Culture and Information Manipulation Theory: The Effects of Self-Construal and Locus of Benefit on Information Manipulation

By Lapinski, Maria Knight; Levine, Timothy R. | Communication Studies, Spring 2000 | Go to article overview

Culture and Information Manipulation Theory: The Effects of Self-Construal and Locus of Benefit on Information Manipulation


Lapinski, Maria Knight, Levine, Timothy R., Communication Studies


Deception is one of the most significant and pervasive social phenomena of our age (Miller & Stiff, 1993), and has frequently been the focus of communication and psychological inquiry. Knapp, Hart, and Dennis (1974) suggest deception is "publicly condemned, yet privately practiced by a significant proportion of the population" (p. 15). Given the prevalence of deception in interactions, and that deceptive acts affect our personal, academic and professional lives (Burgoon & Buller, 1994; McCornack & Levine, 1990a, Miller & Stiff, 1993), it is not surprising that deception research continues to flourish.

While many aspects of deception have been explored at length (e.g., detection of deception and identification of nonverbal cues), recent deception research has shifted toward examining deceptive message design (e.g., Bavelas, Black, Chovil, & Mullett, 1990; Burgoon, Buller, Guerrero, Afifi, Feldman, 1996; McCornack, 1992). This research, however, has viewed deceptive messages from a Western perspective, and has failed to consider how those from non-Western cultures might view deception and deceptive messages.

Examination of communication processes in different cultures is essential given that communication is not only an integral part of culture, but also the primary means whereby culture is transmitted (Hamnett & Brislin, 1980). Advances in communication technology and a shift toward a global economy will serve to increase opportunity for intercultural interaction. There is a vast amount of variability in interpersonal communication processes across cultures which has not been explored by those studies examining only one culture (Gudykunst & Ting-Toomey, 1988). The generalizability of those deception studies conducted in the United States is questionable without examining the role of culture (O'Hair, Cody, Wang, & Chao, 1990).

The goal of this paper to explore how those with both Western and non-Western cultural orientations view potentially deceptive messages. Specifically, the current study investigates Information Manipulation Theory (McCornack, 1992) in a multicultural population.

Deception, Deceptive Messages, and Information Manipulation Theory

The bulk of research on deception has centered around nonverbal deception cues (e.g., Ekman, 1985; Ekman & Friesen, 1974) and the detection of deception (e.g., DePaulo, Lanier, & Davis, 1983; McCornack & Levine, 1990b; McCornack & Parks, 1986; Toris & DePaulo, 1985). This research suggests that humans are generally poor deception detectors, likely to assume that others are truthful, and often leak deception cues nonverbally (see Kalbfleisch, 1985; Miller & Stiff, 1993; Zuckerman, DePaulo, & Rosenthal, 1981, for reviews).

Other researchers have viewed deception in terms of strategies used to deceive, and have formulated a number of typologies. These taxonomies include various labels for message types such as: "lies," "exaggerations," and "diversionary responses" (Turner et al., 1975), or "fictions," "crimes," and "unlies" (Hopper & Bell, 1984).

The content and production of deceptive messages have recently been examined in a different light by deception scholars (e.g., Bavelas et al., 1990; Galasinski, 1994; McCornack, 1992; McCornack, Levine, Solowczuk, Torres, & Campbell, 1992). Bavelas et al. (1990) define deception in a purely linguistic manner and argue that messages can range from true to false along a continuum. They also state that the ways in which messages are stated can range from clear to equivocal and suggest that people do not generally lie, they just avoid clear messages (Bavelas et al., 1990).

Expanding on the work of Bavelas and others (e.g., Metts, 1989; Turner et al., 1975), McCornack (1992) proposed Information Manipulation Theory (IMT). IMT is based on Grice's (1989) Cooperative Principle, and suggests that conversational understanding rests on the assumption that others are behaving in a cooperative manner. …

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