Data from England, Finland, and Germany were used to explore national differences in communication apprehension (CA). Based on the traditions of oral communication training in each nation, and the history of cross-cultural comparisons in CA, it was proposed that national differences would emerge. English participants scored lower than Finnish and German participants on totalCA, publicCA, dyadicCA, and meetingCA; Finnish participants scored higher than all nations on totalCA, dyadicCA, and meetingCA; and German participants consistently scored in the middle on all aspects of CA, except for publicCA. The study of oral communication, conversational style, and politeness are discussed as potential variables relating to CA differences between the nations.
Keywords: Communication apprehension, Culture, ANOVA, Cross-cultural communication
Communication apprehension (CA) is a “broad-based fear or anxiety associated with either real or anticipated [oral] communication with another person or persons” (McCroskey 1977: 78). CA occurs in four contexts: group, meetings, public speaking, and interpersonal contexts. Individuals high in CA tend to withdraw from communication and are less likely to be skilled at communication (Allen & Bourhis 1996). CA is negatively correlated with willingness to communicate (WTC) (Donovan & McIntyre 2004; Mansson & Myers 2009) and with self-perceived communication competence (SPCC) (McCroskey, Burroughs, Daun, & Richmond 1990; Teven, Richmond, McCroskey, & McCroskey 2010). Research on CA approaches studies from either a situational or communibiological approach. The communibiological approach pays more attention to neurobiological foundations of human behavior and practices, while a situational theory approach focuses more on environmental factors such as culture, social learning, and situation (Beatty & McCroskey 1998; Heisel, McCroskey, & Richmond 1999; Kelly & Keaten 2000). This study takes a situational approach to the study of CA. From a situational approach, an extensive body of research has explored CA in various populations, with the bulk focusing on US student samples.
A dearth of literature on CA has been devoted to cross-cultural comparisons of CA among US Americans and other (national) cultures, especially East Asia. However, these studies might suffer from a lack of measurement equivalence or explanation of possible cross-cultural differences (Hsu 2007). The studies which have investigated reasons for contextual incompatibilities of CA have mentioned various effective cultural and non-cultural elements. Differences in CA levels can be attributed to various differences in individualist cultures such as the US, Western Europe, and Australia and collectivist cultures such as East Asian cultures and Arabic countries (Hackman & Barthel-Hackman 1993; Hsu 2007; Pederson, Tkachuk & Allen 2008). People of more collectivist cultures are more likely to perform their activities in groups; while individuals in individualist cultures emphasize the individual needs, space, and activities. Collectivists are more sensitive about others’ evaluations and this could result in higher CA.
The difference between high-context cultures such as Korea, Japan, China, and most Arabian countries and low-context cultures such as the US could affect CA levels (Merkin 2009; Pederson et al. 2008; Pryor, Bulter, & Boehringer 2005). In a high-context culture most of the information within a communication activity has already been shared among the participants, and mutual perception of the communication is dependent on the context of the communication; while a low-context culture is more straight-forward and contains more information (Hall, 1976). Since in high-context cultures individual expression is less valued high-context cultures are more apprehensive (Pryor et al. 2005). The emphasis placed on the oral communication by low/high context cultures can affect communication traits in communication (Allen, O'Mara, & Long 2014).
There is an array of other factors that can affect CA levels in cross-cultural contexts. Differences in lifestyles between the mostly-urban-settled American society and New Zealanders, of whom 45 percent live in rural areas has resulted in higher CA levels among New Zealanders (Hackman & Barthel-Hackman 1993). Taiwanese are found to have higher CA than Americans because of higher independent self-construals, higher fear of negative evaluation, higher modesty, and consequently lower SPCC in comparison to their American counterparts (Hsu 2004).
RQ: What if any differences exist between English, Finnish, and German individuals’ self-reported communication apprehension levels?
Three samples were collected for this study (n = 787). The English sample (n = 335) consisted of 160 males (47.8%) and 175 females (52.2%). The age of the English participants ranged from 18 to 40 (M = 26.86, SD = 4.85). The Finnish sample (n = 181) had 78 males (43.1%) and 103 females (56.9%). Finnish participants ranged in age from 18 to 63 (M = 32.10, SD = 10.32). The German sample (n = 271) consisted of 166 males (61.3%) and 105 females (38.7%). German participants ranged in age from 18 to 57 (M = 27.82, SD = 10.45).The surveys were distributed online and in-person in each nation via a snowball sampling in various urban areas. The principal researcher had contacts in each nation who served as the principal points of contact. These initial points of contact helped distribute surveys in each nation. Moreover, other members of the research team distributed links to the online survey, which was on Survey Monkey. This is a convenience sample. However, as Gudykunst (2002) pointed out, in cross-cultural research it is difficult to gather random/representative samples. Surveys were originally prepared in English, and then translated into Finnish, and German. Native speakers then translated the instrument before bilingual speakers back-translated it. After back-translation, all translations were compared for accuracy. Each translation was highly reliable: Finnish (k = .89) and German (k = .87). The survey instructions for the PRCA, informed participants to consider all scenarios in their native language.
The Personal Report of Communication Apprehension (PRCA) is a 24-item scale measuring trait-like communication apprehension in four communication contexts: dyadic, meetings, public, and small groups (McCroskey 1984). It uses a 5-point Likert scale from 1 strongly agree to 5 strongly disagree. The scale is designed so that 6 different items make up each of the four contexts of CA (dyadic, meetings, public, and small groups). Reliability coefficients for the PRCA have ranged from .86 to .96 (Hsu, 2007; Mansson & Myers 2009). See Table 1 for means, standard deviations, and alpha values for each nation.
Table 1: PRCA Means, Standard Deviations, Reliabilities, and Post-Hoc Comparisons
Note: Subscripts represent mean differences between groups based on Games Howell post-hoc comparison, p < .01.
Second, conversational style may have an effect on CA. In direct comparison with the other countries, the conversational style of Finns and Germans could explain why both scored higher on CA than English participants. Finn and German interaction is typically more focused on conveying information rather than social bonding (Byrnes 1986; Kurki & Tomperi 2011). As languages, German and Finnish are more content-oriented, explicit, and direct than English (Byrne 1987; House 2005; Kurki & Tomperi 2011). Germans and Finns also tend to be less willing to engage in small talk, a phrase that in fact does not exist in either language. Hence, a situation requiring small talk with unfamiliar people or a situation where Germans or Finns may feel small talk is necessary may increase CA. Communication traits may indeed be influenced by how a culture/group perceived the value of small talk. Thus, research on communication traits; particularly research on CA should consider the cultural significance of talk on communication.Third, politeness and/or modesty must be considered as potential variables influencing CA levels. The potential influence of politeness and/or modesty can be seen in the case of Finland. Finnish participants scored highest on CA. These results could be attributed to high levels of modesty and politeness embedded in Finnish communication. Modesty is a virtue in Finnish communication culture (Nishimura, Nevgi, & Tella 2008; Valjakka 2007) and there even is a saying in Finnish about “Vaatimattomuus kaunistaa” or “Modesty makes beautiful” (Keltinkangas-Järvinen, 1996 in Iivonen, Sonnenwald, Parma, & Poole-Kober 1998). This virtue may lead to Finns underestimating their abilities to communicate. Aside from modesty, politeness also tends to be valued in Finnish conversation/communication styles (Carbaugh 2005) to avoid negative attributes about their intelligence and character. It is possible politeness, in conjunction with modesty could influence an individual’s perception of their communicative effectiveness, which would in turn influence CA scores. Future research should consider combining politeness theory with the study of CA and similar communication traits. Politeness theory basically asserts communication messages create various kinds of face threats, people deal with these face threats in different ways, politeness and face threats influence future messages, and the threat in a message depends on the context (Cupach & Metts 1994; Johnson 2007; Johnson, Roloff, & Riffee 2004; Lakey & Canary 2002). It would be beneficial to consider how these kinds of threats and politeness influence communication traits and the perception of competence communication in different contexts.
We identify two limitations with this study. The first is that the sample for this data is not truly random. In conducting cross-cultural research it is virtually impossible to conduct truly random research (Gudykunst 2002). However, caution should be used in interpreting these results. The second limitation of the study is the method, particularly the PRCA. Some participants had questions about the items on the PRCA. While the PRCA in each language had high kappa reliability, the translations were not perfect, as it is extremely difficult, if not impossible to perfectly translate an instrument from one language into another. Therefore, it is possible some idiomatic phrases on the PRCA did not translate properly from English into one of the languages of the study.In spite of these limitations, the present study provides empirical evidence to suggest national differences in CA between England, Finland, and Germany. The findings emphasize the need for researchers to expand our understanding of communication traits into how such traits are potentially influenced by: oral skills training, communication settings, conversational style, and politeness. With future research it is possible to better understand how these constructs potentially affect communication traits.
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Stephen M. Croucher (Ph.D., University of Oklahoma, 2006) is a Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Jyväskylä.
Mélodine Sommier (MA, University of Jyväskylä, 2012) is a Doctoral student in the Department of Communication.
Diyako Rahmani is a Doctoral Student in the Department of Communication at the University of Jyväskylä.
Juliane Appenrodt (MA, University of Jyväskylä, 2013) is a working professional in Germany.
Please direct all correspondence regarding this article to
Stephen M. Croucher
PO Box 35, L-230
Department of Communication, University of Jyväskylä