Communication apprehension refers to one’s anxious feelings about communication. McCroskey defines communication apprehension as “an individual’s level of fear or anxiety associated with real or anticipated communication with another person or persons” (1977, 78). Communication apprehension has been one of the most studied individual differences in the field of interpersonal communication, under a variety of labels such as social anxiety, reticence, shyness, unwillingness to communicate, and social-communicative anxiety (Daly & McCroskey 1984). The scope of subjects includes dating anxiety, receiver apprehension or informational reception apprehension, singing apprehension, writing apprehension, and intercultural communication apprehension (Knapp & Daly 2002).
Richmond & McCroskey (1998) suggest that there are at least four types of communication apprehension: (1) trait-like communication apprehension, which cuts across time, receiver, and situation; (2) context-based communication apprehension, which is associated with a single type of communication context cutting across receiver and time; (3) audience-based communication apprehension, which is associated with a single receiver or group of receivers cutting across context and time; and (4) situational communication apprehension, which is specific to a given context with a given receiver at a given time.
Scholars have reported that communication apprehension tends to produce helplessness, social isolation, and disintegration; more than 30 percent of Americans consider themselves communicatively apprehensive. Communication apprehension also has a direct relation with cognitive performance and various academic achievements such as overall grade point average, standardized achievement scores, and grades earned in small classes in junior high and college. Compared with nonapprehensive people, apprehensive people engage in less eye contact, are more self-protective and less disclosive, and are seen less positively by others.
Communication apprehension has been thought of as a relatively stable construct. Traditionally, scholars have assumed that communication apprehension is a personalitybased predisposition, which is believed to be a more or less consistent trait across time, places, and situations. The notion that communication apprehension is a trait-like predisposition, however, does not necessarily mean that it is always rigidly invariant. Communication apprehension can be context or situation specific. For example, a person who is quite normal in everyday life may suddenly become fearful of communication in a certain context, such as job interviews and public speaking. In fact, some early researchers proposed that communication apprehension is a state rather than a trait-like predisposition (Behnke & Beatty 1981).
Many studies have examined causes and effects of communication apprehension, but relatively few studies have closely investigated changes in it. Some researchers, however, have found that communication apprehension levels can be changed within a rather short period of time, even in a week, and posit that communication apprehension can be controlled or reduced with the right treatments. For example, Berger et al. (1984) reviewed studies examining various methods for reducing communication apprehension and concluded that systematic desensitization was the most effective method.
One interesting finding in this line of research is that communication skill training programs such as public speaking classes were found to be disappointingly ineffective in reducing communication apprehension. The reason may be the involuntarily enforced nature of such classes in schools. As an alternative, Richmond & McCroskey (1998) recommend interpersonal or small group communication classes that are less coercive. Perhaps nontrait-like communication apprehension that is context based can be more easily treated through regularly and externally imposed small group discussion sessions such as cooperative learning in class.
Many studies have compared cultural differences in levels of communication apprehension and reported that people of western cultures tended to have lower levels of communication apprehension than people of Asian cultures. But some studies have reported that two geographically close countries may have quite different levels of communication apprehension. For example, Klopf & Cambra (1979) compared communication apprehension levels among college students in America, Australia, Japan, and South Korea and found that the Americans had significantly lower apprehension than the Japanese but significantly higher than the Australians and Koreans. Interestingly enough, the Koreans and the Japanese, usually considered as neighbor countries that are very close culturally as well as geographically, showed quite different communication styles: while the Koreans had the lowest percentage of apprehensives, the Japanese had the highest.
Researchers have found communication apprehension affects a wide range of behavior, ranging from seating positions at a conference table to housing choices. It is not surprising that many types and versions of communication apprehension measures have been developed, including the Personal Report of Communication Apprehension (PRCA), Writing Apprehension Test (WAT), and Test of Singing Apprehension (TOSA). Most communication apprehension measures are self-report scales. For future studies, communication scholars should consider using more objective measures based on biofeedback systems or hormones such as cortisol.
- Behnke, R. R., & Betty, P. T. (1981). A cognitive-physiological model of speech anxiety. Communication Monographs, 48, 158 –163.
- Berger, B. A., Richmond, V. P., McCroskey, J. C., & Baldwin, H. J. (1984). Reducing communication apprehension: Is there a better way? American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, 48, 46 – 50.
- Daly, J. A., & McCroskey, J. C. (eds.) (1984). Avoiding communication: Shyness, reticence, and communication apprehension. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.
- Klopf, D. W., & Cambra, R. E. (1979). Communication apprehension among college students in America, Australia, Japan, and Korea. Journal of Psychology, 102, 27–31.
- Knapp, M. L., & Daly, J. A. (2002). Handbook of interpersonal communication, 3rd edn. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
- McCroskey, J. C. (1977). Oral communication apprehension: A summary of recent theory and research. Human Communication Research, 4, 78 – 96.
- Richmond, V. P., & McCroskey, J. C. (1998). Communication apprehension, avoidance, and effectiveness, 5th edn. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.