Communicant Activeness, Cognitive Entrepreneurship, and A Situational Theory of Problem Solving

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This dissertation presents a situational theory of problem solving that highlights distinctive communicative and cognitive features in human problem solving. Its purpose is to provide a simple and useful, but not atheoretical, account of communication behavior and the cognitive approaches that we adopt during problematic situations. In the conceptualization, I introduce a new concept, communicant activeness in problem solving (CAPS), which has three domains in communicant activeness to explain not only when people voluntarily learn and share information but also how they choose certain information as more relevant than other information. The three domains are information selection (information forefending and information permitting), information transmission (information forwarding and information sharing), and information acquisition (information seeking and information processing). I then use the focal construct, communicant activeness in problem solving, as a dependent variable in the new situational theory of problem solving. I also propose another new concept, cognitive entrepreneurship in problem solving (CEPS). It describes cognitive strategies that we take to reason about a solution in some problematic situations. Depending on the situation, we adopt a more or less entrepreneurial mindset. This construct contains four distinct but correlated dimensions: cognitive retrogression, cognitive multilateralism, cognitive commitment, and cognitive suspension. For conceptual convenience, I named the more entrepreneurial approach the cognitive alpha strategy and the less entrepreneurial approach the cognitive omega strategy. The construct of cognitive entrepreneurship becomes another dependent variable to be accounted for by the independent variables in the situational theory.
To explain the cognitive and communicative dependent variables in problem solving, I use four situational antecedent conditions from the situational theory of publics: problem recognition, constraint recognition, level of involvement, and referent criterion (J. Grunig, 1968, 1997). I refine these antecedent concepts to accommodate several conceptual issues found from the past research of the situational theory of publics (e.g., the multicollinearity issue among independent variables). I also introduce the concept of situational motivation in problem solving that explains motivational effects on subsequent cognitive approaches and communicative behaviors. These revised situational antecedent variables jointly explain 1) how and why people communicate and 2) how people use unique cognitive strategies when they approach problem resolution. I called this emerging theory the situational theory of problem solving (STOPS). This dissertation elaborates 1) a conceptual model of communicant activeness in problem solving; 2) another conceptual model of cognitive entrepreneurship in problem solving; 3) a situational and motivational account for when, why, and how people communicate and are cognitively unique in a problematic situation. It then empirically tests a set of hypotheses and propositions that pertain to new concepts and the situational theory of problem solving. This dissertation advances conceptual understanding about how communication behavior and cognitive approaches affect our problem-solving efforts (descriptive theory building). It also contributes to finding a way to improve our adaptability in dealing with life problems (normative theory building). The new concepts and theory, CAPS, CEPS, and STOPS, offer some solutions for theoretical and practical problems in communication and several communication subfields.