Uncertainty Reduction Theory

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Uncertainty Reduction Theory

People prefer options that are clear and certain

Redmond, M. Uncertainty Reduction Theory (2015)


The backstory


When faced with a new experience, people are hesitant to jump in feet first. When that experience is also unclear with an uncertain outcome, it can cause people cognitive stress. In short, people avoid the jump entirely.

The theory originated around how people communicate. How we approach and form new relationships with people using interpersonal communication.

The same interaction can be applied to how technology and companies communicate with people. People tend to avoid options that are ambiguous or have uncertain outcomes. Preferring to stick to what they know or avoid the experience altogether. By making expectations and new experiences clearer it encourages people to choose them over other options.

The more uncertainty people feel, the more information they need to help them through the process.

Uncertainty arises in two ways:

  • Cognitive
    When we are unsure of the beliefs and attitudes of the new interaction

  • Behavioural
    When we are unsure what is expected of our behaviour, especially when it is completely new to us. We tend to fall back on social norms in these interactions.


Start using Uncertainty Reduction Theory


Ask yourself:

What if you found out when people are most uncertain?
What if you include stories of other people’s experiences? To familiarise people with complicated behaviours.
What if you used clear and simple language?
What if you create similarly by showing similar beliefs, attitudes and language?

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