Date of Award

Spring 2010

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Turner, Lynn H.

Second Advisor

Wolburg, Joyce M.

Third Advisor

Shuter, Robert


Decades of research have supported Berger and Calabrese's (1975) Uncertainty Reduction Theory (URT), which posits that reducing uncertainty is a chief goal of initial communication between strangers. This study extends the scope of URT, focusing on initial communication between strangers who see themselves as potential romantic partners. Further, this study specifically examines the potential influence of a well-researched external factor that has been found to negatively affect the way people communicate and behave within romantic relationships: parental divorce. Although many studies have assessed the impact of parental divorce on communication in developed relationships, there is little research examining its impact on initial communication, specifically, uncertainty levels, between potential romantic partners. This study provides an initial examination of this question.

A review of existing research suggests that the presence of parental divorce may result in increased negative communication patterns and distrust toward potential romantic partners, and that these effects are more pronounced the younger the child is when divorce occurs. These findings guided the hypothesis that individuals with divorced parents would express higher levels of uncertainty than those whose parents are not divorced. A second hypothesis predicted that the younger individuals were when their parents divorced, the higher their level of uncertainty would be. A research question asks whether current number of friends and similarity to a potential partner will affect uncertainty levels.

To test these hypotheses and answer this question, a convenience sample of university students filled out a survey, which contained a hypothetical conversation that could have taken place between the participant and a potential romantic partner. Then, respondents completed the CL7 confidence scale (Clatterbuck, 1979) and answered a series of demographic questions, including whether their parents divorced, and if so, at what age the divorce occurred. A multiple regression analysis of the data indicated that neither parental divorce nor age at which divorce occurred influenced respondents' level of uncertainty. Other findings demonstrated statistically significant relationships in the non-divorced parents data subset between respondents' perceived similarity to the potential romantic partner, ethnicity and sex and respondents' level of certainty. Potential explanations for these findings and theoretical implications are discussed.

Included in

Communication Commons