affective threshold is likely to be lowered culminating in heightened anxiety, withdrawal, less practice in the second language, and a vicious circle of failure and avoidance when communicating in English. In the development of a relationship, predispositions to communicate may be more reliable in making predictions than actual behavior. If a person is predisposed to avoid communication with her/his countrymen because of feelings of incompetence, these feelings of incompetence would be more problematic in the development of intercultural relationships. The problem would be manifested on a perceptual rather than a behavioral level. Thus, this study investigated the effects of a self-perceived communication competence (SPCC) on indices of distance in intracultural and intercultural relationships.

Communication & Relational Distance

Relational distance has been defined as a "noticeable rift," a move away from intimacy (Feeney, 2004; Helegeson, Shaver, & Dyer, 1987), or one's perception of being perceived by others as less important or esteemed (McLaren & Salomon, 2008; Vangelisti, 2001). For purposes of this study we conceptualized relational distance as perceptions of psychological closeness in intracultural and intercultural relationships as operationalized by degrees of certainty, satisfaction with communication, and perceptions of interpersonal solidarity in intracultural and intercultural relationships. It is important to note that relational distance is also more likely to be manifested on a perceptual rather than a behavioral level.

Communication Certainty

Hofstede (1980) conceptualized certaintyuncertainty on a continuum ranging from high to low "uncertainty avoidance," defined as the extent to which members of a culture do not mind conflicts or uncertain situations and the extent to which they attempt to avoid uncertainty. Gudykunst and Nishida (1986), using a modification of Clatterbuck's 1976 instrument operationalized the continuum as certainty-uncertainty, and it has been persuasively argued with empirical evidence that the reduction of communication uncertainty, "involv(ing) the creation of proactive predictions and retroactive explanations about others' behavior" (Gudykunst & Nishida, 1993, p. 150), is essential to the likelihood of individuals' developing relationships beyond initial interactions (Berger, 1979; Berger & Calabrese, 1975; Clatterbuck, 1979). Berger (1979) pointed out that as individuals move beyond initial interactions "communicative processes involved in knowledge generation and the development of understanding are central to the development and disintegration of most interpersonal relationships" (p. 123).

Gudykunst (1983) extended communication uncertainty reduction theory to individuals in cultures other than the U.S, and concluded that the reduction of communication uncertainty is more important in highcontext than low-context cultures. Gudykunst and Nishida (1986) found relationship stages were influenced by cultures, and individuals in high-context cultures tend to establish relationships at earlier ages and maintain them for life. They concluded that high attributional confidence or certainty is a product of ingroup relationships in highcontext cultures. Also, studies involving individuals from Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, and the United States found wider differences in communication intimacy, coordination of communication, and communication difficulty in collectivistic cultures, while individuals in high-context Asian cultures reported more intimacy and higher levels of communication coordination with ingroups than with outgroups (Gudykunst, Gao, Schimt, Nishida, Bond, Leung, & Barraclough, 1992; Gudykunst, Nishida, & Schmidt, 1989). However, Gudykunst (1995) found evidence that when relationships reach the stage of acquaintanceship predictions are based on personal rather than cultural data, and that similarity of cultural background is not a necessary prerequisite for acquaintanceship preference.

Communication Satisfaction

The concept of communication satisfaction has been used as an index of distance or lack of it in relationship development. Communication satisfaction is the degree to which participants like communicating with other persons. It is derived from the discriminative fulfillment approach which is grounded in behavioral psychology. It is argued based upon past learning and reinforcement history, that a person develops discriminations by which s/he judges the world. Communication satisfaction is conceptualized as an "internal secondary reinforcer arising from the generalization of environmental reinforcement of behaviors manifested in response to the presence of a discriminative stimulus" (Hecht, 1978, p. 259). Neuliep and Grohskopf (2000) reported that as interactants in intracultural dyads reduced uncertainty in intitial interactions levels of satisfaction increased, and concluded that communication satisfaction is an affective response which is influenced by salient expectations of a situation. Some previous research has indicated that individuals' levels of satisfaction are related to perceptions of cultural differences, ethnocentrism, and interpersonal distance manifested in intercultural relationships (McCann et al., 2010; Young & Faux, 2012; Zarrinabai, 2012). Thus, since levels of satisfaction may be affected by different expectations of intracultural and intercultural interactions, we used a measure of satisfaction to partially operationalize relational distance.

Interpersonal solidarity

Research has explored the predictability of using communication to reduce uncertainty and increase attributional confidence in intercultural relationships (Gudykunst & Nishida, 1986; 1993; Gudykunst, Yang, & Nishida, 1985). Additionally, research has emphasized the importance of perceptions of cultural similarity, self-monitoring, and social penetration (i.e., increasing amounts of interpersonal exchange) (Gudykunst, 1983; 1985a, b). Recently, there has been a revived interest in the socio-anthropological concept of ethnocentrism (i.e., the tendency to put one's own culture or group ahead of other cultures or groups) (Gudykunst & Kim, 1997; Neuliep & McCroskey, 1997b; Toale & McCroskey, 2000; Wrench & McCroskey, 2003). Variables in these studies are grounded in social exchange theories of relational development (Altman & Taylor, 1973; Lukens, 1978; Peng, 1974), and predicated on assumptions of "distance" in intercultural interaction. The reasoning is that "(c)ommunication has different impact upon different types of interpersonal relationships, (and) most interpersonal relationships are guided by cultural norms" (Gudykunst, 1985, p. 207). Distance exists as a consequence of cultural distinctions between in-group and outgroup communication, and communication is the mechanism through which perceptions of similarity and closeness are reinforced as relationships become more intimate (Gudykunst, 1985; Gudykunst & Hammer, 1988). Therefore, we operationalized perceptions of closeness and willingness to increase involvement or interpersonal exchange as interpersonal solidarity. Interpersonal solidarity was conceived by Wheeless (1976; 1978) to describe "the social, psychological, and perhaps even physical closeness in interpersonal relationships" (Wheeless, Wheeless, & Baus, 1984, p. 220). Wheeless (1976; 1978) found that solidarity was significantly and positively related willingness to self-disclose in relationships, and Wheeless, Wheeless, and Baus reported that solidarity was positively related to communication satisfaction in intimate relationships. They concluded that both solidarity and communication satisfaction distinguished between developing and deteriorating relationship stages, with both acting as selective filter for gauging the relative health of relationships. Confirming these findings, Allen and Baus (1996) concluded that steady increases in solidarity in developing relationships is accompanied by consistent increases in satisfaction, and strong feeling of solidarity may compensate for temporary deceases in satisfaction and lead to greater satisfaction as a relationship matures. The role of perceptions of interpersonal solidarity in intercultural relationships has not been investigated, but in a somewhat related study, Oommen (2013) found social support from family and friends was positively related to conflict management and negatively related to intercultural communication apprehension. We measured interpersonal solidarity to determine the extent to which individuals perceive closeness and similarity when communicating with cultural ingroups and outgroups. The concern here is whether solidarity is affected when individuals are high in CA and/or low in SPSS and whether differences exist between intracultural and intercultural relationships.

Research Question & Hypotheses

A temperament explanation (Beatty et al., 2001) suggests that a base-line exists for certain communication traits whether communicating intraculturally or interculturally. Therefore, we proposed the following research question to further investigate this supposition:

RQ: Are there differences in CA and/or SPCC when native or non-native speakers of English are communicating in intracultural or intercultural relationships?

Studies based on the assumptions implicit in communication uncertainty reduction theory have led some researchers to conclude that cultural differences may not be important as intercultural relationships become more intimate (Gudykunst, 1985a; 1989). However, given the evidence of differing cultural orientations toward communication (Allen et al., 2003; McCroskey & Richmond, 1990) and the distinctions between high-context and low-context cultures (Triandis, 1988; Hall, 1976), the assumption here is that those from high-context cultures will be generally predisposed to have a less positive attitude toward communicating and report experiencing more psychological distance in intercultural interactions than will those from low-context cultures. Therefore, we hypothesized that those from high-context cultures would report that they were more uncomfortable and experienced feeling more psychological distance in intercultural as opposed to intracultural relationships.

H1: Compared to intracultural relational communication, when engaged in intercultural relational communication, non-native English speakers and native English speakers in the U.S. will report less communication certainty, satisfaction, and interpersonal solidarity.

Based on past research (cf. Richmond & McCroskey, 1998), it is assumed that there will be differences in the extent to which non-native speakers of English report avoiding communication as they move from intracultural to intercultural contexts. Also, we assumed that the extent of a person's predisposition to avoid communication intraculturally would become a base-line for the avoidance of communication interculturally, and that predispositions to avoid communication would affect perceptions of psychological distance in intercultural relationships. The following hypotheses were studied to test those assumptions.

H2: Compared to persons who report experiencing low or moderate CA, native and nonnative English speakers in the U. S.who report experiencing high CA in their respective native languages will also report less communication certainty, satisfaction and interpersonal solidarity in intracultural relationships.

H3: Compared to persons who report experiencing low or moderate CA when Engaged in intercultural relationships, native and non-native English speakers in the U. S. who report experiencing high CA will also report less communication certainty, satisfaction and interpersonal solidarity in intercultural relationships.

H4: Compared to persons reporting high or moderate SPCC, native and non-native English speakers reporting low SPCC in their respective native languages will also report less communication certainty, satisfaction and interpersonal solidarity in intracultural relationships.

H5: Compared to persons reporting high or moderate SPCC when engaged in intercultural relationships, native and non-native English speakers reporting low SPCC will also report less communication certainty, satisfaction interpersonal solidarity in intercultural relationships.



We collected data on 234 domestic U.S. students (females = 127; males = 107) and 190 international students (females = 88; males = 102) from 30 countries that could be classified as high-context studying at three medium-sized comprehensive universities in the northeastern United States. (1) We administered instruments in English near the end of the semester to ensure that each international student had a least one full semester at an American university before being tested. Most international students were also graduates of English-as-a-foreign-language training programs in the U.S., had been in the U.S. an average of 2.4 years, and participants had studied English in their native country before coming the U.S. (average = 7.3 years).


We asked domestic U. S. and international participants to fill out each instrument twice. First, we asked them to respond as they would if statements were descriptive of their communicating in their home cultures in their respective native languages. Then, we asked them to respond to the extent to which the statements were descriptive of them when communicating interculturally in the U. S. We administered the intracultural version and the intercultural version two weeks apart, in different class sessions, to control for test and fatigue effects.

Communication apprehension (CA). We administered the Personal Report of Communication Apprehension (PRCA-24) (McCroskey, 2010) to determine predispositions toward avoiding oral communication in intracultural and intercultural relationships. Participants responded to each of the 24 items on a five-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (strongly agree) to 5 (strongly disagree). Substantial normative data is available for the PRCA-24. Data collected worldwide indicates a mean of 65.6 and a standard deviation of 15.3, and high reliability, consistently above 90. and predictive validity (McCroskey, 1984). In this study reliabilities for the PRCA-24 were .86 when internationals responded to communicating in their native language intraculturally; .89 when communicating in English interculturally; .88 for domestic U. S. participants communication intraculturally; and .85 when communicating interculturally.

Self-perceived communication competence (SPCC). Participants responded to The 12 items measuring SPCC on a scale from zero (completely incompetent) to 100 (completely competent) twice, as if they were communicating intraculturally or interculturally. Previous reliability estimates of overall SPCC have been above .90 (McCroskey & McCroskey, 1988). In this study, the reliability for SPCC was .91 for non-native English speakers communicating in their native languages; .92 when they communicated with U. S. citizens in English; .91 for native English speakers communicating intraculturally; and .89 when interacting interculturally.

We operationalized relational distance by self-report instruments to measure communication certainty, communication satisfaction, and interpersonal solidarity.

Communication certainty. We measured communication certainty in intracultural and intercultural relationships using Gudykunst and Nishida's (1986) two factor Attributional Confidence instrument designed to take into consideration types of communication certainty/uncertainty related to both high and low-context cultures. The instrument includes five items measuring communication certainty in low-context settings from Clatterbuck's (1979) CL7 instrument, plus three items measuring communication certainty in high-context settings. Participants reacted to the eight items on a seven-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (extremely well) to 7 (not at all) as if they were communicating in intracultural and intercultural relationships. Previous reliabilities have been in the low .80s for those in high-context cultures and above .85 for those in low-context cultures. In this study, the estimate of reliability for international students in the U. S. was .87 when communicating in their native culture, and .84 when communicating in English with native-born U. S. citizens. The reliability for U. S. citizens communicating with acquaintances in their own culture was .88, and .83 when communicating in intercultural relationships.

Communication satisfaction. Domestic U. S and international participants responded to Hecht's (1978) unidimensional communication satisfaction scale, consisting of 19, five-interval, Likert-type statements ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree), relative to their intracultural and intercultural interactions. This scale has previously produced reliability coefficients of .90 or better. In this study, the responses of internationals relative to communication satisfaction in their native culture produced a reliability coefficient of .90, and their responses concerning communication satisfaction with U. S. acquaintances produced a coefficient of .91. The reliability for native U. S. participants communicating with domestic acquaintances was .92, and .94 when communicating with non-domestic U. S. acquaintances.

Interpersonal solidarity. Domestic U. S. and international respondents supplied data on Wheeless' (1978) interpersonal solidarity scale when communicating intraculturally and interculturally. Participants responded to the 20 items on a seven-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (strongly agree to ranging from 7 (strongly disagree). Previous reliabilities have been in the mid-90s (Baus & Allen, 1995; Wheeless, 1978; Wheeless, Wheeless, & Baus, 1984). The internal estimates in this study were .92 for internationals communicating in native cultures, and .90 when they communicated with domestic U. S. acquaintances. The reliability was .95 for U. S. participants communicating in their native culture, and .93 when communicating with intercultural acquaintances;


For descriptive purposes, Table 1 presents the means, standard deviations, ranges for the dependent trait variables and the independent variables used to measure relational distance. A perusal of the means for CA and SPCC is meaningful in answering the research question asking if there are relationships among those traits when low-context U. S. or high-context international participants communicated intraculturally or interculturally. The testing of the means displayed in the columns of Table 1 with paired t-tests confirm that domestic U. S. participants are significantly more apprehensive interculturally than intraculturally, t (232) = -5.54, p <.01, and that they feel less competent communicating interculturally than intraculturally, t (232) = 6.12, p <.01. The tests also show those from high-context cultures are more apprehensive when communicating in English with Americans than communicating with their countrymen in native languages, t = -6.06, p <.01, and they felt less competent communicating in English, t (188) = 2.67, p <.05.

Tests of the row means in Table 1 shows internationals from high-context cultures reported significantly higher CA when communicating with low-context Americans than Americans reported when communicating interculturally with non-native English speakers, t(420) = 2.78, p <.01. Internationals also reported less competence when communicating in their native languages than was reported by Americans communicating in English, t (420) = 8.03, p <.001, and they felt less competent than Americans when engaging in intercultural communication, t (420), 4.14, p <.01.

H1 examined the difference between communication certainty, communication satisfaction and interpersonal solidarity when Americans and expatriates engaged in intracultural or intercultural relationships. The column means displayed in Table 1 show that Americans reported less communication certainty when interacting with expatriates than when interacting with their U. S. acquaintances, t (232) = -6.79, p <.001. Americans were less satisfied when communicating with acquaintances from non-U. S. cultures t (232) = 6.70, p <.001. They also felt less interpersonal solidarity with acquaintances from other cultures t (232) = -7.97, p <.001.

The column means in Table 1 also show that internationals felt less certainty about communicating in English as opposed to their native languages, t (188) = -7.03, p <.001, and were less satisfied communicating with Americans than when communicating in intracultural relationships, t (188) =4.68, p <.001. Internationals also reported experiencing less interpersonal solidarity when interacting with Americans, t(188) = -8.27, p <.001. Thus, we found significant differences in interpersonal distance when individuals from the low-context U. S. culture or high-context international cultures interacted intraculturally or interculturally, and H1 is accepted.

H2 predicted that the level of CA experienced by native U. S. and non-native English speakers communicating in their native languages differently affects perceptions of interpersonal distance. One-way analysis of row means of Table 2 revealed a significant difference in CA and satisfaction with communication generally, F (2, 232) = 23.82, p <.001. The Student-Newman-Keuls Test of Post Hoc Analysis revealed that Americans high in CA were less satisfied with communication generally than were those who were moderate or low in CA, but no differences were found in communication certainty, interpersonal solidarity or levels of CA when native English speakers communicated intraculturally.

One-way analysis revealed that levels of CA and satisfaction differed when internationals communicated intraculturally in their native languages, F (2, 188) = 16.21, p <.001, and post hoc analysis revealed that high CAs were less satisfied than moderate or low CAs, but differences were not found for communication certainty or interpersonal solidarity.. H2 was partially accepted as both native Americans and internationals high in CA were less satisfied in intracutural relationships, but neither differed in levels of certainty or interpersonal solidarity.

H3 tested whether the independent variables operationalizing relational distance differed significantly by reported levels of CA when native U. S. speakers or international, non-native speakers of English communicated in intercultural relationships. One-way analysis of the means reported in Table 2, followed by post hoc analysis showed that Americans who were high in CA expressed less certainty about communicating interculturally in contrast to those who perceived being moderate or low in CA, F (2, 232) = 7.02, p <.001. Those high in CA, were also less satisfied with intercultural communication than those who are moderate or low in CA, F = 7.76, p. <.001, and experienced less solidarity in intercultural relationships than those who are moderate, F (2, 188) = 7.12, p <.001. Internationals high in CA reported less interpersonal solidarity in relationships with Americans, F (2, 188) = 3.96, p <.05. However, even though the means were in the hypothesized direction, when non-native speakers communicated in English, high, moderate and low CAs did not differ significantly relative to either communication certainty, F (2, 188) = 1.76, p >.05, or communication satisfaction, F (2, 188) = 2.32, p >,05. Thus, H3 was partially accepted in that Americans high in CA had less certainty, satisfaction, and solidarity, while internationals high in CA experienced less interpersonal solidarity, but were not less certain or satisfied when communicating in intercultural relationships.

H4 was to test for differences in levels of SPCC and perceptions of interpersonal distance reported by internationals and Americans relative to their native cultures (Table 3). One-way analysis followed by post hoc analysis revealed that native U. S. speakers of English who reported a low level of SPCC were less satisfied, F (2, 232) = 6.42, p <.01, and experienced less interpersonal solidarity in their intracultural relationships than those who were moderate or high in SPCC, F (2, 232) = 9.28, p <.001.

Analysis of the means in Table 3 showed that internationals low in SPCC were also less satisfied with communication, F (2, 188) = 7.35, p <.001, and reported less interpersonal solidarity in intracultural relationships, F (2, 188) = 6.68, p <.01). Communication certainty was not significantly different for Americans or internationals by levels of SPCC. H4 was partially accepted in that Americans and internationals low in SPCC reported less communication satisfaction, and solidarity, but low competence did not produce less certainty when communicating intraculturally.

H5 examined whether low-context Americans or high-context international low, moderate or high in SPCC differed in communication certainty, satisfaction or interpersonal solidarity when engaged in intercultural relationships. Following one-way analysis of the means displayed in Table 3, the Student-Newman-Keuls Test of Post Hoc Analysis revealed significant differences between individuals reporting low and high levels SPCC in regard to communication certainty, F (2, 232) = 3.73, p <.05, satisfaction, F (2, 232) = 4.51, p <.01, and intercultural solidarity, F (2, 232) = 3.61, p <.05, but Americans reporting low or moderate levels of SPCC did not differ in intercultural communication certainty, satisfaction or solidarity.

Non-native English speakers low in SPCC felt less certain about their communication F (2, 188) = 4.98, p <.01, and experienced less interpersonal solidarity in interpersonal relationships with Americans than those who are moderate or high in SPCC, F (2, 188) = 3.28, p <.05), but did not differ in terms of satisfaction with intercultural communication with Americans. H5 was partially accepted in that there were significant differences between Americans who were low or high in SPCC, and though internationals low in SPCC reported less certainty and solidarity, they were not less satisfied in intercultural.


The conceptualization of WTC suggests that self-esteem, social alienation, communication apprehension, communication competency, communication skills, and cultural norms are among the reasons why individuals may be more or less willing to communicate intraculturally (McCroskey & Richmond, 1987). Hall's (1976) theory communication of differences in low-context and high-context cultures and Triandis' (1988) theory of individualism and collectivism leads to the conclusion that individuals from high-context, collectivistic cultures will communicate less overtly than those from low-context, individualistic cultures. In examining the communication traits of CA and SPSS and operationalizations of distance in low- and high-context cultures, this study advances our understanding of those differences. The specific concern of this study is whether variations in the communication traits of CA and SPCC result in perceptions of greater interpersonal distance when persons from low-context or high-context cultures are communicating together--interculturally, as opposed to intraculturally.

Analyses of the research question confirmed that native English speakers in the low-context U. S. culture and non-native English speakers from high-context international cultures are less apprehensive, and feel more competent when communicating intraculturally. The increase in CA and lower communication competence can be explained by the emergence of state CA or SPCC when communicating with members of an outgroup. Neuliep and McCroskey (1997a) discussed the deleterious effects of communication anxiety experienced when communicating with those from different cultures. A certain amount of anxiety may result from feelings related to proficiency when communicating in a second language, but while low proficiency in a second language may lead to some increase in state or situational CA or SPCC, evidence shows that there is a base-line endemic to individuals' temperament related to such communication traits, and that genetic elements produce individual differences in communication within cultures (Neuliep et al., 2003; Yung & McCroskey, 2004).

The testing of H1 showed that both low-context Americans and internationals from high-context cultures report more certainty, greater satisfaction and more interpersonal solidarity when communicating intraculturally. However, results derived from testing H2 showed that both native English and international, non-native English speakers in the U.S. who are high in CA are less satisfied when communicating within their native cultures, but it is interesting that they do not experience less communication certainty or interpersonal solidarity when communicating intraculturally. We speculate that high CAs do not report feeling less certainty or interpersonal solidarity because they consciously or unconsciously avoid uncomfortable, anxiety-arousing communication situations. Previous research indicates that those who are high in CA make decisions about relationships based on their cognitive-affective predisposition to communicate less, and that they are not necessarily uncomfortable in their carefully structured relationships (Beatty & McCroskey, 2001; Richmond & McCroskey, 1998). Our findings suggest that relative to CA, individuals are making decisions about how much and with whom they communicate within their own cultures based on comfort levels which are influenced by cultural expectations. Consequently, though high CAs, whether from low- or high-context cultures are dissatisfied with oral communication, probably as a result of negative past experience, and a desire not to experience the affective discomfort of communicating generally, they are still certain and ed xperience solidarity in purposely chosen intracultural relationships in which they choose to participate.

In contrast, our analysis of H3 indicates that native English speakers in the U.S. who are high in CA are less certain and satisfied communicating interculturally and they experience less interpersonal solidarity. Individuals from high-context cultures high in CA also report a lower level of interpersonal solidarity, but they do not report less certainty or less satisfaction when communicating interculturally.

The results of testing H2 and H3 are consistent with the basic conceptualization that CA leads to avoidance of communication situations that increase levels of anxiety and discomfort. While high CAs have likely established their comfort zones by the relational choices they make with their ingroup, and consequently do not perceive greater uncertainty or dissatisfaction when communicating intraculturally, the additional dimension of communication with members of another culture is likely to cause anxiety and lead to avoidance of those situations (Neuliep & McCroskey, 1997b). In avoiding such interactions, individuals' anxiety levels are going to remain high, and they are going to express less solidarity with members of an outgroup when communicating interculturally. However, a provocative aspect of these intercultural findings is that Americans high in CA reported less certainty, satisfaction, and interpersonal solidarity, while internationals reported less solidarity but not less certainty or satisfaction.

Perhaps an explanation is that the importance attached to oral communication in their individualistic, low context communication culture increases the frustration and anxiety of high CA Americans and leads to less interpersonal solidarity because they avoid communication with outgroups. At the same time to feel uncertainty and dissatisfaction with the prospect of such interaction. It is also possible that ethnocentrism, or the tendency to view one's culture or ingroup as superior, may valence the high CA of Americans and lead to an increase in state CA or what Neuliep and McCroskey (1977b) conceptualized as intercultural communication apprehension. Further, Neuliep and McCroskey (1977a) contend that ethnocentrism as a perceptual filter that affects verbal and nonverbal messages and perceptions of their source, and that there would be little likelihood that positive outcomes, including t lower of uncertainty would be expected. In a study of the relationship among ethnocentrism, intercultural communication apprehension, and intercultural willingness to communicate, Lin and Rancer (2003) found that low-context Americans' intercultural communication apprehension and ethnocentrism were negatively related to intercultural willingness to communicate and affective-approach intentions to engage in intercultural interactions. More recently, in a study where 70% of the participants were U.S. citizens, Neuliep (2012b), using a measure of intercultural communication apprehension, rather than the measure of trait CA used in our study, reported that intercultural communication apprehension and ethnocentrism, individually and in combination, were predictors of communication uncertainty and lower satisfaction, and likely suppressed the desire to communicate interculturally. Similar to our results, intercultural communication apprehension and ethnocentrism were not related to measures of uncertainty reduction or communication satisfaction in initial intracultural interactions. On the other hand, perhaps internationals who are high in CA report experiencing less solidarity because they are consciously or unconsciously avoiding intercultural communication situations. However, since high-context cultures place less value placed on oral communication, they do not feel the imperative to engage in oral communication as Americans whose low-context culture puts a premium on interacting orally. Hence, internationals high in CA do not experience any less certainty or satisfaction than internationals lower in CA.

The testing of H4 revealed that both native speakers of English and non-native English speakers in the U. S. who are low in communication competence are less satisfied and experience less interpersonal solidarity when communicating in intraculturally with their countrymen. Further, data used to analyze H5 confirmed that in intercultural relationships those from the low-context American culture who are low in SPCC feel less certain and less satisfied, and experience less solidarity than those who report moderate or low SPCC. Internationals from high-context cultures, low in SPCC, also feel less certain, and experience less solidarity in intercultural relationships than those who are moderate or high in SPCC, but interestingly, are not less satisfied with intercultural communication. This may mean that given their low SPCC, internationals are careful not to exceed their comfort level when communicating interculturally with Americans.

The findings related to communication certainty are particularly interesting in light of previous research indicating differences in culture become less of an issue because of increased certainty over time when communicating interculturally (Gudykunst & Kim, 2003). Both low-context Americans and high-context internationals are less certain when communicating intraculturally, and Americans high in CA or low in SPCC are less certain when communicating interculturally, but not when communicating intraculturally. As conceptualized by Berger and Calabrese (1975), Uncertainty Reduction Theory (UMT) focuses on specific communication strategies individuals use to cope and reduce anxiety and uncertainty in initial intracultural relationships. Adopting the basic theoretical assumptions of UMT, Gudykunst (2005) posited the Anxiety Uncertainty Management (AUM) theory to explain how individuals manage anxiety and uncertainty in either initial intraculture or interculture relationships. Instead of the reduction of anxiety and uncertainty, AUM focuses on the management of anxiety and uncertainty. The communication strategies used to reduce and manage anxiety and uncertainty vary across cultures, and research has demonstrated that individuals from low- and high-context cultures use different strategies to reduce and manage uncertainty (Gudykunst, 1983; 1985a; 1985b). Also, uncertainty is managed differently in ingroup as opposed to outgroup relationships (Gudykunst & Kim, 2003). Therefore, as discussed above, it is possible that Americans who are high in CA and/or low in SPCC structure their lives in ways as to manage domestic communicative situations in which they are less certain, but that novelty and lack of predictability create dissonance and increase uncertainty to the point that it is unmanageable when communicating with those from other cultures. Additionally, an important finding in our study is that even though individuals from high context cultures are significantly less certain about communication overall, neither CA nor SPCC is predictive of communication certainty in either intracultural or intercultural relationships for those from high-context cultures. Again, this finding may be explained by differences in the management of certainty/uncertainty in high-context versus low-context cultures (Gudykunst, 1985a, b; 1989; Gudykunst et al., 1985; 1989, Neuliep, 2012b). Given different communication norms, perhaps these findings are related to the lower value placed on oral communication in high-context cultures (McCroskey, 2006).

A possible limitation is that the study was conducted in English, and even though international participants had studied English an average of 7.3 years before coming to the U. S., an across-the-board level of English proficiency was not used to establish a baseline for participation in the study. Further, even though internationals were in the U. S. an average of 2.4 years, there was no indication of the depth and breadth of either Americans or internationals intercultural relational experiences. Future studies should investigate whether the influence of communication traits varies by the kinds (casual, acquaintance, friend, etc), stages (initial, developed, etc.) and/or the nature (social, educational, professional, etc.) of the relationships.


We confirmed previous findings of relationships among communication traits in intracultural and intercultural communication. Individuals who are less willing to communicate, higher in communication apprehension or lower in self-reported communication competence perceive greater interpersonal distance communicating either intracultually or interculturally. While individuals high-context cultures perceive greater interpersonal distance in both intracultural and intercultural relationships, both low context Americans and hig(Uh context internationals who are predisposed to avoid communication, at least in terms of CA and SPCC, are more uncomfortable with situations requiring them to interact interculurally.


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Jerry L. Allen, University of New Haven

Joan O'Mara, University of Hartford

Kathleen M. Long, West Virginia Wesleyan College


(1) Students from the following countries were classified as high-context for this study: Afghanistan, Argentina, Cambodia, Chile, China, Columbia, Cuba, Egypt, Guatemala, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Jordan, Korea, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malaysia, Mauritania, Micronesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palestine, Peru, Sudan, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, United Arab Emerigates, Vietnam, and Zaire. Data was also collected from non-native English speakers in Bangladesh, Hong Kong, India, Jamaica, Nassau, and Singapore; however, these data were dropped from the study because of the prevalence of English in these former spheres of British influence, and because each participant came from a home where English was regularly spoken. All participants indicated that they did not consider English their first language and that it was not considered a primary language in their home. Ten percent of the participants claimed that English was considered their third or fourth language.

Author Note: Jerry L. Allen (Ph.D., 1978, Southern Illinois University-Carbondale) is professor in the Department of Communication, Film, and Media Studies, University of New Haven. Joan O'Mara (Ph.D., University of Arizona, 1971) is associate professor of speech and drama in Hillyer College, University of Hartford. Kathleen M. Long (Ph.D., University of Connecticut, 1994) is emerita professor of communication studies, West Virginia Wesleyan College.

Correspondence to: Jerry L. Allen College of Communication, Film, and Media Studies University of New Haven 300 Boston Post Road West Haven, CT 06516 Email:
Table 1

Means for Communication, Certainty Satisfaction, and
Interpersonal When Native and Non-Native English
Speakers in the U. S. Communicate in Intracultural
and Intercultural Relations

                 Native English Speakers

                x            sd      range

CA              63.48 (ab)   14.95   30-102
SPCC            65.83 (ab)   17.38   25-100
CERT *          18.47 (ab)   6.43    30-56
COM-SAT **      107.77 (b)   15.15   40-95
SOL *           42.60 (ab)   13.08   40-130


CA              68.82 (ab)   16.55   30-102
SPCC            54.22 (ab)   18.51   25-100
CERT *          32.39 (b)    15.74   21-40
COM-SAT **      91.74 (b)    15.40   27-80
SOL *           70.20 (b)    23.98   26-127

                 Non-Native English Speakers

                x            sd         range

CA              68.95 (ab)   13.09      40-110
SPCC            52.53 (ab)   19.75      30-90
CERT *          23.64 (ab)   8.01       27-56
COM-SAT **      98.89 (b)    14.54      47-95
SOL *           53.29 (ab)   13.71      38-132


CA              73.99 (ab)   13.01      43-112
SPCC            47.37 (ab)   19.75      30-80
CERT *          32.75 (b)    12.60      15-49
COM-SAT **      94.77 (b)    17.03      19-85
SOL *           70.72 (b)    17.95      20-123

* Lower means are more positive for CERT and SOL.

(a) indicates row means for a like variable are significant.

** Higher means are more positive for COM-SAT.

(b) indicates column means for a like variable are significant.

Table 2

Mean Differences for Communication Certainty, Satisfaction,
and Interpersonal Solidarity by Levels of Communication
Apprehension (CA) When Native and Non-Native English Speakers in
the U.S. Communicate in Intracultural and Intercultural Relationships

                                  Levels of CA *

                                 Native English

                      Low             Moderate             High
                     (n=37)            (n=156)            (n=41)

                   x       sd        x        sd        x       sd

CERT **          17.67    5.48     17.80     6.72     18.95    8.23
COMSAT          110.81a   15.42   107.83b    13.69   92.4ab    22.94
SOL **           42.91    14.28    42.12     12.65    47.46    14.59


CERT **         33.60a    18.70    30.44b    13.48   56.50ab   14.85
COMSAT          95.50a    19.98    95.60b    15.17   79.50ab   13.61
SOL **          68.53a    6.12     70.40b    3.39    84.00ab   9.00

                                Levels of CA *

                               Non-Native English

                       Low             Moderate           High
                     (n=30)            (n=112)           (n=48)

                   x       sd        x        sd        x       sd

CERT **          31.32    8.41     23.88     8.00     24.57    5.42
COMSAT          107.1d    14.96   101.53e    15.03   93.50de   15.28
SOL **           50.88    12.49    53.07     14.16    54.86    14.05


CERT **          30.50    16.15    32.90     11.83    33.94    13.66
COMSAT           90.11    11.87    91.64     18.44    91.97    15.87
SOL **          76.53de   19.05    69.88d    17.04   65.07e    22.42

* Means in each column with the same subscripts are significantly
different at .05 or less.

** Lower means are more positive for CERT, and SOL.

Table 3

Mean Differences for Communication Certainty, Satisfaction
and Interpersonal Solidarity by Levels of Self-Reported Communication
Competency (SPCC) When Native and Non-Native English Speakers in the
U.S.Communicate in Intracultural and Intercultural Relationships

                                  Levels of SPSS *

                                  Native English

                       Low            Moderate           High
                     (n=37)            (n=156)          (n=41)

                   x        sd        x       sd       x       Sd


CERT **           18.5      6.2     16.9     6.9     15.2     5.6
COMSTAT         105.89ab   14.5    111.82a   14.3   112.00b   17.6
SOL **          43.54ab    12.4    42.00a    15.9   34.86b    9.3


CERT **          32.91a    15.9     30.4     13.9   26.50a    7.8
COMSTAT          92.62a    16.3     95.5     19.4   101.75a   17.5
SOL **           70.38a    22.2     68.1     22.6   66.50a    22.2

                Levels of SPSS *

                               Non-Native English

                     Low             Moderate         High
                    (n=30)           (n=112)         (n=48)

                   x       sd      x       sd       X       sd


CERT**           23.7     8.4     23.6     7.9    20.7     7.6
COMSTAT         96.65d    14.3    98.3    14.3   104.40d   15.6
SOL**           54.04d    14.8    50.8    11.9   47.00d    10.2


CERT **         18.80de   5.4    32.04d   11.3   36.14c    13.1
COMSTAT          90.3     13.8     92     19.1    94.1     16.6
SOL **          74.50d    17.5   69.18e   17.4   54.00de   16.6

* Means in each row with like subscripts are significantly different
at .05 or less.

** Lower means are more positive for CERT and SOL.
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Author:Allen, Jerry L.; O'Mara, Joan; Long, Kathleen M.
Publication:China Media Research
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Jan 1, 2014
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