The Remarkable Judee Burgoon





Judee Burgoon, Theorist

Nicole A. Thompson

COML 508

November 10, 2012



            Born in February of 1948, Judee Kathleen Stringer would become a great contributor to our understanding of communication and so much more. She grew up in Ames, Iowa and attended Iowa State University after her parents. After earning her bachelor’s degree she began teaching and working toward a master’s degree at Illinois State University and finally earning her PhD from West Virginia University. Judee married Michael Burgoon in 1974(Burgoon, n.d.). 

            This hefty education proved valuable in allowing Judee Burgoon to formulate several theories on communication including Interpersonal Adaptation Theory, Expectancy Violation Theory, and Interpersonal Deception Theory (“Judee K. Burgoon,” 2012). Along with the mentioned theories, Judee Burgoon has several published works.  Her work has earned her the title of “the most prolific female scholar in communication in the 20th century” (“University of Arizona,” n.d.).  Mrs. Burgoon has received numerous academic and research awards since 1972. She currently focuses her teaching, as the Professor of Communication, Family Studies and Human Development (“University of Arizona,” n.d.), of undergraduate and graduate students on theory, research, and methods at the University of Arizona (Burgoon, n.d.).

            Judee’s interest in communication peaked in junior high when she became involved in speech, drama, and debate. She entered high school with the same interests and remained involved in debate, drama and ventured into politics by organizing the Young Republicans and the Young Democrats of Central High School in Davenport, Iowa.  Her college career followed that of her parents when she attended Iowa State University earning bachelor’s degrees in speech and English and minoring in social studies and education. Four years from graduating Iowa State she had completed a master’s degree in speech communications and finally a PhD in communications and educational psychology (Burgoon, n.d.). If that is not enough to impress you, she has over 240 publications and seven books to her name. She focuses on non-verbal and interpersonal communication and has an interest in mass media (“Judee K. Burgoon,” 2012).  Her publications cover the topics of deception and credibility, interpersonal and small group interaction, mass media, nonverbal and relational communication, persuasion and argumentation, and unwillingness to communicate (Burgoon, n.d.). Of these subjects, some of her greatest contributions come from the area of nonverbal and relational communication. 

As I stated, there are three theories which Mrs. Burgoon is credited. She introduced a model about nonverbal expectancy violations.  This model deals with personal space and our expectations of that space when communicating with others (Griffin, 2012, p. 88). This theory takes an objective approach and falls within the socio-psychological tradition.  Burgoon spent years testing and evaluating this model.  Her initial thoughts were proven to be incorrect.  As she studied and tested the ideas she developed a more concise theory (Griffin, 2012, pp. 87, 88). Her theory touches the boundaries of not only nonverbal communication but emotional, marital, and intercultural communication. The Expectancy Violations Theory (EVT) encompasses three main components or concepts. The first concept is expectancy, what we expect or predict will happen.  It is not what we necessarily want to happen.  Secondly there is violation valence, which is a value (positive or negative) we assign to the unexpected event.  Finally, the third component is the communicator reward valence.  The communicator reward valence takes into consideration the current positive or negative value of the situation and decides a possible reward or punishment. From this theory we can draw on the advice that one should take the cues from the other person to decide what type of behavior one should emit.  If there is a favorable relationship intact, a surprise deviation from the expected norm, such as leaning in or a gentle touch on the arm, may be acceptable or even welcomed (Griffen, 2012, p.89-91).

Burgoon looked at deception in communication as well as expectations.  She worked with David Buller to explain the Interpersonal Deception Theory.  Their work included experimenting with people who were instructed to deceive one another.  In essence, one party would lie to the other.  These experiments lead to the conclusion that we have basically three types of responses when sending a less than truthful message. The three responses coincide with three strategies pointed out by Burgoon and Buller.  We can simply lie, or strategically use falsification. Secondly, we could choose concealment or only tell part of the truth.  Our final option is to use the strategy equivocation or ambiguity. The theory also states that even though we may think we can detect a deception by another, we usually cannot (Griffin, “Interpersonal deception theory of David Buller and Judee Burgoon,” n.d.).

            Her work continued as she developed the Interpersonal Adaptation Theory with Lesa Stern and Leesa Dillman. Together they published a book entitled The Interpersonal Adaptation: Dyadic Interaction Patterns. This book explains the ideas formulated by drawing upon previous theories to describe how we interact with one another using a combination of expectations, requirements, and desire (“Interpersonal adaptation theory,” 2012). 

The tremendous work Judee Burgoon has given to the field of communication has earned her several awards and honors. As a teacher she was given the Outstanding Young Teacher Award (1979), the Teacher-Scholar Award (1980), and the Social and Behavioral Science Excellence in Teaching Award (1989). Her research in interpersonal communication, nonverbal communication, mass communication, small group communication, language and social interaction earned her many awards from the NCA.  She also received the 1974 NCA Dissertation Award (“University of Arizona,” n.d.).

Remarkable work is an understatement in describing the data Judee Burgoon has contributed to the discipline of communication. With nearly 300 publications she is someone to look up to and take note of all she offers.  Her work is a strong foundation for all future research in dyadic interaction and interpersonal communications.  She has based her theories on existing theories and together they build a strong web of information that will continue to expand as we learn more about how culture and societies play into our decisions in message sending.  I believe she and her students will continue to strengthen her ideas and pass on the information to develop more in-depth and critical analyses of our communication patterns.  














Burgoon, J. (n.d.). Introduction.Retrieved from

Griffin, E. A. (2012). Expectancy violations theory of Judee Burgoon. In A first look at

communication theory (pp. 84-96). Boston: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.

Griffin, E. (n.d.). Interpersonal deception theory of David Buller and Judee Burgoon [Digital

image]. Retrieved from

Interpersonal adaptation theory. (2012, October 11). Wikipedia. Retrieved from

Judee K. Burgoon. (2012, July 11). Wikipedia. Retrieved November 9, 2012, from

University of Arizona. (n.d.). Judee Burgoon. Retrieved from



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