In interpersonal communication there are many theories that are similar yet different in many ways. The theories can be combined to describe people and how those people interact and communicate with each other. Many of these theories help explain how people in society form impressions of others, how they maintain these impressions, why people interact with certain people in society, and how people will use these impressions that they have formed later on in life. These theories also help people to better understand themselves, to better understand interpersonal communication, and to better understand people in general. There are two theories in interpersonal communication that, despite their differences, can go hand in hand. The first is interaction adaptation theory and the second is emotional contagion theory.
These two theories's similarities and differences and their relevance to my everyday life will be discussed in this paper. These two theories are very important in understanding how people interact with others and why people do the things they do sometimes. Interaction adaptation theory defined by Beebe, Beebe, and Redmond (2005) is a "Theory suggesting that people interact with others by adapting to what others are doing" (p. 190).
A way of looking at this theory is by thinking about a mirror. "Sometimes we relate by mirroring the posture or behavior of others" (p. 190). This theory believes that people will share the same kind of communication patterns when they are communicating together. People will interact in the same way as the other person.
There has been a conclusion based on this theory that "nonverbal cues play a key role in how people adapt to others" (p. 190). If a person is communicating with their friend, who has their arms crossed, than this person might find that they are crossing their arms as well. These types of actions are all conclusions to this theory.
People, based on their interactions with others, usually tend to develop similar communication patterns and find themselves mirroring the patterns of the other. Emotional contagion theory is a little similar to interaction adaptation theory. According to Beebe, Beebe, and Redmond (2005), emotional contagion theory "suggests that people tend to 'catch' the emotions of others" (p. 213). This means that if a person is communicating with someone who is smiling, than that person may find that they are smiling as well. "Interpersonal interactions with others can affect your nonverbal expression of emotion" (p.
213). As a whole, society tends to mirror the emotions of the person who is speaking or of the person who is playing a part. If a person goes to a play and the actors are experiencing fear, than the people who are watching the play will tend to experience that same fear. If one actor is mad at another actor, than the people watching the play will either experience that same emotion of anger or they will side with the other actor and experience the emotion that the other actor is feeling, whether it be uncertainty about why the other actor is mad at them or a feeling of sadness because the other actor is mad at them.
Imitating others emotions happens all the time in society and as long as there is communication between people, whether it is verbal or nonverbal, this catching of emotions will continue. The interaction adaptation theory and the emotional contagion theory both have similarities and differences, just like any other set of theories. Both of these theories suggest that people adapt to people who are around them and whom they interact with. These two theories allow people to mirror those with whom they communicate with.
These theories go hand in hand because when you are communicating with someone and mirroring their actions and behaviors, it is hard to not mirror their emotions. If someone is sad and decides to talk to someone about their problem, than the other person is most likely going to share their friends' emotion of sadness. It is highly unlikely that as a friend someone would start laughing or smiling while their friend is pouring their heart out to them. People would, in general, console their friend and want to help them. This type of interaction and communication allows people to have a sense of closeness even if they are not close with the person with whom they are mirroring.
Where there are similarities, there are bound to be differences. Even though both of these theories are the mirroring of others, if someone does not feel the same as the other person, they will not necessarily follow in the same path. The interaction adaptation theory is about the mirroring of behavior and actions. This includes crossing of the arms if the other person is crossing theirs or leaning in to a conversation if the other person is leaning in.
Actions are very different from emotions. The emotional contagion theory deals with the mirroring of emotions, not actions or behaviors. Emotions include smiling, laughing, or even crying. These are actions, but they are not behaviors of people. Since the interaction adaptation theory says that people interact with others according to what they are doing, someone will not necessarily interact with someone else who is crying or even laughing. People are not all the same and these theories do not always ring true.
If someone is having a bad day, they may not care about the bad day that their friend is having and will not necessarily share their emotions or their actions. These two theories come into play in my everyday life. There is no one specific event that jumps out at me, but just everyday meetings with friends and colleagues. My best friend is a mother and I love her baby and her husband to death.
I go to her house almost everyday, but if I cannot make it over there I still talk to her on the phone. I listen to her everyday trials and tribulations of being at home all day with the baby while her husband is at work and I hear about how life is at night when her husband is home. I am her best friend as well so I feel obligated to listen to her problems and be there for her because she listens to mine and is always there for me. If she tells that the baby fell and hurt herself, than I feel sad and if she had a fight with her husband and she is angry I am usually angry as well. I share her emotions just like I know she shares mine when I am having a bad day. When I go over to her house and we sit and talk it is like looking into a mirror because we have been friends for so long that we do mimic each others behavior and actions.
We usually sit the same way and now that I have read about these theories I have noticed that we will both cross our arms or lean in if the other one is leaning in. If one of us starts laughing the other one usually starts to laugh. The same goes for most of the emotions that people feel. I never really noticed any of this before I started writing this paper. I shared this information with my best friend and she was amazed that the way people interact is generally the same within groups in society. She now has a better understanding of the communication patterns and behaviors of people and she is not even in the class.
These theories have helped me to have a clearer understanding of how people interact with others and how they can share emotions. Everybody uses these theories whether they are conscious of it or not. If people did not use these theories than they would not be taught in class. Knowing about these theories and how they work is very beneficial to having better communication and interaction with people who are complete strangers and with people who are friends or even colleagues.
The way people interact with others is important to knowing how they will share emotions and behaviors not only now, but also in the future. References Beebe, S. , Beebe, S. , Redmond, M. (2005).
Interpersonal Communication: Relating to Others. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.