Communication Efficacy as a Mechanism for the Chilling Effect on Complaint Avoidance A Cross-cultural Comparison of American and Chinese Romantic Relationships

Yachao Li (1) , Jennifer A. Samp (2)
(1) Department of Communication Studies, University of Georgia , United States
(2) Department of Communication Studies, University of Georgia , United States


Complaint avoidance is a common response to relational conflict; yet, it can cause adverse personal and relational consequences. This study examined cultural (i.e., U.S. versus China) and relational (i.e., relational power, communication efficacy) factors predicting complaint avoidance. Hypothesizing that Americans engage in less complaint avoidance than Chinese (H1), relational power negatively predicts complaint avoidance via communication efficacy across cultures (H2), and culture moderates how power and efficacy predict avoidance (H3), we surveyed 392 college-aged dating individuals (194 Americans, 198 Chinese). Results confirmed H1 and H2. H3 was partially supported: after controlling for relational and conflict characteristics, as communication efficacy increased, there were greater decreases in complaint avoidance in Americans than in Chinese. Implications for cross-cultural studies on relational conflict are discussed.

Full text article

Generated from XML file


Adams, G., Anderson, S. L., & Adonu, J. K. (2004). The cultural grounding of closeness and intimacy. In D. J. Mashek & A. P. Aron (Eds.), The handbook of closeness and intimacy (pp. 321-339). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Afifi, T. D., & Olson, L. (2005). The chilling effect in families and the pressure to conceal secrets. Communication Monographs, 72, 192-216. DOI:

Afifi, T. D., Olson, L. N., & Armstrong, C. (2005). The chilling effect and family secrets. Human Communication Research, 31, 564-598. DOI:

Afifi, W. A., & Weiner, J. L. (2004). Toward a theory of motivated information management. Communication Theory, 14, 167-190. DOI:

Altman, I., & Taylor, D. A. (1973). Social penetration: The development of interpersonal relationships. New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84, 191-215. DOI:

Baron, R. M., & Kenny, D. A. (1986). The moderator-mediator variable distinction in social psychological research: Conceptual, strategic, and statistical considerations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51, 1173-1182. DOI:

Baxter, L. A., & Dindia, K. (1990). Marital partners’ perceptions of marital maintenance strategies. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 7, 187-208. DOI:

Bochner, S., & Hesketh, B. (1994). Power distance, individualism/collectivism, and job-related attitudes in a culturally diverse work group. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 25, 233-257. DOI:

Cloven, D. H., & Roloff, M. E. (1991). Sense-making activities and interpersonal conflict: Communicative cures for the mulling blues. Western Journal of Communication, 55, 134-158. DOI:

Cloven, D. H., & Roloff, M. E. (1993). The chilling effect of aggressive potential on the expression of complaints in intimate relationships. Communications Monographs, 60, 199-219. DOI:

Cohen, J. (2003). Applied multiple regression/correlation analysis for the behavioral sciences (3re ed.). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Dawson, J. F. (2014). Moderation in management research: What, why, when, and how. Journal of Business and Psychology, 29, 1-19. DOI:

Dunbar, N. E. (2004). Theory in progress: Dyadic power theory: Constructing a communication-based theory of relational power. Journal of Family Communication, 4, 235-248. DOI:

Emerson, R. M. (1976). Social exchange theory. Annual review of sociology, 2, 335-362. DOI:

Epstein, N. B., Chen, F., & Beyder-Kamjou, I. (2005). Relationship standards and marital satisfaction in Chinese and American couples. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 31, 59-74. DOI:

Falbo, T., & Peplau, L. A. (1980). Power strategies in intimate relationships. Journal of personality and social psychology, 38, 618-628. DOI:

Gao, G. (2001). Intimacy, passion, and commitment in Chinese and US American romantic relationships. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 25, 329–342. DOI:

Gao, G., Ting-Toomey, S., & Gudykunst, W. B. (1996). Chinese communication processes. In M.H. Bond (Ed.), The handbook of Chinese psychology (pp. 280–293). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Greeff, T. P., & De Bruyne, A. (2000). Conflict management style and marital satisfaction. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 26, 321-334. DOI:

Gudykunst, W.B., Matsumoto, Y., Ting-Toomey, S., Nishida, T., Kim, K., & Heyman, S. (1996). The influence of cultural individualism-collectivism, self-construals, and individual values on communication styles across cultures. Human Communication Research, 22, 510–543. DOI:

Holtgraves, T., & Yang, J.-N. (1992). Interpersonal underpinnings of request strategies: general principles and differences due to culture and gender. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 62, 246-256. DOI:

Hu, Q., Bernardo, A.B.I., Lam, S.W., & Cheang, S. W. (2018). Individualism-collectivism orientations and coping styles of cyberbullying victims in Chinese culture. Current Psychology, 37, 65-72. DOI:

Huang, L. J. (1981). The Chinese American family. In C. H. Mindel & R. W. Habenstein (Eds.), Ethnic families in America: Patterns and variations (pp. 115–141). New York, NY: Elsevier.

Huston, T. (1983). Power. In H. H. Kelley, E. Berscheid, A. Christensen, J. Harvey, T. Huston, G. Levinger, ... D. Peterson (Eds.), Close relationships (pp. 169-219). New York, NY: W. H. Freeman and Company.

Jewkes, R. (2002). Intimate partner violence: causes and prevention. The lancet, 359, 1423-1429. DOI:

Lawler, E. J., & Bacharach, S. B. (1987). Comparison of dependence and punitive forms of power. Social forces, 66, 446-462. DOI:

Lefcourt, H. M. (1982). Locus of control : current trends in theory and research (2nd ed.). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum Associates.

Lin, Y. H. W., & Rusbult, C. E. (1995). Commitment to dating relationships and cross-sex friendships in America and China. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 12, 7-26. DOI:

Makoul, G., & Roloff, M. E. (1998). The role of efficacy and outcome expectations in the decision to withhold relational complaints. Communication Research, 25, 5-29. DOI:

Merrill, A. F., & Afifi, T. D. (2012). Examining the bidirectional nature of topic avoidance and relationship dissatisfaction: The moderating role of communication skills. Communication Monographs, 79, 499-521. DOI:

Oetzel, J. G., Ting-Toomey, S., Masumoto, T., Yokochi, Y., Pan, X., Takai, J., & Wilcox, R. (2001). Face and facework in conflict: A cross-cultural comparison of China, Germany, Japan, and the United States. Communication Monographs, 68, 235-258. DOI:

Oetzel, J. G., & Ting-Toomey, S. (2003). Face concerns in interpersonal conflict: A cross-cultural empirical test of the face-negotiation theory. Communication Research, 30, 599-624. DOI:

Ohbuchi, K.-I., Fukushima, O., & Tedeschi, J. T. (1999). Cultural values in conflict management: Goal orientation, goal attainment, and tactical decision. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 30, 51-71. DOI:

Peterson, D. R. (2002). Conflicts. In H. H. Kelley, E. Berscheid, A. Christensen, & e. al. (Eds.), Close Relationships (2nd ed., pp. 360-396). Clinton Corners, NY: Percheron Press.

Rollins, B. C., & Bahr, S. J. (1976). A theory of power relationships in marriage. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 38, 619-627. DOI:

Roloff, M. E., & Cloven, D. H. (1990). The chilling effect in interpersonal relationships: The reluctance to speak one’s mind. . In D. Cahn (Ed.), Intimates in conflict: A communication perspective (pp. 49-76). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Rusbult, C. E., & Martz, J. M. (1995). Remaining in an abusive relationship: An investment model analysis of nonvoluntary dependence. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 21, 558-571. DOI:

Rusbult, C. E., Verette, J., Whitney, G. A., Slovik, L. F., & Lipkus, I. (1991). Accommodation processes in close relationships: Theory and preliminary empirical evidence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 60, 53-78. DOI:

Samp, J. A., & Abbott, L. (2011). An examination of dependence power, father involvement, and judgments about violence in an at-risk community sample of mothers. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 26, 3682-3698. DOI:

Samp, J. A., & Solomon, D. H. (1999). Communicative Responses to Problematic Events in Close Relationships II The Influence of Five Facets of Goals on Message Features. Communication Research, 26, 193-239. DOI:

Slatcher, R. B., Robles, T. F., Repetti, R. L., & Fellows, M. D. (2010). Momentary work worries, marital disclosure and salivary cortisol among parents of young children. Psychosomatic Medicine, 72, 887-896. DOI:

Solomon, D. H., & Knobloch, L. K. (2004). A model of relational turbulence: The role of intimacy, relational uncertainty, and interference from partners in appraisals of irritations. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 21, 795-816. DOI:

Solomon, D. H., & Samp, J. A. (1998). Power and Problem Appraisal: Perceptual Foundations of the Chilling Effect in Dating Relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 15, 191-209. DOI:

Ting-Toomey, S. (2017). Conflict face-negotiation theory: Tracking its evolutionary. In X. Dai & G. Chen (Eds.), Conflict management and intercultural communication: The art of intercultural harmony (pp. 123-143). New York, NY: Routledge. DOI:

Ting-Toomey, S., Gao, G., Trubisky, P., Yang, Z., Soo Kim, H., Lin, S.-L., & Nishida, T. (1991). Culture, face maintenance, and styles of handling interpersonal conflict: A study in five cultures. International Journal of Conflict Management, 2, 275-296. DOI:

Ting-Toomey, S., & Kurogi, A. (1998). Facework competence in intercultural conflict: An updated face-negotiation theory. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 22, 187-225. DOI:

Ting-Toomey, S., Oetzel, J. G. & Yee-Jung, K. (2001). Self-construal types and conflict management styles. Communication Reports, 14, 87–104. DOI:

Williams, D. M. (2010). Outcome Expectancy and Self-Efficacy: Theoretical Implications of an Unresolved Contradiction. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 14, 417-425. DOI:

Worley, T. R., & Samp, J. (2016). Complaint Avoidance and Complaint-Related Appraisals in Close Relationships A Dyadic Power Theory Perspective. Communication Research, 43, 391-413. DOI:

Wu, D. Y. H. (1996). Chinese childhood socialization. In M. H. Bond (Ed.), The handbook of Chinese psychology (pp. 143–154). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Zhang, R., Ting-Toomey, S., Dorjee, T., & Lee, P. S. (2012). Culture and self-construal as predictors of relational responses to emotional infidelity: China and the United States. Chinese Journal of Communication, 5, 137-159. DOI:


Yachao Li (Primary Contact)
Jennifer A. Samp
Author Biographies

Yachao Li, Department of Communication Studies, University of Georgia

Yachao Li (M.A., Rutgers University, 2015) is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Georgia (UGA). He is a Fellow of the Future Faculty Fellows at UGA.

Jennifer A. Samp, Department of Communication Studies, University of Georgia

Jennifer A. Samp (Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1999) is a Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Georgia. She is a Fellow of the UGA Owens Institute for Behavioral Research, a Faculty Affiliate of the UGA Center for Risk Communication, and a Faculty Affiliate of the Emory University Center for Injury Control.

Li, Y., & Samp, J. A. (2019). Communication Efficacy as a Mechanism for the Chilling Effect on Complaint Avoidance A Cross-cultural Comparison of American and Chinese Romantic Relationships. Journal of Intercultural Communication, 19(1), 1–15.

Article Details

Smart Citations via scite_