Example for interpersonal communication: EVT

Judee Burgoon’s Expectancy Violation Theory (EVT) is often covered in interpersonal communication textbooks but can be hard to explain to students. I used the following example:

First: Ask the students to imagine they are attending a lecture to be followed by a movie. Although the lecture is in a large hall, very few others are attending and there is no one there you know. Now imagine that the lecture ends and the movie is about to start. A man you have never met walks down the aisle past several empty rows and then sits down next to you. He then proceeds to talk through the whole movie, sometimes about the movie but also about other topics. What is your reaction?

Most likely students will talk about being annoyed or their space violated. We have an expectancy that people who do not know each other will not sit together unless they have to and that they let people listen without unnecessary interruption.

Well, this exact thing happened to my husband and he was not annoyed at all.

The lecture he attended was given by the director John Landis and the film was Landis’ “An American Werewolf in Paris.” The man who sat next to him? Landis. After finishing the lecture he sat next to my husband and explained he had not seen the final version of this film’s re-edit. The two of them chatted about the film and about a mutual interest in film editing. Rather than leave the lecture irritated, my husband was thrilled.

EVT helps explain this: The theory says people we view with a positive reward valance — like being a well-known Hollywood director — often get a BETTER response when they violate our expectations (within reason, of course) than when they simply do what is expected. To explain the “within reason” caveat I often joke that if he had sat in my husband’s lap instead of next to him, clearly my husband would have still been very annoyed.

I would then extend into covering some of Burgoon’s examples about job interviews, etc.


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About teachingpublicspeaking

I believe public speaking can go from most dreaded class to favorite class. I'm a former public speaking college instructor who spent years seeking out activities, assignments and examples to make the class interactive as well as educational -- they are collected here. I welcome suggestions for additions.

One response to “Example for interpersonal communication: EVT”

  1. Johnd398 says :

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