Information Processing in Interpersonal Communication
Robert S. Wyer Jr.
Deborah H Gruenfeld
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Interpersonal communication is fundamentally a process of information transmission ( Berger, 1987: Berger & Bredac, 1982). One participant in a social interaction receives a verbal or nonverbal communication from another, interprets its meaning, construes its implications, and then decides how, if at all, to respond to it. Both the original message and the recipient's response are usually guided by certain goals or objectives: (a) to be informative, (b) to persuade the recipient to adopt one's point of view, (c) to create a good impression, or (d) simply to understand the issues being discussed. A complete conceptualization of interpersonal communication obviously requires: (a) an understanding of the processes of information acquisition, (b) the interpretation of information in terms of concepts and knowledge that are retrieved from memory and brought to bear on it, (c) a construal of the implications of this information, and (d) the generation of an overt response that will attain one's immediate or long-range objectives.
It might seem reasonable to suppose that sociopsychological theory and research would help us to gain this understanding. Group performance, decision making, and conflict resolution, which obviously involve interpersonal communication, have been investigated extensively ( Blumberg, Hare, Kent, & Davies, 1983; McGrath, 1984). Moreover, information processing has been the focus of substantial research and theory in social cognition for over a decade (cf. Higgins, Herman, & Zanna, 1981; Sorrentino & Higgins, 1986; Wyer & Srull, 1984, 1989). Unfortunately, the implications of this work for an understanding of information processing in interpersonal situations are more limited than one might expect. In fact, little if any research on group dynamics has attempted to understand the cognitive processes that underlie the communications that medi-