Cognitive Processing of
Dean E. Hewes University of Minnesota
Messages exchanged between people build, unravel, secure, and transform personal relationships. Messages can affect people's ability to predict and understand others' intentions and behaviors, i.e., they reduce uncertainty (cf. Berger & Calabrese, 1975; but cf. Planalp & Honeycutt, 1985; Planalp, Rutherford, & Honeycutt, 1988). Messages convey rewards and punishments, and they are the media through which relational fairness is managed or mismanaged (cf. Foa & Foa, 1968). Messages are the tools for ingratiation, self-presentation, and many other social goals ( Kellermann, 1988). Although there is some controversy over which of these functions is most fundamental (cf. Berger, 1986; Sunnafrank, 1986), a strong case can be made for uncertainty reduction. Without the ability to predict and understand others, we would live in a confusing world--we would be frozen into inaction because we could anticipate no connections between our endeavors and their social consequences.
Uncertainty reduction reflects at least four different desires: (a) the ability to satisfy simple curiosity, (b) the desire for perceived control, (c) the need to pursue other interpersonal goals effectively ( Hewes & Graham, 1988), and, perhaps, (d) an urge to appear objective ( Pyszczynski & Greenberg, 1987). Of these, the first, second, and fourth can be satisfied by the uncritical acceptance of information. After all, "inquiring minds want to know," but what satisfies their curiosity may bear little resemblance to the real world. Similarly, the desire for perceived control can be as easily slaked by misattributions as by accurate ones.
To pursue interpersonal goals effectively, the third function, requires some degree of accurate information. Even given the severe limitations on human judgment, oft times we do coordinate interpersonal action successfully ( Hewes & Planalp, 1982). Despite our cognitive limitations, we did "make it to the Moon,"