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Expectancy violation is a communication theory which tries to explain the unexpected behaviours of human beings while interacting. The theory is based on the uncertainty reduction theory where the vagueness on the behaviours of the others is reduced through interaction.

expectancy violation theory

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The theory was developed from the Nonverbal expectancy violation model by Judee.K.Burgoon which described the personal space possessed by a person and how people responded to its violation. People expect or predict a particular behaviour while interacting and the violation to these expectations can be perceived positively or negatively which is characterised by the relationship between the people.

Expectancy violation theory

Expectancy violation theory emphasizes on an individual perception of the interaction in a particular situation. People while communicating will create an expectation of how the other will react. Violation to this expectation can cause to a perception that will be positive or negative. People behave differently according to the cultural values they grow up in and this influences the reaction of the people considerably.

Expectancy violation theory also is dependent on the personal space. The personal space is the boundary we keep and freedom is given to the people whom we are close with. Particular personal space is expected from the people whom they interact with according to the relationship they have with them. The theory explains that people tends to protect the personal space when they experience a violation in the expected behaviour.

There are two types of expectancies

  • Predictive – predictive expectancy is defining the communication and interaction happening within a particular environment or a context
  • Prescriptive– people displaying behaviours appropriate to the existing environment

Expectancy in people is determined by three factors

  • Interactant characteristics – this includes age, sex and other personality traits of the person make the listener creates an expectation of behaviour
  • Interpersonal characteristics – this character deals with the relationship that the person has with the listener
  • Environment – the context refers to the cultural influence and also the social situation. All these factors lead to an expectation in behaviour and the listener can conceive the violation from the expected behaviour as positive or negative. For instance if we expect a gym instructor to be rough and but while interacting the listener will be surprised of his calm and gentle behaviour. The unexpected behaviour however caters to whether the communication should continue or not. The positivity perceived by the listener can pursue the communication while negativity to the listener can hinder the communication further


Expectancy violation theory pictures the expectancies more negatively and vaguely. The studies have proved that the vagueness of the people provides a space for sharing more about themselves and thus the uncertainty is reduced.


The expectancy violation theory can be applied in the study of various interpersonal relationships. Positive violations can be effectively applied in various sectors of organisations which could in turn increase profit and productivity.


Two students from high school published a creative article in newspaper commenting on the behaviours of their teachers and other students.  After being called to the principal’s office, both expected a suspension due to their inappropriate accomplishment. Principal to their surprise was in a merry mood due to the big win in Basketball tournament by the school team. The principal after reading the article in daily, selected them for the school editorial team. This reaction was unexpected and positive which made the students to use their creativity productively.

{ 12 comments… add one }
  • saverio mwangangi October 5, 2015, 3:51 pm

    Educative !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • MUSASIZI JONAN April 1, 2016, 12:20 am


  • Nelao Haitembu August 23, 2016, 9:20 pm

    Thanks alot, it helps me to do my assignment fo introduction to communication 1st.

  • dennis kamau October 6, 2016, 2:19 pm

    its very it has helped me to do my assignment soo easily

  • Jhudaii Tapic March 2, 2017, 7:56 am

    Thamkyou so much! I’ve learned a lot.

  • beletu hailu June 10, 2017, 8:15 pm

    please ,i couldnot understand the assumption of this theory

  • Inshaaf September 14, 2018, 11:15 am

    Very clear article on this heading. Thanking you.

  • Queenette Williams July 5, 2019, 8:13 pm

    Quite explanatory. Good work.
    it helped me in my research work and assignment.

  • Joshua Valdez March 2, 2020, 6:00 am


  • Kimberly Gray August 25, 2020, 7:35 pm

    Very explanatory. This helps me understand things.

  • Kimberly Gray September 1, 2020, 12:59 am

    This is very helpful.

  • Alyssa Azzopardi March 8, 2022, 11:14 am

    Some grammatical errors, however educational

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