Expectancy violations theory
Expectancy violations theory attempts to explain one’s reactions to unexpected behavior of their peers, and the various meanings that people attribute to the violation, or infringement, of their personal space. Expectancy is what people predict (or expect) will happen, rather than what they desire. A violation is a breach, infringement, or transgression as of law, rule, promise, etc. What one can infer from these definitions is that expectancy violation is a breach or violation of an individual's prediction. This theory sees communication as the exchange of information that is high in relational content and can be used to violate the expectations of another who will perceive the exchange either positively or negatively, depending upon the liking between the two people. Expectancies are primarily based upon social norms and specific characteristics of the communicators. Such expectancies can come directly from the current interaction but are often formed by a person's initial stance determined by a blend of person requirements (biological/survival needs), expectations (normative schemata) and desires (likes and dislikes) or 'RED'. This is known as a person's interaction position (IP). Violations of expectancies cause arousal and compel the recipient to initiate a series of cognitive appraisals of the violation. The theory proposes that expectancy will influence the outcome of the communication as positive or negative and predicts that positive violations increase the attraction of the violator and negative violations decrease the attraction of the violator.
- 1 History
- 2 Core concepts of expectancy violations theory
- 3 Theoretical viewpoints and assumptions
- 4 Metatheoretical assumptions
- 5 Common expectancy violations in nonverbal communication
- 6 Proxemics and kinesics of expectancy violations theory
- 7 Common expectancy violations in close relationships
- 8 The theory in new media age
- 9 Related theories
- 10 Criticism of the theory
- 11 Further use and development of the theory
- 12 See also
- 13 Notes
- 14 References
Expectation Violations Theory has its roots in Uncertainty Reduction research, which attempts to predict and explain how communication is used to reduce the uncertainty among people involved in conversations with one another the first time they meet. Expectancy Violations Theory however, builds upon this, and proposes that an unexpected behavior during interpersonal communication causes arousal and uncertainty in people; people then look to explain the violation in order to better predict another’s behavior. Early communication research that led to EVT was conducted by Judee K. Burgoon in 1976 from her Nonverbal Expectancy Violations Model. It explored issues of personal space and how communicative functions could be seen through expectations and expectation violations. In its earliest form, the theory focused on how people react to violations of personal space. Later however, the theory was extended to encompass all types of behavior violations. Whereas much of Burgoon’s work emphasizes nonverbal violations of physical space, also known as the study of proxemics. Burgoon defined Proxemics as the study of people's use of space as a special elaboration of culture. Personal space can also refer to the psychological or emotional space of a person. Burgoon had seen academic attention paid to personal space norms but recognized a gap in research regarding the use of space as communication. Her theory brings to light another new component: kinesics. This is the study of body movements, gestures, facial expressions as a means of communication, and it involves the space between individuals, the ‘proper’ distance to be maintained (within contexts and relationships) and what happens when the boundaries are crossed. Also, the communicator, or violator, has a degree of power either in the present situation or a possible future one that influences the interpretation of his/her actions. The theory was later applied to other forms of nonverbal behavior and subsequently to other acts of communication, and is now referred to as EVT. It is considered a theory of communication processes, and more specifically a theory of discourse and interaction. Recently, the theory has undergone some reconstitution by Burgoon and her colleagues and has resulted in a newer theory known as Interaction Adaptation Theory, which is a more comprehensive explanation of adaptation in interpersonal interaction.
Core concepts of expectancy violations theory
First, expectancy refers to what an individual anticipates will happen in a given situation. Expectancy violations refer to the actions sufficiently discrepant from the expectancy to be noticeable and classified as outside the expectancy range. In psychology such behavior is frequently referred to as behavioral disconfirmation. Expectancy is similar to the idea of social norms and is based on three primary factors. According to the expectancy violation theory, three factors affect expectancies: communicator characteristics, relational characteristics and context. Communication characteristics are individual differences, including age, sex, ethnic background, and personality traits. For instance, you might expect an elderly woman to be more polite than an adolescent boy, or you might expect your extroverted friend to be outgoing at a party and your introverted friend to be quiet and reserved. Relational characteristics refer to factors as such as how close we are to someone, what type of relationship we share (platonic, romantic, business), and what types of experiences we have shared together. Hearing “I love you” from a romantic partner might be an expected behavior, but hearing the same words from a casual acquaintanceship might be highly unexpected. Similarly, certain types of intimate touch are usually expected in romantic relationships but not platonic ones. Finally, context includes both the social situation and cultural influences. Clearly there are different behavioral expectations depending on the situation. For example, if you are in church attending a funeral, you expect people to act differently than if you were at the same church attending a wedding. Behavioral expectations may also shift depending on whether you are at work or out for a night on the town with friends. Similarly expectations differ based on culture. For example, you may expect someone to greet you by kissing your face three times on alternating cheeks if you are in parts of Europe, but not if you are in the United States.
By examining the context, relationship, and communicator’s characteristics, individuals arrive at a certain expectation for how a given person should and will likely behave. Changing even one of these expectancy variables might lead to a different expectation. Once you have determined, however, that someone’s behavior was, in fact, a breach of expectation, you then judge the behavior in question. This breach is known as the violation valence—the positive or negative evaluation you make about a behavior that you did not anticipate. Importantly, not all violations are evaluated negatively. Very often a person behaves in a way that you might not have expected, but this surprising behavior is viewed positively. For example, a normally cantankerous colleague brings coffee and bagels to the Monday morning staff meeting or the habitually shy intern actually makes eye contact with you and asks for your opinion on a new project. The EVT model predicts that negative and positive violations of expectations will function differently. Specifically, behavior that unexpectedly violates a norm (i.e., a negative violation) should berated as more deceptive than expected violations of a norm (i.e., a negative confirmation), while normative but unexpected behavior (i.e., appositive violation) should be rated as less deceptive than expected normative behavior (i.e., a positive confirmation). The third element that must be addressed before predicting reciprocation[disambiguation needed] or compensation[disambiguation needed] involves assessing the person whose behavior is in question.
Similar to the violation valence, the communicator reward valence is an evaluation you make about the person who committed the violation. Specifically, does this person have the ability to reward (or punish) you in the future? If so, then the person has a positive reward valence. Rewards simply refer to this person’s ability to provide you with something you want or need. Similarly, punishment refers to the person’s ability to thwart your desires. A boss, a spouse, or a client might also be examples of someone whom you perceive to have such reward–punishment power. Again, however, it is possible for someone with a positive reward valence to engage in a negative violation. A study show that the positive expectancy condition as high involvement does not necessarily still received higher ratings of desire for future interaction than did low involvement. The difference between the negative violation and the negative confirmation do not appear significant. Disconfirmations tend to intensify the outcomes,especially in the positive violation condition (negative expectancy/high involvement).
Theoretical viewpoints and assumptions
Needs for personal space and affiliation
Expectancy Violations Theory builds upon a number of communication axioms; most central to the understanding of EVT, however, is the assumption that humans have competing needs for personal space and for affiliation (Burgoon, 1978). Specifically, humans all need a certain amount of personal space, also thought of as distance or privacy; people also desire a certain amount of closeness with others, or affiliation. According to anthropologist Edward Hall, the zone of personal space includes Intimate Distance (0-18 inches), Personal Distance (18 inches-4 feet), Social Distance (4–12 feet) and Public Distance (12 feet and beyond). Another feature of personal space is Territoriality and it includes Primary territories, Secondary territories and Public Territories. Territoriality is frequently accompanied by prevention and reaction. This means that people tend to react as protecting their territories when offensive violation occurs. When you perceive that one of your needs has been compromised, EVT predicts that you will try to do something about it. Thus, Burgoon’s initial work focused on the realm of physical space—what happens when someone violates your expectations for appropriate physical distance or closeness.
Beyond explaining individuals’ physical space and privacy needs, EVT also makes specific predictions as to how individuals will react to a given violation. Will you reciprocate, or match, someone’s unexpected behavior, perhaps moving closer or turning toward the individual? Or will you compensate, or counteract, by doing the opposite of your partner’s behavior? Before making a prediction about reciprocation or compensation, however, you must evaluate EVT’s three core concepts: expectancy, violation valence, and communicator reward valence.
Expectancies are learned and drive human interaction
Burgoon (1978) notes that people do not view others' behaviors as random; rather, they have various expectations of how others should think and behave. EVT proposes that observation and interaction with others leads to expectancies. The two types of expectancies noted are predictive and prescriptive. Predictive expectancies let people know what to expect based upon what typically occurs within the context of a particular environment and relationship. For example, a husband and wife may have an evening routine in which the husband always washes the dishes. If he were to ignore the dirty dishes one night, this might be seen as a predictive discrepancy. Prescriptive discrepancies, on the other hand, are expectancies based upon general social norms of what is deemed to be appropriate. For instance, if it customary in an organization to greet people with a firm handshake but an individual is greeted by a kiss on the lips, this could be seen as a prescriptive discrepancy.
Further, according to EVT, three factors influence a person’s expectations: interactant variables, environmental variables, and variables related to the nature of the interaction (Burgoon & Jones, 1976). Interactant variables are the traits of those persons involved in the communication. Sex, race, culture, status, and age are some such variables. Environmental variables include amount of space available and nature of the territory surrounding the interaction. Interaction variables include social norms, purpose of the interaction, and formality of the situation. As the theory evolved, these factors also evolved into communicator characteristics, relational characteristics, and context. Communicator characteristics share much of the same qualities of interactant variables, but co orientation variables, which encompassed information about the relationship between interactants, have been broken out into their own category – relational characteristics. Context encompasses both environment and interaction characteristics.
Communicator reward valence
People seek to reward others and seek to avoid punishing others, as explained by Social Exchange Theory. Communicators can offer each other a number of rewards, including smiles, credibility, and competence. Burgoon thinks people have the potential to either reward or punish in conversations and maintains that people bring both positive and negative characteristics to an interaction. She terms this communicator reward valence. For example, people will feel encouraged during conversation when the listener nodding, making eye contact and responding actively; while avoiding eye contact, yawning and texting suggest no interest with the interaction and the speaker might feel violated.
Burgoon originally felt that deviations from expectations have consequences and she named it "arousal value". By this she means that when a person's expectations are violated, the person's interest or attention is aroused, and he or she uses a particular mechanism to cope with the violation. When arousal occurs, one's interest or attention to the deviation increases and one pays less attention to the message and more attention to the source of the arousal.
Behavior violations arouse and distract, calling attention to the qualities of the violator and the relationship between the interactants. A key component to EVT is the notion of violation valence, or the association the receiver places on the behavior violation. A violatee’s response to an expectancy violation can be positive or negative and is dependent on two conditions: positive or negative interpretation of the behavior and the nature (rewardingness) of the violator. Rewardingness of the violator is evaluated through many categories – attractiveness, prestige, ability to provide resources, or associated relationship. For instance, a violation of one’s personal space might have more positive valence if committed by a wealthy, powerful, physically appealing member of the opposite sex than a filthy, poor, homeless person with foul breath. The evaluation of the violation is based upon the relationship between the particular behavior and the valence of the actor.
After assessing expectancy, violation valance, and communicator reward valance of a given situation, it becomes possible to make rather specific predictions about whether the individual who perceived the violation will reciprocate or compensate the behavior in question. Guerrero and Burgoon (1996; Guerrero, Jones, and Burgoon, 2000) noticed that predictable patterns develop when considering reward valance and violation valance together. Specifically, if the violation valance is perceived as positive and the communicator reward valance is also perceived as positive, the theory predicts you will reciprocate the positive behavior. For example, your boss gives you a big smile after you have given a presentation. Guerrero and Burgoon would predict that you would smile in return. Similarly, if you perceive the violation valance as negative and perceive the communicator reward valance as negative, the theory again predicts that you reciprocate the negative behavior. Thus, if a disliked coworker is grouchy and unpleasant towards you, you will likely reciprocate and be unpleasant in return.
Conversely, if you perceive a negative violation valance but view the communicator reward valance as positive, it is likely that you will compensate for your partners negative behavior. For example, one day your boss appears sullen and throws a stack of papers in front of you. Rather than grunt back, EVT that you will compensate for your boss’ negativity, perhaps by asking if everything is OK (Guerrero & Burgoon, 1996). More difficult to predict, however, the situation in which someone you view as having a negative reward valance violates you with a positive behavior. In this situation, you may reciprocate, giving the person the “benefit of the doubt.”
The above assumptions and discussion can be summarized into six major propositions posited by Expectancy Violations Theory:
- People develop expectations about verbal and nonverbal communication behavior from other people.
- Violations of these expectations cause arousal and distraction, further leading the receiver to shift his or her attention to the other, the relationship, and meaning of the violation.
- Communicator reward valence determines the interpretation of ambiguous communication.
- Communicator reward valence determines how the behavior is evaluated.
- Violation valences are determined by three factors: (1) the evaluation of the behavior, (2) whether or not the behavior is more or less favorable than the expectation, and (3) the magnitude of the violation. A positive violation occurs when the behavior is more favorable than the expectation. A negative violation occurs when the behavior is less favorable.
- Positive violations produce more favorable outcomes than behavior that matches expectations, and negative violations produce more unfavorable outcomes than behavior that matches expectations.
Expectancies exert significant influence on people's interaction patterns, on their impressions of one another, and on the outcomes of their interactions. Violations of expectations in turn may arouse and distract their recipients, shifting greater attention to the violator and the meaning of the violation itself. People who can assume that they are well regarded by their audience are safer engaging in violations and more likely to profit from doing so than are those who are poorly regarded. When the violation act is one that is likely to be ambiguous in its meaning or to carry multiple interpretations that are not uniformly positive or negative, then the reward valence of the communicator can be especially significant in moderating interpretations, evaluations, and subsequent outcomes. Violations have relatively consensual meanings and valences associated with them, so that engaging in them produces similar effects for positive and negative valenced communications.
EVT assumes that humans have a certain degree of free will. This theory assumes that humans can assess and interpret the relationship and liking between themselves and their conversational partner, and then make a decision whether or not to violate the expectations of the other person. The theory holds that this decision depends on what outcome they would like to achieve. This assumption is based on the interaction position, the interaction position is based on a person's initial stance toward an interaction as determined by a blend of personal requirements, expectations, and desires (RED). These RED factors meld into our interaction position of what's needed, anticipated, and preferred.
Reciprocity: A strong human tendency to respond to another's action with similar behavior. EVT assumes there is one truth. This truth is that there are norms for all communication activities and if these norms are violated, there will be specific, predictable outcomes.EVT does not fully account for the overwhelming prevalence of reciprocity that has been found in interpersonal interactions. Second, it is silent on whether communicator valence supersedes behavior valence or vice versa when the two are incongruent,such as when a disliked partner engages in a positive violation.
This theory seeks to be value-neutral because the study was done empirically and seeks to objectively describe how humans react when their expectations are violated (Burgoon, 1978).
Common expectancy violations in nonverbal communication
The Nonverbal Expectancy Violations Theory began to be developed in the late nineteen eighties by Judee K. Burgoon and her colleagues. The Nonverbal Expectancy Violations Theory "is based on five assumptions and contains five propositions". These assumptions hold true regardless the culture involved, however the level of intensity given to each gesture varies. What could be thought of as a positive gesture in one culture, may be thought of as a negative in a different culture.
The first assumption according to Burgoon is that “humans have a competing approach and avoidance needs.”  This assumptions means that we have a need for people in our lives, whether it be people we already consider friends or those new ones that we invite into our circle of friends. On top of that, when our friends bring others into the picture we feel a need to make them accepted and welcome. However we do feel the competitive nature come into play to hackle them before allowing them into your friendship circle completely.
The second assumption in the Nonverbal Expectancy Violations Theory is that "communicators evaluate the reward potential of others"  This means, what is in it for you personally? People who come from an individualistic culture will view this second assumption through a lens of self-benefit. Those who come from a collectivist culture will view these benefits from a group perspective. As a society we want to do what will benefit us most as a person. This assumption shows that with every relationship we form we balance out the potential benefits that each relationship can bring us, and decide if the relationship is worthwhile.
The third assumption in the Nonverbal Expectancy Violations Theory is that "communicators develop expectations about the nonverbal behaviors of others". Within each culture we have our own set of expectations that we tend to abide by. We can, more times than not, pick out how another person will react to any given situation, even without knowing them. This is based on the idea that each culture is brought up to recognize how people will react to different situations they may be faced with. Which in turn, also means that their expectation of behavior differ from culture to culture as well.
The fourth assumption in the Nonverbal Expectancy Violations Theory is "nonverbal behaviors have associated evaluations ranging from extremely positive to extremely negative". When we look at and evaluate the nonverbal messages and cues of others we do it in a way that can generate a number of feelings with different intensities. One behavior may be interpreted by one person completely differently then another person. The more positive the emotion we feel the more likely we are to engage in conversation further and more in depth. If it is more of a negative feeling we tend to shut down more and do not engage in conversation as much as we normally would.
The fifth assumption in the Nonverbal Expectancy Violations Theory posits that "nonverbal behaviors have socially recognized meaning". Within different cultures our nonverbal messages have universal meanings that everyone recognizes and interprets with relative similarity.
Proxemics and kinesics of expectancy violations theory
The next step of the Nonverbal Expectancy Violation model deals with the idea of proxemics and kinesics. This part of the theory explains the notion of “personal space” and our reactions to other who seem to “violate” our sense of personal space. What we define as personal space, however, varies from culture to culture, and person to person. The “success” or “failure” of violations are linked to perceived attraction, credibility, influence and involvement. The context and purpose of interaction are relevant, as are the communicator characteristics of gender, relationships, status, social class, ethnicity and culture. When it comes to different interactions between people, what each person expects out of the interaction will influence their individual willingness to risk violation. If a person feels comfortable in a situation, they are more likely to risk violation, and in turn will be rewarded for it.
Introduced by Edward Hall in 1966, proxemics deals with the amount of distance between people as they interact with one another. Based on how close people are during interaction, can be an indication of what type of relationship the people involved have.
There are 4 different personal zones defined by Hall. These zones include:
- Intimate Space: (0-18 inches) - This distance is for close, intimate encounters. Normally family, close friends, lovers, or pets.
- Personal Space: (18 inches – 4 feet) - Reserved for conversations with friends, associates, and group discussions
- Social Space: (4–10 feet) - This space is reserved for strangers, newly formed groups, and new acquaintances you may have just met.
- Public Space: (10 feet to infinity) - Reserved for a public setting with large audiences, speeches, and theaters.
Common expectancy violations in close relationships
It is important to note that EVT can apply to both non-relational interaction and close relationships. In 1998, more than twenty years after the theory was first published, Afifi and Metts conducted several studies to catalog the types of expectancy violations commonly found in close relationships. They asked people in friendships and romantic relationships to think about the last time their friend or partner did or said something unexpected. They emphasized that the unexpected event could be either positive or negative. Participants reported on events that had occurred, on average, five days earlier, suggesting that unexpected behaviors happen often in relationships. Some of the behaviors reported were relatively mundane, and others were quite serious. The outcome of the list was a list of nine general categories of expectation violations that commonly occur in relationships. 
Support or confirmation is an act that provides social support in a particular time of need, such as sitting with a friend who is sick.
Criticism or accusation is critical of the receiver and accuse the individual of an offense. These are violations because they are accusations not expected.
Relationship intensification or escalation intensifies the commitment of the communicator. For instance, saying “I love you,” signifies a deepening of a romantic relationship.
Relationship de-escalation does the opposite. An example might be spending more time apart.
Relational transgressions are violations of the perceived rules of the relationship. Examples include having an affair, deception, or being disloyal.
Acts of devotion are unexpected overtures that imply specialness in the relationship. Buying flowers for no particular occasion falls into this category.
Acts of disregard show that the partner is unimportant.
Gestures of inclusion are actions that show an unexpected interest in having the other included in special activities or life. Examples include invitations to spend a special holiday with someone or disclosure of personal information, or inviting the partner to meet one’s family.
Uncharacteristic relational behavior is unexpected action that is not consistent with the partner’s perception of the relationship. A common example is one member of an opposite-sex friendship demanding a romantic relationship of the other.
Afifi and Metts later collapsed the support or confirmation category into acts of devotion and included another category, uncharacteristic social behavior. These are acts that aren’t relational but are unexpected, such as a quiet person raising his or her voice.
The theory in new media age
As new media technology developing, people have more choices of receiving and sharing information. Since EVT focuses more on the nonverbal communication process, how does it be applied to new media age can be an interesting issue.
The popularity of computer-mediated communication (CMC) as means of conducting task-oriented and socially oriented interactions is evidenced in its ability to fulfill many of the same functions as other more traditional forms of interaction, especially face-to-face (FtF) interaction. Participants evaluated the social information more positively and uncertainty-reducing following short-term online associations but more negatively and uncertainty-provoking following long-term ones compared to remaining online.
In social media like Facebook, people are connected with friends and sometimes strangers. In this case, the expectancy violation can be conducted by different behaviors between strong ties and weak ties. An expectancy violation is defined as an incongruity between a profile's intended audience and its expected audience. Norms violation on Facebook can include too many status updates, overly emotional status updates or Wall posts, heated interactions, fights, and name calling through Facebook’s public features and being tagged on posts or pictures that might reflect negatively on an individual. Unlike FtF communication, CMC allows people to pretend to be connected with person who violate their expectancy by ignoring violations or filterring news feed. Meanwhile, people can also cut the connection completely with someone who is not important by deleting friends when serious violation occurs. A confrontation is much more likely for close friends than for acquaintances, and compensation is much more likely for acquaintances, a finding in contrast to the typical EVT predictions. Also, EVT on the Internet environment is strongly related to online privacy issue.
As mentioned above, EVT has strong roots in Uncertainty Reduction Theory. The relationship between violation behavior and the level of uncertainty is under study. A research does indicates that violations differ in their impact on uncertainty. To be more specific, incongruent negative violations heightened uncertainty, whereas congruent violations (both positive and negative) caused declines in uncertainty. The theory also borrows from Social Exchange Theory in that people seek reward out of interaction with others. Two other theories share similar outlooks to EVT – Discrepancy-Arousal Theory and Patterson’s Social Facilitation Model. Like EVT, DAT explains that a receiver becomes aroused when a communicative behavior does not match the receiver’s expectations. In DAT, these differences are called discrepancies instead of expectancy violations. Cognitive Dissonance and EVT both try to explain why and how people react to unexpected information and adjust themselves during communication process. Social Facilitation Model has a similar outlook and labels these differences as unstable changes. A key difference between the theories lies in the receiver’s arousal level. Both DAT and SFM maintain that the receiver experiences a physiological response whereas EVT focuses on the attention shift of the receiver. EVT posits that expectancy violations occur frequently and are not always as serious as perceived through the lenses of other theories.
Criticism of the theory
One critique of Expectation Violations Theory lies in the scope of thought and research devoted to the theory. A large amount of attention has been narrow in scope and has shown violations to be highly consequential acts, negative in nature, and uncertainty increasing. As Afifi and Metts (1998) point out, literature and anecdotal evidence illustrate that expectancy violations vary in frequency, seriousness, and valence. While it is true that many expectancy violations carry a negative valence, numerous are positive and actually reduce uncertainty because they provide additional information within the parameters of the particular relationship, context, and communicators.
Other critics of EVT believe most interaction between individuals is extremely complex and there are many contingency conditions to consider within the theory. This makes the prediction of behavioral outcomes of a particular situation virtually impossible.
Further use and development of the theory
The concept of Social Norms Marketing follows expectancy violation in that it is based upon the notion that messages containing facts that vary from perception of the norm will create a positive expectancy violation. Advertising, strategic communications, and public relations base social norms campaigns on this position.
Interaction Adaptation Theory further explores expectancy violations. Developed by Burgoon to take a more comprehensive look at social interaction, IAT posits that people enter into interactions with requirements, expectations, and desires. These factors influence both the initial behavior as well as the response behavior. When faced with behavior that meets an individual’s needs, expectations, or desires, the response behavior will be positive. When faced with behavior that does not meet an individual’s needs, expectations, or desires, he or she can respond either positively or negatively depending on the degree of violation and positive or negative valence of the relationship.
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