Communication Addiction

While extraversion and sociability are characteristics which, when exhibited appropriately, confer attributions of credibility and may be pro-social, personal experience, history, and literature are replete with anecdotal accounts of people who talk a great deal to negative extents. Terms such as “talk too much,” verbose, long-winded, gossipy, dominating, etc., all speak to the notion that auditors devalue others who verbalize beyond normative levels, and that lay interpretations of such behavior result in
negative attributions.

While cultural values clearly are mixed over people’s frequency and duration of talking, scientific studies present a much more clear-cut profile of the pervasiveness of talking too much, among various populations.

Indirect measures.

Research examining communication reticence (a.k.a. communication apprehension, shyness, etc.) reveal that a good sixteen per cent of randomly sampled college populations may be classified as talk-prone. This finding has been replicated on normal adult populations as well (McCroskey, 1978). While such diagnoses were not part of the original intent of the communication apprehension measure, the inference is as warranted as the communication apprehension diagnosis; the Personal Report of Communication Apprehension originally was scored to separate the most apprehensive (those whose scores fall grater than one standard deviation from the mean) from the least (whose scores fall below one S.D.), and found significant differences between these groups on the self-same scale. By definition, then, 16% of a sample may be considered to be highly communication apprehensive, and 16% its opposite, which we can presume to define abnormally communication-active. Refinements of the scale—short forms, similar to the IAD forms on—now allow diagnosis using a few key questions and attributing apprehension disorder to certain absolute ranges of scores.

Other assessments and measures more directly assess bi-directional levels of communication attitudes and presumably, verbal behaviors. Research using the originally-neutral Predisposition Toward Verbal Behavior scale (e.g. Mortensen, Arnston, & Lustig, 1977) recently discovered that significantly high scores tended to correspond to peer identification of someone who talks too much (Bostrom & Harrington, 1999), bolstering the approach that at the opposite end of a scale for a chronically low-talker, is a statistically a high-talker, too.

Direct Measures.

In fairness, the above measures were designed to assess negative or neutral syndromes, and they are attitudinal rather than behavioral in nature. Other research efforts, however, have broken ground on classifying more a potentially more disturbing addiction-like syndrome: compulsive communication. McCroskey and Richmond (1995) developed a “talkaholic” scale. “People scoring highly on the ‘Talkaholic Scale’ are referred to as ‘talkaholics,’ the name taken as an analog to the compulsive and excessive behavior of ‘alchoholics’ and ‘workaholics’” (McCroskey & Richmond, 1995, p. 40), a similar analogs that are used to describe Internet Addiction (e.g. Anderson, 1999; King, 1996) such “on-lineaholics” (Young, 1998).

These are not benign diagnoses. Abnormal levels of communication orientation have been found to correlate with student success and failure (in some kinds of courses) and with occupational choice (Porter, 1979). A number of studies “suggest that the level of a person’s participation during interaction is strongly implicated as a major cue for interpersonal judgments and evaluations, and hence is directly related to group properties such as status and sociometric structure” (Hayes & Meltzer, 1972, p. 539). According to Bostrom and Harrington (1999), compulsive talkers are passed over for promotion.

Furthermore, the more talkaholic one is, McCroskey and Richmond (1995) found, the more neurotic s/he is. Another correlate is that compulsive talkers are significantly lower than normals on “inhibition” (Bostrom & Harrington, 1999); this is interesting to note, as King (1996) suggests that the disinhibition of the Internet is one of the factors that makes it so alluring to potential addicts, once again questioning which is the cart and which, the horse.

Additional aspects of communication compulsion suggest that the psychodymanics of addiction are at work. In McCroskey and Richmond’s (1995) interviews with compulsive communicators, they found that talkaholics universally recognized that they talked a lot. Many reported that their talkativeness was disruptive to their studies—they got in trouble in classes. Additionally, talkaholics reported that they had been unable to curtail their talkativeness activities. “When asked if they had ever tried to talk less, most indicated they had but many added comments such as ‘Yeah, but I can’t do it.’ ‘I can’t stop talking.’ ‘I am driven to talk.’” (p. 48). Interestingly, talkaholism was positively correlated to self-perceived communication competence. This suggests that victims are not themselves aware of the problematic nature of their syndrome, or are in denial. “None of (the subjects) would acknowledge it was a problem… One noted ‘I know some who are just like me, they talk too much most of the time’” (p. 49). And despite their denial, “their talking is perceived by others as a problem,” according to Bostrom and Harrington (1999, p. 73), as is the case with other addictions.