Rationalist Bias in Communication Theory
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Rationalist Bias in Communication Theory

Leonard Shedletsky (University of Southern Maine, USA)
Pages: 300|DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-7439-3
ISBN13: 9781799874393|ISBN10: 1799874397|EISBN13: 9781799874416|ISBN13 Softcover: 9781799874409


This book applies social intuition theory to human communication. It argues that communication theory has failed to account for high speed responses and the implications of high speed responses for not only how but what we communicate. It explores deliberative versus intuitive thinking and communicating. What is unique about this work is that it critiques communication theory as it is currently presented in the textbooks of the discipline and as it is currently understood by the public.

The way we think about human communication has not only ignored the elephant in the room, it has ignored the elephant in our minds. Jonathan Haidt (2006, pp. 13-17) described our minds as having controlled and automatic processes; his metaphor is a person riding on an elephant. The rider is control and the elephant is automatic processes, intuition and emotion. The rider is small and no contest for the much larger and stronger elephant. The automatic system evolved earlier in our evolution to trigger fast and reliable action. The rider evolved later to help out, but the rider is not the boss.

We have managed to ignore an obvious fact about our communication lives, one that perhaps has been seen for some time but not noticed and not accounted for. The obvious fact is that we typically respond to the world—including the world of symbols, signs, and their meanings, often complex social contexts-- extraordinarily fast, faster than the time it would take to consciously deliberate. That is the elephant in the room. It is not that we haven’t been aware of the importance of language, cultural knowledge, background knowledge, instantaneous acceptance and rejection of ideas, and inference, as we communicate. We have. But we have not stopped to ask what that means for how we communicate with one another, how we communicate with ourselves, what implications that has for what we communicate and how we are affected by the stimuli we encounter, interpret and respond to in a flash. If we slow down and consider this fact seriously—that we respond before we are aware of why we are responding the way we do--many questions not only about cognition but also about human communication follow. How can we respond to complex social events before we are aware of what we think? What can we learn about our everyday interactions by considering our speedy responses? What can we learn about ourselves, who we are? Would taking this fact about the speed of our responses into consideration lead to improving critical thinking? Would we improve our effectiveness in education, persuasion, decision-making, and psychotherapy? Would we improve our interpersonal communication? Would understanding the operations and function of high speed responses to social contexts help us understand the operations and functions of conscious, covert speech? Does understanding intuitive thought contribute to understanding journal writing? Other forms of writing? In one communication course where students kept a private journal, one commented at the end of the course: "The journal allowed me to write out thoughts I did not even know I had." This book brings evidence to bear on the theory of communication and offers chapters on practical implications of a social intuitionist view of human communication.

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Author(s)/Editor(s) Biography

is Professor of Communication at The University of Southern Maine. He is the author of Meaning and Mind: An Intrapersonal Approach to Human Communication (1989), Human Communication on the Internet (2004, with Joan Aitken), co-editor of Intrapersonal Communication Processes (1995), as well as numerous articles and chapters. He wrote the entry, "Cognition," for the International Encyclopedia of Communication, 2008. He has been teaching since 1974. He teaches a range of courses in communication with cognition, discourse and meaning as underlying themes. He developed and taught the course "Intergenerational Communication and the Internet," in which college students mentored older adults in Internet use. He was named The Russell Chair, 2009 - 2011 in Philosophy and Education for a two-year period. The distinction carries the responsibility of presenting one or more public lectures on issues in education and/or philosophy during each of the two years. He was awarded recognition for STELLAR scholarship and teaching, University of Southern Maine (USM) 2003 and 2007. He has received a Center for Technology-Enhanced Learning Development Grant at USM (2007) to develop the course, Research Methods, for online delivery. In 2009 he received a Alfred P. Sloan Foundation grant to expand the online capacity for his department to deliver the major in communication and media studies. His resume is available at: http://www.usm.maine.edu/com/resume.html. His current research interest explores discussion online versus in the classroom. He is trying to find out what facilitates active and high quality discussion in education.