Causal Uncertainty in Social Interactions: The Impact of Interpersonal Expectations and Uncertainty Reduction on Liking
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High causally uncertain (CU) individuals experience lingering doubts about their ability to determine the causes of social events (Weary & Edwards, 1994). Furthermore, these people tend to perceive their interactions and conversational partners more negatively (Boucher & Jacobson, 2009). However, the reasons for these negative reactions remain unclear. Therefore, the purpose of the current set of studies was to explore two possible explanations for these reactions. Specifically, in three studies, I examined if insufficient uncertainty reduction or negative interpersonal expectations mediate the relationship between causal uncertainty and liking for a recent acquaintance. In Study 1 (N = 114), participants engaged in a brief unstructured dyadic conversation, whereas in Study 2 (N = 176), they engaged in three conversations with different partners. Finally, in Study 3 (N = 220), I examined the effects of temporarily activating causal uncertainty beliefs during initial interactions. As predicted, causal uncertainty was negatively associated with liking and uncertainty reduction. In Studies 1 and 2, high CU participants reported more uncertainty about themselves and their partner, and less liking than did low CU participants. Although chronic levels of causal uncertainty in Study 3 were not associated with liking or uncertainty reduction, participants who reported more current feelings of uncertainty also reported more uncertainty about themselves and their partner, and less liking. More importantly, uncertainty reduction fully mediated the effect of causal uncertainty on liking in Study 1 and partially mediated the effect of current uncertainty feelings on liking in Study 3. Therefore, high CU people’s negative social perceptions appear to stem, at least in part, from an inability to reduce their social uncertainty during initial interactions. In contrast, the relationship between causal uncertainty and interpersonal expectations remains unclear. Although causal uncertainty (as well as current uncertainty feelings) in Studies 1 and 3 were not associated with negative interpersonal expectations, high CU participants in Study 2 did report more negative expectations for their first conversation relative to low CU participants. Furthermore, although causal uncertainty was positively related to rejection sensitivity, rejection sensitivity was unable to account for the causal uncertainty effects on liking.