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Theories of Communication

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Theories of Communication ­ MCM 511
VU
LESSON 11
PARADIGM SHIFT & TWO STEP FLOW OF INFORMATION
In out previous session we discussed the theories that propounded that media has a powerful effect on
people. We discussed the theories which were the reason for the theories that media can be used as
powerful propaganda tool.
Now we will discuss how a radical transformation in media theory took place. And the focus from
powerful effect of media shifted to Limited Effects of Media. And how this became the dominant
paradigm in U.S media research from 1940 till 1960s. We will discuss the work of the pioneer
researchers in this field who were responsible for bringing this shift. We will discuss the work of Paul
Lazarsfeld of Princeton University and then the work of Carl Hovland
But before we proceed lets look at the term Paradigm shift. Thomas Kuhn in 1970 a science historian
argued that the way science progresses is through these radical breaks in theory. For a period of time a
single theoretical perspective or paradigm dominates most research. It provides a useful guide for
research as long as its basic assumptions are accepted. But sometimes small opposition research
communities emerge to develop and investigate alternate theories. Sometimes their work is ignored and
sometime they are able to conclusively demonstrate the validity of their perspective.
Sometimes researchers committed to a dominant paradigm uncover important findings that are
inconsistent with it. And as they explore these findings more and more contradictory data are obtained.
Eventually researcher makes an effort to explain for these inconsistencies and develop a new body of
theory.
Sometimes an important role is played by a scientific iconoclasts-people who rebel against key
assumptions in the dominant paradigm or who are convinced that new research methods should be used
These rebels work in isolation as they develop alternate perspective; the value of their ideas and findings
might not be recognized until decades after the original research was done.
Paradigm Shift In Mass Communication Theory
The people who led the paradigm shift in mass communication theory during the 1940s and 1950s were
primarily methodologists ­ not theorists. They were convinced that the influence of media can be
assessed by employing objective, empirical methods to measure it.
They were impressed by the accomplishments being made in the physical science. The ability to
understand and control the physical world was being vividly demonstrated e.g. the highly sophisticated
bombs- which could be used for either good or evil- to defend democracy and bolster totalitarianism.
Similarly the scientific methods provided the essential means to control media's power. They argued
that new research methods such as experiments and surveys made it possible to observe the effects of
media. These observations would permit definitive conclusions to reach and would guide the
construction of more useful theory.
The researchers were trained in the empirical research methods adopted; statistical techniques were
adapted to the study of media effects to bring validity in their approach. Large-scale expensive studies
were conducted.
Two-Step Flow of Information And Influence
Paul Lazarsfeld was a mathematician, but also interested in psychology, sociology and mass
communication. He and his research institute at Colombia University pioneered research in the effects
of radio and introduced. The notion that interpersonal communication was an important mediating factor
in certain mass media effects.
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Theories of Communication ­ MCM 511
VU
Lazarsfeld preferred inductive approach to theory construction that is; research should begin with
empirical observation, not with armchair speculation.
After the facts are gathered they are sifted and the most important pieces of information are selected.
This information is used to construct empirical generalizations ­ assertions about the relationships
between variables.
This research approach is cautious and inherently conservative. It avoids sweeping generalizations that
go beyond empirical observations and demand that theory construction be disciplined by data collection
and analysis. Theory is gradually created by combining generalizations to build what Robert Merton in
1967 referred to as middle-range theory.
Middle range theory comprises of empirical generalizations that are solidly based on empirical facts.
Lazarsfeld studied the election campaign of 1940 ­ between Roosevelt against Republican Wendell
Willkie. He assembled a large research team in May- the voters were interviewed seven times from May
till November. His findings contradicted mass society theory. He argued that the most important
influence of mass media was to reinforce a vote choice that had already been made. Media simply gave
people more reasons for choosing a candidate to whom they already favored.
He found very little evidence that media converted people. Instead, the converts were often people with
divided loyalties and were pressured by certain group ties. He found out that the few who were early
deciders were also the heaviest users of media. These heavy users might be the same people whose
advice was being sought by other more apathetic voters. These heavy viewers held well developed
political views and used media wisely and critically.
So rather than be converted themselves, they might actually gain information that would help them
advise others so that they would be more resistant to conversion. Thus these heavy users might act as
gate-keepers- screening information and only passing on items that would help other share their views.
They would pass along information to others in the community who looked to them for guidance.
Lazarsfeld chose the term opinion leader to refer to these individuals. He labeled those who turned to
opinion leaders for advice as opinion followers.
These (opinion followers) people were influenced primarily through interpersonal contacts rather than
by what they read in the newspapers and magazines or heard on the radio. This finding led the
establishment of a TWO-STEP FLOW MODEL OF MASS COMMUNICATION, in which effects
were perceived as being modified by interpersonal communication about those media messages.
For the attributes of opinion leaders another research conducted in 1943 on the housewives in Illinois--a
snowball sampling was done- to find out who influenced their thinking on marketing, movies, fashions
and politics- and then influential people were interviewed.
After 10 years Elihu Katz and Lazarsfeld published their work PERSONAL INFLUENCE in 1955.
They disclosed that opinion leaders existed at all levels of society and that the flow of their influence
tended to be horizontal rather than vertical. Opinion leaders influenced people like themselves rather
than those above or below them in the social order.
OPINION LEADERS differed from followers in many ways of their personal attributes:
They were more gregarious
Used media more
Were more socially active
And shared the same social status
Limited Effects Theory
Two popular labels from perspective on media that developed out of Lazarsfeld's work are:
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Theories of Communication ­ MCM 511
VU
Indirect Effects Theory
When media do seem to have an effect, that effect is "filtered" through other parts of the society, for the
example, through friends or social groups
Limited Effects Theory
Limited Effects Theory propounds that media have minimal or limited effects because those effects are
mitigated by a variety of mediating or intervening variables.
The broad generalizations that emerged from the limited effect research work conducted between 1945
and 1960.
Media rarely directly influenced individuals. Most people are sheltered from direct manipulation by
propaganda by their family, friends, co-worker and social groups. People don't believe everything they
hear or see in the media. They turn to others for advice and critical interpretation. This assumption
contradicts mass society notion that viewed people as isolated and highly vulnerable to direct
manipulation. There is two ­step flow of media influence. Media will only be influential if the opinion
leaders who guide others are influenced first.
But since these opinion leaders are sophisticated, critical media users, they are not easily manipulated
by media content. They act as effective barrier to media influence.
By the time most people become adults that have strongly held group commitments such as political
party and religious affiliation that individual media messages are powerless to overcome.
These commitments cause people to reject messages even if other group members are not present to
assist them. Media use tends to be consistent with these commitments. E.g. Republican and democrats;
religious commitments etc
When media effects do occur, they will be modest and isolated. Huge number of people across the land
will not be converted. Rather small pockets of individuals might be influence-usually those who are cut
off from the influence of other people or whose long-term commitments are undermined by social
crises.
Carl Hovland and the Experimental section
The Army's information and Education Division had a Research Branch ­headed by a psychologist Carl
Hovland. Primary mission was "to make experimental evaluations of the effectiveness of various
programs of the Information education division"
To find out the essential elements of attitude change he designed experiments employing controlled
variation. To study the claim of mass society theory, he experimented on the soldiers with the
assumptions that since soldiers were torn form their families jobs and social groups. They are isolated
individuals, supposedly highly vulnerable to propaganda.
Hovland found that the military's propaganda wasn't as powerful as had been assumed. They
discovered that although the movies were successful in increasing knowledge, they were not as effective
in influencing attitudes and motivations (their primary functions).
But they also found out that although initially films were more effective in imparting factual
information than in changing attitudes about the British as time passed, factual knowledge decreased but
attitudes toward the British actually became more positive. So time was key variable in attitude change.
Possibly propaganda effects were not as instantaneous as mass society theory or behaviorist notions
suggested. However this group found that attitude change was a very complex issue and many variables
had affects on the attitude of an individual e.g. kind of message- one sided or two-sided; socio-economic
background, when people are predisposed to a certain attitude etc
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Theories of Communication ­ MCM 511
VU
Since the findings on effects research were enormously varied, two interrelated empirical
generalizations emerged. These generalizations assert that the influence of mass media is rarely direct
because it is almost always mediated by:
individual differences
group membership or relationships
These two factors normally serve as effective barriers to media influence.
Individual Differences Theory
Argued that, because people vary greatly in their psychological make-up and because they have
different perceptions of things, media influence differs from person to person. More specifically, media
messages contain particular stimulus attributes that have differential interaction with personality
characteristics of members of the audience.
Social Categories Theory
This theory assumes that there are broad collective aggregates or social categories in urban-industrial
societies whose behaviour in the face of given set of stimuli is more or less uniform. People with similar
backgrounds e.g. age gender income level, religious affiliation.
Selective Process
One of the central tenet of attitude change theory that was adopted by influential mass communication
theorists, is the idea of COGNTIVE CONSISTENCEY.
As discussed earlier that people seemed to seek out media messages consistent with the values and
beliefs of those around them. This implied that people tried to preserve their existing views by avoiding
messages that challenged them. We must here again mention the theory of COGNITIVE
DISSONANCE.
He explained that the bedrock premise of dissonance theory is that information that is not consistent
with a person's already-held values and beliefs will create a psychological discomfort (dissonance) that
must be relieved.
People generally work to deep their knowledge of themselves and their knowledge of the world
somewhat consistent.
According to Festinger "If a person knows various things that are not psychologically consistent
with on another he will, I a variety of ways, try to make them more consistent."
Collectively, these ways have become known as the SELECTIVE PROCESSES. Some psychologists
consider these defense mechanisms that we routinely use to protect ourselves from information that
would threaten us. Here are the three forms of selectivity that were studied by attitude change
researcher.
These notions have since been widely criticized and should be interpreted very carefully.
Selective exposure
Selective retention
selective perception
1. Selective exposure
People's tendency to expose themselves to or attend to media messages that feel are in accord with their
already-held attitudes and interests and the parallel tendency to avoid that which might be dissonance-
creating.
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Theories of Communication ­ MCM 511
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2. Selective retention
Is the process by which people tend to remember best and longest information that is consistent with
their preexisting attitudes and interests e.g. unpleasant memories?
3. Selective perception
Is the mental or psychological recasting of a message so that its meaning is in line with a person's
beliefs and attitudes?
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Table of Contents:
  1. COMMUNICATION:Nature of communication, Transactional approach, Communication is symbolic:
  2. THEORY, PARADIGM AND MODEL (I):Positivistic Perspective, Critical Perspective
  3. THEORY, PARADIGM AND MODEL (II):Empirical problems, Conceptual problems
  4. FROM COMMUNICATION TO MASS COMMUNICATION MODELS:Channel
  5. NORMATIVE THEORIES:Authoritarian Theory, Libertarian Theory, Limitations
  6. HUTCHINS COMMISSION ON FREEDOM, CHICAGO SCHOOL & BASIC PRINCIPLES OF SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY THEORY
  7. CIVIC JOURNALISM, DEVELOPMENT MEDIA THEORY & DEMOCRATIC PARTICIPANT THEORY
  8. LIMITATIONS OF THE PRESS THEORY:Concentration and monopoly, Commercialism
  9. MCQUAIL’S FOUR KINDS OF THEORIES:Social scientific theory, Critical theory
  10. PROPAGANDA THEORIES:Origin of Propaganda, Engineering of Consent, Behaviorism
  11. PARADIGM SHIFT & TWO STEP FLOW OF INFORMATION
  12. MIDDLE RANGE THEORIES:Background, Functional Analysis Approach, Elite Pluralism
  13. KLAPPER’S PHENOMENSITIC THEORY:Klapper’s Generalizations, Criticism
  14. DIFFUSION OF INNOVATION THEORY:Innovators, Early adopters
  15. CHALLENGING THE DOMINANT PARADIGM:Catharsis Social learning Social cognitive theory
  16. SOCIAL COGNITIVE THEROY:Symbolizing Capacity, MODELLING
  17. MODELING FROM MASS MEDIA:Recent research, Summary, PRIMING EFFECTS
  18. PRIMING EFFECT:Conceptual Roots, Perceived meaning, Percieved justifiability
  19. CULTIVATION OF PERCEPTIONS OF SOCIAL REALITY:History
  20. SYSTEMS THEORIES OF COMMUNICATION PROCESSES:System
  21. EMERGENCE OF CRITICAL & CULTURAL THEORIES OF MASS COMMUNICATION
  22. REVISION:Positivistic perspective, Interpretive Perspective, Inductive approach
  23. CRITICAL THEORIES & ROLE OF MASS COMMUNICATION IN A SOCIETY -THE MEDIATION OF SOCIAL RELATIONS
  24. ROLE OF MASS MEDIA IN SOCIAL ORDER & MARXIST THEORY:Positive View
  25. KEY PRINCIPLES USED IN MARXISM:Materialism, Class Struggle, Superstructure
  26. CONSUMER SOCIETY:Role of mass media in alienation, Summary of Marxism
  27. COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE:Neo Marxism, Characteristics of Culture
  28. HEGEMONY:What exactly is the meaning of "hegemony"?
  29. CULTURE INDUSTRY:Gramscianism on Communications Matters
  30. POLITICAL ECONOMIC THEORY I:Internationalization, Vertical Integration
  31. POLITICAL ECONOMIC THEORY II:Diversification, Instrumental
  32. POLITICAL ECONOMIC THEORY III:Criticism, Power of Advertising
  33. AGENDA SETTING THEORY:A change in thinking, First empirical test
  34. FRAMING & SPIRAL OF SILENCE:Spiral of Silence, Assessing public opinion
  35. SPIRAL OF SILENCE:Fear of isolation, Assessing public opinion, Micro-level
  36. MARSHALL MCLUHAN: THE MEDIUM IS THE MESSAGE AND MASSAGE
  37. KNOWLEDGE GAP THEORY:Criticism on Marshal McLuhan
  38. MEDIA SYSTEM DEPENDENCY THEORY:Media System Dependency Theory
  39. USES AND GRATIFICATIONS THEORY:Methods
  40. RECEPTION THEORY
  41. FRAMING AND FRAME ANALYSIS:Information Processing Theory, Summing up
  42. TRENDS IN MASS COMMUNICATION I:Communication Science, Direct channels
  43. TRENDS IN MASS COMMUNICATION II:Communication Maxims, Emotions
  44. GLOBALIZATION AND MEDIA:Mediated Communication, Post Modernism
  45. REVISION:Microscopic Theories, Mediation of Social Relations