What is the Communication Accommodation Theory?

Definition of the Theory

The communication accommodation theory (CAT) is a model that emphasizes linguistic adjustments that people make while relating to others. Human interactions tend to minimize individual differences within social conversations during communication by realigning the speech through the choice of words. The theory underscores the variations in various aspects of interaction, including speech, non-verbal communication, and gestures.  

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Meaning of the Theory

The model illustrates the trends taken when adjusting the modes of behavior during interaction. Leary and Baumeister (2017) aver that people tend to exhibit varied behavioral trends when trying to control the fundamental social differences between their social groupings. According to Gallois, Ogay, and Giles (2005), the model accommodates the activities within the communication systems of people belonging to different social clusters. Communicators use the dynamic environment and their social differences either to get approval or to project a positive image during interactions. The accommodation process of CAT takes a two-stance model of convergence and divergence. The former standpoint elucidates the tendency to adapt to a person’s behavior to reduce social differences. At the same time, the latter perspective explains an individual emphasis on the variances of societal status and nonverbal distinctions.

The invention of the Theory

The theory traces its origin to 1971 from social psychologist Howard Giles, who developed the model while investigating the dynamics that inform the speech variances between people from diverse social classes (Gallois, Ogay, & Giles, 2005). Therefore, the theory elicits emotions that influence the psychological formation, which triggers the application of either convergence or divergence perspectives during conversations.

Development of the Theory

CAT developed from the speech accommodation model used by psychologists to study human interactions. The speech principle explains that during interactions, people tend to change how they address each other to match how the listener communicates (Floyd, Hesse, & Generous, 2017). CAT has gained popularity in academic and professional fields. In addition, it is used to illustrate the interaction between political leaders and their followers to create an understanding and strike nonverbal connections during conversations.

Application of the Theory in Studies

The theory has investigated patient and health provider interactions in primary healthcare. The study by Farzadnia and Giles (2015) analyzed the social variations among patients, medical professionals, and the family or guardian and applied the models of convergence and divergence during their interactions. The authors indicate that there is a struggle for control in the interactions between patients and healthcare providers (Farzadnia & Giles, 2015). Given that healthcare professionals have better skills in managing discourses with patients and their relatives, CAT has been applied in the health setup to ease communication.

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Practical Application of the Theory

CAT has been used to manage enforcement officers’ interactions with crime suspects and their families. Myers, Giles, Reid, and Nabi (2008) assert that the accommodativeness of the officers and the severity of crime provides the dimension that the public applies to view officers and support the courses of their duties. Myers et al. (2008) illustrate an example where officers’ accommodativeness on the crime evaluation supports their decision in ascertaining whether the evidence provided can support a trial. In applying the convergence and divergence perspectives of CAT, there is a high likelihood that the officer will appeal to social groups and reduce the incidences of such crimes.



Farzadnia, S., & Giles, H. (2015). Patient-provider interaction: A communication accommodation theory perspective. International Journal of Society, Culture & Language, 3(2), 17-34.

Floyd, K., Hesse, C., & Generous, M. A. (2017). Affection exchange theory: A bio-evolutionary look at affectionate communication. In B. O. Dawn., S. A. Elizabeth, F. Kory, F. (Eds.). Engaging theories in family communication (pp. 37-46). New York. NY: Routledge.

Gallois, C., Ogay, T., & Giles, H. (2005). Communication accommodation theory. A look back and a look ahead. In W. B. Gudykunst (Eds.). Theorizing about intercultural communication (pp. 121-148). Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Leary, M. R., & Baumeister, R. F. (2017). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. In Z. Rita (Eds.). Interpersonal development (pp. 57-89). London, UK: Routledge.

Myers, P., Giles, H., Reid, S. A., & Nabi, R. L. (2008). Law enforcement encounters: The effects of officer accommodativeness and crime severity on interpersonal attributions are mediated by intergroup sensitivity. Communication Studies, 59(4), 291-305.

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