Equivocation in america and japan: A cross-national comparison of the effects of situational conflict and status

Keiko Miyamoto Tanaka, Robert A Bell

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2 Scopus citations


This study provides a cross-cultural test of Bavelas's situational theory of equivocation. Students from the United States and Japan were presented with one of four versions of a questionnaire, prepared in English and Japanese, that consisted of two hypothetical scenarios. Each scenario was altered to create either an avoidance-avoidance situation or a nonconflict situation. The imagined interaction partners in these scenarios were described as someone possessing status either equal to or greater than the students' status. For each scenario, subjects wrote down what they thought they would say in the situation and then responded to several items about their perceptions of the message and situation. Results were strongly supportive of the theory. Both American and Japanese students produced messages exhibiting substantial equivocation, but only when in an avoidance-avoidance conflict situation. Contrary to expectations, such situations did not elicit more equivocation from Japanese students than from American students; nor did relative status affect the use of equivocation. The equivocations of subjects were judged by themselves and by independent coders to be deceptive, though prosocial. Implications of these findings for the theory are discussed and suggestions for future research are offered.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)261-296
Number of pages36
JournalCommunication Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1996
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication


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