Equilibrium Theory – Argyle & Dean

Argyle, M., & Dean, J. (1965). Eye contact, distance, and affiliation. Sociometry, 28, 289- 304.

Argyle, M., & Cook, M. (1976). Gaze and mutual gaze. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Uni- versity Press.

Another example of the discussion on whether there is a certain level of interchangeability of verbal and non-verbal cues of immediacy in the realm of online (or CMC) communication is Argyle and Dean’s 1965 affiliative conflict (or equilibrium) theory. As Joseph Walther explains, “Equilibrium theory posits that communicators dynamically adapt levels of gaze, physical proximity, and other behaviors indicative of intimacy to normative levels based on culture and need for affiliation (Argyle & Cook, 1976).” (41).

Many studies on this topic were conducted with FtF participants. For example, if one individual in a conversation decreased proximity (thus reducing nonverbal immediacy), the other participant showed greater verbal immediacy.

Walther goes on to note that while social presence theory does not directly discuss equilibrium theory, it supports it with the speculation that “language may substitute or even ‘overcompensate’ for missing nonverbal information” (42). From their 1976 article:

“aware of the reduced-cue situation, … will modify his behaviour; thus head-nods indicating agreement may be replaced by verbal phrases such as “I quite agree.” … This constitutes a clear case of interchangeability between non-verbal cues (in this case head-nods and verbal expressions) and verbal messages (in this case explicit expressions of agreement or disagreement). (p. 64).

In my study of the online video conversation (OVC), this discussion–of interchangeability–is not aimed so much at an “either/or situation,” that is one in which participants practice this interchangeability of verbal and nonverbal cues and immediacy to replace one when communication of such is not possible. Rather, the OVC setting offers the opportunity for participants to provide and receive either audiovideo messages (verbal and non-verbal) and textual messages (verbal). Therefore, the more applicable question of my research have more to do with the times at which the participants (students in this case) use the methods interchangeably and when they choose to use one over another. Additionally, what sort of messages are conveyed through one method as oppose to the other or is there any differentiation?
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My discovery of this is from the following Joseph Walther article:

Walther, J. B., Loh, T., & Granka, L. (2005). Let me count the ways – The interchange of verbal and nonverbal cues in computer-mediated and face-to-face affinity. [Article]. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 24(1), 36-65.

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