Everyday College Students Experience Fear, Anxiety, and Trepidation Both Academically And

Everyday College Students Experience Fear, Anxiety, and Trepidation Both Academically And


Listening Fidelity Measurement

Running Head: Listening Fidelity

Listening Fidelity Development and Relationship To Receiver Apprehension and Locus of Control

Alice Mulanax


William G. Powers

Department of Speech Communication

Texas Christian University

Alice Mulanax (B.S., Department of Speech Communication, Texas Christian University, 2001).

William G. Powers (Ph.D., University of Oklahoma, 1973), Professor and Chair of the Department of Speech Communication, Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, TX 76129, .


This study explores a new concept, listening fidelity, and a procedure for measurement. Listening fidelity is conceptually defined as the degree of congruence between the cognitions of a listener and the cognitions of a source following a communication event. Operational measuring procedures were established with 162 participants. Individuals with high receiver apprehension scored lower on listening fidelity than did low receiver apprehensive participants. External locus of control participants did not score significantly lower on listening fidelity than internals. Receiver apprehension was correlated with locus of control. Improvement potential for normalizing the distribution of listening fidelity scores was discussed. These initial results were considered sufficient to serve as a foundation from which further development was merited.

Keywords: Listening, Measurement, Receiver Apprehension, Locus of Control

Listening Fidelity Development and Relationship To Receiver Apprehension and Locus of Control

The ability for speakers to communicate with high fidelity (accuracy) is critical to every interaction (Powers and Lowry, 1984a).

And Locus of ControlEvery day, college students experience misunderstandings in their academic and social worlds. Even the most prepared and accurately delivered message can easily become distorted or lost due to listener error. For this reason, it is essential that communication scholars continue to explore communication accuracy as a function of the listener. The measurement of listening quality certainly merits continued investigation with innovative concepts and tools. The purpose of this study is to examine the concept of listener fidelity relative to measurement and associated measurement concerns.

Review of Literature

Listening Fidelity

Listening Fidelity (LF) is conceptually defined as the degree of congruence between the cognitions of a listener and the cognitions of a source following a communication event. The listening concept is related directly to Basic Communication Fidelity (BCF), a construct establishing the communication accuracy skills of a communication source (Powers & Lowry, 1984a). BCF is defined as “the degree of congruence between the cognitions (mental images) of two or more individuals following a communication event” (p. 57). The original body of BCF work focused upon measuring the capabilities of only the source of a communication effort and exploring perceptual distinctions purely as a function of the skills of the source (Powers & Lowry, 1984a,b; Powers & Spitzberg, 1986; and Powers & Love, 1989). The BCF measurement procedure recognized the significant impact of receiver listening skills and controlled for that by using the average receiver score as the indicant of source BCF. Another original concern was to minimize the role of actual verbal or written communication skills in terms of their potential to impact the evaluation process associated with the provision of cognitions to the source or acquiring the cognitions of the receiver. Thus, the original operational definition elected to provide sources with a cognition composed of geometric forms arranged in a sequential pattern. Sources then orally communicated those forms with the intent of having receivers duplicate the form. The cognitions represented in the drawn geometric forms were thus free of verbal or written skill contamination. A version of this procedure is frequently used as a class activity reflecting the value of feedback on communication accuracy. However, Powers and Lowry (1984a) established a very specific scoring procedure to ascertain the degree of congruency between the cognition of the source and that of each of the receivers. These scores were then averaged across the body of receivers to represent the BCF level of the source. This procedure is detailed in Powers and Lowry (1984a) and used in the current development of a similar but inverted procedure to determine the LF of the receivers.

The unique contribution of LF lies in the potential ability to establish numerically the level of congruity between mental images generated by listeners in a communication event without having the listener’s verbal/written proficiencies act as a potential interactive, confusing, variable while accessing the listener’s cognitions. Once this is established, comparative analyses have the potential to enhance understanding of the listening process.

Receiver Apprehension

The initial development of a measurement procedure for LF must demonstrate sufficient validity to merit continued examination. In this instance, it is clear that some aspects of misunderstandings or listener error frequently occur as a function of fear, anxiety, and trepidation related to both the sending and receiving functions (e.g. McCroskey, 1984; Wheeless, 1975). One particular fear, Receiver Apprehension (RA) was defined by Wheeless (1975) as, “the fear of misinterpreting, inadequately processing, and/or not being able to adjust psychologically to messages sent by others (p. 263). It is clear that accuracy of the communication process is weakened by internal fears experienced by the receiver. For example, Ayres, Wilcox, and Ayres (1995) demonstrated the positive relationship between RA and cognitive backlog as a function of an inability to bring new information into existing cognitive formats, thus reducing listener understanding. This study also showed a positive relationship between RA and when “processing demands are high” through higher “message complexity” (pp. 224, 225). Buhr and Pryor (1988) report that people suffering from high RA have a “low need for cognition.” This correlates with RA being associated with cognitive backlog for the person is already unable to assimilate the information being received properly and to seek further information for clarification would only add to the backlog, confusion, frustration, and anxiety. Cognition, learning, understanding all become difficult, thus requiring greater effort on the part of the receiver. The accompanied fear would naturally persuade the receiver of the need to flee further cognitions, thus creating within the person an attitude of cognitive avoidance and further reduce the receiver’s understanding potential. Preiss, Wheeless, and Allen (1990) further expound that, “The finding that apprehensive receivers exhibited low need for cognition suggests possible differences in cue-utilization. Low enjoyment of cognitive tasks may divert attention to less substantive aspects of communication, resulting in ineffective processing” (p. 167).

Based upon the preceding literature, it appears logical to project that LF will be negatively impacted by the existence of high RA leading to the following hypothesis:

H1: High RA participants have significantly lower LF than

Low RA participants.

Locus of Control

Another element that may be significantly connected both to LF and RA is locus of control, (LOC). Lefcourt (1980) defines LOC as “a generalized expectancy pertaining to the connection between personal characteristics and/or actions and experienced outcomes” (p. 246). People interpret the reasons for outcomes of actions and events in their life differently. Some look to themselves as the source of success or failure, while others are convinced outside sources determined the outcome. LOC is, divided into bipolar characteristics of external control and internal control and is defined as the “generalized expectancy to perceive reinforcement either as contingent upon one’s own behaviors (internal control) or as the result of forces beyond one’s control and due to chance, fate, or powerful others (external control)” (Levenson, 1981, p 15).

It is reasoned that external LOC produces an orientation such that personal responsibility for success in communication is not accepted. When one does not accept such responsibility, it is quite possible that the effort essential for high LF is lacking. Lefcourt (1980) states, that external LOC is a “pervasive belief that outcomes are not determinable by one’s personal efforts” (p. 247). It is further reasoned that they would not perceive the success or failure in a communication event as having anything to do with their own efforts, and thus lead to inattention and decreased understanding leading to lower LF than internal LOC participants. Based upon that reasoning, the following hypothesis was generated:

H2: External Locus of Control participants have

significantly lower LF scores than Internal Locus of

Control participants.

LOC appears connected to RA in a similar fashion. People experiencing high RA have difficulty processing incoming information adequately due to cognitive backlog. They experience a fear of not being able to understand the essence of the message, which in return produces a mental blockade that renders encoding virtually unobtainable. High RA would likely leave the receiver feeling out of control because understanding would seem out of their grasp, and would, in turn, produce an orientation to externalize their own inability. Gregory (1981) states, “while individuals can strive to obtain rewards or achieve positive outcomes, they also struggle to avoid punishments or shun negative outcomes” (p. 113). This suggests that a receiver who has psychologically relinquished control would experience greater uncertainty of a positive outcome and would avoid further cognition, which is a fundamental trait of RA (Preiss, Wheeless, & Allen; 1990). Based upon that research and reasoning, the following hypothesis was offered:

H3:Locus of Control is significantly correlated with RA.



One hundred and sixty-two college students from a basic communication class participated in this study. Participants consisted of sixty-three males and ninety-nine females, with a median age of nineteen. Of these one hundred and sixty-two students there were ninety-one freshmen, forty-nine sophomores, fifteen juniors, and seven seniors.


All participants first completed a survey during a large lecture session of the class. This survey contained instruments designed to measure RA and LOC. Later in the week during regular small laboratory sessions, each person participated in a brief communication event where a videotaped presentation was presented to the class that contained a source providing information on how to exactly duplicate a drawing of a set of geometric forms to which all participants responded. Following the communication event, the drawings of all participants were collected and later individually scored.


The survey asked participants for the demographic data identified above and their responses to established instruments measuring RA and LOC. RA was measured by the Wheeless (1975) instrument. A short form of the Nowicki-Strickland LOC scale (Nowicki and Strickland, 1973) was used to measure internal and external LOC with college students.

The original Powers and Lowry’s (1984a) geometric pattern that had been used in establishing the reliability and validity of the procedure to measure BCF (p. 63) was selected as the source cognition in the current study. Prior to the administration of the study, the speaker in the videotape (a graduate student teaching assistant) was coached by the authors to ensure that all LF scoring aspects (as represented in the original BCF scoring system) were included in cognition of the source and ultimately in message communicated by the source.1 The objective for the speaker was to communicate the connected geometric forms in such a way that viewers of the videotape would be able to exactly duplicate the specific drawing provided to the source. The only limitations were that the source could not show the drawing to the audience nor could it be drawn on the board. All aspects of verbal and nonverbal messaging could be used. Several trial videotapes were analyzed by the authors for maximal scoring opportunity. The videotape selected for use in the study included all necessary information to ensure that all listeners at least had a reasonable opportunity to acquire a maximum score. This was later substantiated by the fact that some participants made perfect LF scores. The LF measurement procedure consisted of asking participants (in small 20 student laboratory sessions) to view the videotape and draw as accurately as possible the pattern of geometric symbols the speaker communicated to them. These representations of internal cognitions resulting from the communication event were then scored relative to that of the source using the same technique established by Powers and Lowry (1984a). This produced an individual LF score for each participant.


The LF scores of participants (N = 162) can be described in the following manner: Hypothetical Range = 0-29, Actual Range = 0-29, Mean = 21.24, Std. Error of Mean = .52, Median = 23, Mode = 25, Std. Deviation = 6.57, Variance = 43.19, Skewness = -1.351, Kurtosis = 1.461. The current LF procedures clearly produced LF scores across the total participants that are heavily weighted on the higher end of the range.

The first hypothesis was tested by conducting a t-test over the LF scores comparing the High RA group with the Low RA group. These RA groups were determined by a median split of RA scores (Median = 40.5). The Low RA group (LF Mean = 22.28, sd = 5.08) produced significantly higher LF scores (t = 2.040, df = 160, p < .05) than did the High RA group (LF Mean = 20.20, sd = 7.67). Thus, support was demonstrated for the first hypothesis.

The second hypothesis was tested by conducting a t-test over the LF scores comparing the External LOC group with the Internal LOC group. These groups were determined by a median split of LOC scores (Median = 15). The External LOC group (LF Mean = 20.63, sd = 6.92) did not produce significantly lower LF scores (t = 1.110, df = 160, p = .13) than the Internal LOC (LF Mean = 21.78, sd = 6.92). Although directional support was indicated for this hypothesis, the lack of statistical significance precluded the rejection of the null hypothesis.

The third hypothesis was tested by the Pearson correlation coefficient. RA scores were significantly correlated to LOC scores (r = .19, df = 161, p< .05) and provided support for the third hypothesis.


Procedures designed to measure LF need to be continually improved. In this initial exploration, the skewed distribution toward the higher scores may have contributed to lower than expected relationships between LF and RA and LF and LOC. The skew could have resulted from a lack of complexity within the message due to the pre-administration effort to ensure the presence of all scoring elements or from the lack of complexity in the geometric pattern used as a stimulus for the source cognition. Either may have reduced the complexity of the listening task so that higher order listening skills were not essential for high LF scores. It is very encouraging to note that in spite of the skewed distribution, support for the validity of the procedure was indicated.

The anticipated conceptual association between RA and LF was clearly identified under the measurement procedures used in this study. Although further work is essential, this association provides initial support for the validity and value of the procedures used to measure LF. It may be that the level of association would be increased if the extremes of RA were examined rather than including the entire population. For example, one might explore what extremely high RA does to LF when contrasted to extremely low RA without the potential washing-out impact of moderate RA. Furthermore, magnitude of this relationship may increase substantially when the LF scores are normally distributed. There are pragmatic implications of this association between LF and RA relative to the classroom activities of teachers. Some learning outcomes may be directly associated with low LF as a function of student RA. Both teachers and students should be educated about RA, for people who do not understand the reasons behind learning confusion may attribute an inability to process information as a sign of a lack of intelligence (this would also be perceived as out of their control) and would, therefore, produce an inferior diagnosis of failure. Remedies should be explored.

The second hypothesis indicated that participants classified as External Locus of Control have significantly lower LF scores than participants classified as Internal Locus of Control and was not supported by the data analysis. The directionality of the analysis was supported but it did not reach the established level of confidence in this study. There are three possible explanations for this. First, the reasoning that those with External LOC would not recognize their responsibility for the success of a communication event and would, therefore, put forth less effort than is needed to achieve maximum LF may have been in error. Second, the impact of such reasoning may be better realized at the extremes of LOC. The current study used a median split and included all participants, had only those at the ends of the LOC distribution been included, the power for differentiation would have been enhanced. And third, the lack of normal distribution of LF scores may have retarded the opportunity to discover differences that actually did exist. Future research should explore all of these options.

Hypothesis 3 was supported showing that LOC is correlated to RA. This may also have special significance to educators, for this suggests that remedies to high RA would be wise to be responsive to the special challenges of LOC. The student who experiences fear as a receiver, and simultaneously feels there is little, if anything, (s)he can do about it then the student never seeks out understanding or clarification. The student that has external LOC may even grow to avoid any attempts at decoding in order to avoid the discomfort and fear associated with the procedure.

Future research should specifically examine those participants at the extremes of such variables as RA and LOC. Furthermore, future measurement procedures must be designed to produce a normal distribution of LF scores. In addition, the impact upon LF scores of increasing the significance of the LF outcomes should be examined on the basis that the impact of RA is higher “…when the person expects to be evaluated with regard to adequacy of the information processed.” (Ayres, Wilcox, & Ayres; 1995; p.167).

In spite of the use of median splits for validity testing and the skew in distribution of LF scores, sufficient support was found for the concept of LF to be considered a meaningful variable that merits further developmental research. The value of multiple LF tests consisting of several communication events with sources of different skill levels should be explored. Different types of cognitions may be explored following the path taken in the investigation of identity cognitions and BCF capabilities. And certainly, LF should be compared to traditional listening evaluation measurement procedures on both a conceptual and operational basis.