Thursday, March 24, 2011

Theories of Mass Media

Agenda Setting Theory
the creation of what the public thinks is important

History and Orientation
Agenda setting describes a very powerful influence of the media – the ability to tell us what issues are important. As far back as 1922, the newspaper columnist Walter Lippman was concerned that the media had the power to present images to the public. McCombs and Shaw investigated presidential campaigns in 1968, 1972 and 1976. In the research done in 1968 they focused on two elements: awareness and information. Investigating the agenda-setting function of the mass media, they attempted to assess the relationship between what voters in one community said were important issues and the actual content of the media messages used during the campaign. McCombs and Shaw concluded that the mass media exerted a significant influence on what voters considered to be the major issues of the campaign.

Core Assumptions and Statements
Core: Agenda-setting is the creation of public awareness and concern of salient issues by the news media. Two basis assumptions underlie most research on agenda-setting: (1) the press and the media do not reflect reality; they filter and shape it; (2) media concentration on a few issues and subjects leads the public to perceive those issues as more important than other issues. One of the most critical aspects in the concept of an agenda-setting role of mass communication is the time frame for this phenomenon. In addition, different media have different agenda-setting potential. Agenda-setting theory seems quite appropriate to help us understand the pervasive role of the media (for example on political communication systems).
Statement: Bernard Cohen (1963) stated: “The press may not be successful much of the time in telling people what to think, but it is stunningly successful in telling its readers what to think about.”

Conceptual Model

media effects

History and Orientation
Much attention in agenda-setting research, in the 80’s, was focused on the concept of priming. This concept was derived from the cognitive psychological concept of priming.

Core Assumptions and Statements
Priming refers to enhancing the effects of the media by offering the audience a prior context – a context that will be used to interpret subsequent communication. The media serve to provide the audience with standards and frames of reference. Agenda-setting refers mainly to the importance of an issue; priming tells us whether something is good or bad, whether it is communicated effectively, etc. The media have primed the audience about what a news program looks like, what a credible person looks like, etc.

(media) or (people) decide where people think about
also: framing in organizations

History and Orientation
The concept of framing is related to the agenda-setting tradition but expands the research by focusing on the essence of the issues at hand rather than on a particular topic. The basis of framing theory is that the media focuses attention on certain events and then places them within a field of meaning. Framing is an important topic since it can have a big influence and therefore the concept of framing expanded to organizations as well.

Core Assumptions and Statements
Core: The media draws the public attention to certain topics, it decides where people think about, the journalists select the topics. This is the original agenda setting ‘thought’. In news items occurs more than only bringing up certain topics. The way in which the news is brought, the frame in which the news is presented, is also a choice made by journalists. Thus, a frame refers to the way media and media gatekeepers organize and present the events and issues they cover, and the way audiences interpret what they are provided. Frames are abstract notions that serve to organize or structure social meanings. Frames influence the perception of the news of the audience, this form of agenda-setting not only tells what to think about, but also how to think about it.

Framing in organizations
Core: Framing is a quality of communication that leads others to accept one meaning over another. It is a skill with profound effects on how organizational members understand and respond to the world in which they live. It is a skill that most successful leaders possess, yet one that is not often taught. According to Fairhurst & Sarr (1996) framing consists of three elements: language, thought and forethought. Language helps us to remember information and acts to transform the way in which we view situations. To use language, people must have thought and reflected on their own interpretive frameworks and those of others. Leaders must learn to frame spontaneously in certain circumstances. Being able to do so had to do with having the forethought to predict framing opportunities. In other words, one must plan in order to be spontaneous. (Deetz, Tracy & Simpson, 2000).

Cultivation Theory
television shapes concepts of social reality

History and Orientation
With the decline of hypodermic needle theories a new perspective began to emerge: the stalagmite theories. Black et. al. used the metaphor of stalagmite theories to suggest that media effects occur analogously to the slow buildup of formations on cave floors, which take their interesting forms after eons of the steady dripping of limewater from the cave ceilings above. One of the most popular theories that fits this perspective is cultivation theory.
Cultivation theory (sometimes referred to as the cultivation hypothesis or cultivation analysis) was an approach developed by Professor George Gerbner, dean of the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania. He began the 'Cultural Indicators' research project in the mid-1960s, to study whether and how watching television may influence viewers' ideas of what the everyday world is like. Cultivation research is in the 'effects' tradition. Cultivation theorists argue that television has long-term effects which are small, gradual, indirect but cumulative and significant.

Core Assumptions and Statements
Cultivation theory in its most basic form, suggests that television is responsible for shaping, or ‘cultivating’ viewers’ conceptions of social reality. The combined effect of massive television exposure by viewers over time subtly shapes the perception of social reality for individuals and, ultimately, for our culture as a whole. Gerbner argues that the mass media cultivate attitudes and values which are already present in a culture: the media maintain and propagate these values amongst members of a culture, thus binding it together. He has argued that television tends to cultivate middle-of-the- road political perspectives. Gerbner called this effect ‘mainstreaming’. Cultivation theorists distinguish between ‘first order’ effects (general beliefs about the everyday world, such as about the prevalence of violence) and ‘second order’ effects (specific attitudes, such as to law and order or to personal safety). There is also a distinction between two groups of television viewers: the heavy viewers and the light viewers. The focus is on ‘heavy viewers’. People who watch a lot of television are likely to be more influenced by the ways in which the world is framed by television programs than are individuals who watch less, especially regarding topics of which the viewer has little first-hand experience. Light viewers may have more sources of information than heavy viewers. ‘Resonance’ describes the intensified effect on the audience when what people see on television is what they have experienced in life. This double dose of the televised message tends to amplify the cultivation effect.

Dependency Theory
media depends on the social context
(or: Media System Dependency Theory)

History and Orientation
Dependency theory was originally proposed by Sandra Ball-Rokeach and Melvin DeFleur (1976). This theory merged out of the communication discipline.
Dependency theory integrates several perspectives: first, it combines perspectives from psychology with ingredients from social categories theory. Second, it integrates systems perspectives with elements from more causal approaches. Third, it combines elements of uses and gratifications research with those of media effects traditions, although its primary focus is less on effects per se than on rationales for why media effects typically are limited. Finally, a contextualist philosophy is incorporated into the theory, which also features traditional concerns with the content of media messages and their effects on audiences. Research generated by this model had tends to be more descriptive than explanatory or predictive.

Core Assumptions and Statements
Dependency theory proposes an integral relationship among audiences, media and the larger social system. This theory predicts that you depend on media information to meet certain needs and achieve certain goals, like uses-and-gratifications theory. But you do not depend on all media equally. Two factors influence the degree of media dependence. First, you will become more dependent on media that meet a number of your needs than on media that provide just a few. The second source of dependency is social stability. When social change and conflict are high, established institutions, beliefs, and practices are challenged, forcing you to reevaluate and make new choices. At such times your reliance on the media for information will increase. At other, more stable times your dependency on media may go way down.
One’s needs are not always strictly personal but may be shaped by the culture or by various social conditions. In other words, individuals’ needs, motives, and uses of media are contingent on outside factors that may not be in the individuals’ control. These outside factors act as constraints on what and how media can be used and on the availability of other non-media alternatives. Furthermore, the more alternatives and individual had for gratifying needs, the less dependent he or she will become on any single medium. The number of functional alternatives, however, is not just a matter of individual choice or even of psychological traits but is limited also by factors such as availability of certain media.

Hypodermic Needle Theory
direct influence via mass media
Or: Magic Bullet Theory
(in Dutch also known as: ‘almacht van de media-theorie’, stimulus-response, injectienaald, transportband, lont in het kruidvat theorie).
History and Orientation
The "hypodermic needle theory" implied mass media had a direct, immediate and powerful effect on its audiences. The mass media in the 1940s and 1950s were perceived as a powerful influence on behavior change.
Several factors contributed to this "strong effects" theory of communication, including:
- the fast rise and popularization of radio and television
- the emergence of the persuasion industries, such as advertising and propaganda
- the Payne Fund studies of the 1930s, which focused on the impact of motion pictures on children, and
- Hitler's monopolization of the mass media during WWII to unify the German public behind the Nazi party

Core Assumptions and Statements
The theory suggests that the mass media could influence a very large group of people directly and uniformly by ‘shooting’ or ‘injecting’ them with appropriate messages designed to trigger a desired response.
Both images used to express this theory (a bullet and a needle) suggest a powerful and direct flow of information from the sender to the receiver. The bullet theory graphically suggests that the message is a bullet, fired from the "media gun" into the viewer's "head". With similarly emotive imagery the hypodermic needle model suggests that media messages are injected straight into a passive audience which is immediately influenced by the message. They express the view that the media is a dangerous means of communicating an idea because the receiver or audience is powerless to resist the impact of the message. There is no escape from the effect of the message in these models. The population is seen as a sitting duck. People are seen as passive and are seen as having a lot media material "shot" at them. People end up thinking what they are told because there is no other source of information.
New assessments that the Magic Bullet Theory was not accurate came out of election studies in "The People's Choice," (Lazarsfeld, Berelson and Gaudet, 1944/1968). The project was conducted during the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940 to determine voting patterns and the relationship between the media and political behavior. The majority of people remained untouched by the propaganda; interpersonal outlets brought more influence than the media. The effects of the campaign were not all-powerful to where they persuaded helpless audiences uniformly and directly, which is the very definition of what the magic bullet theory does. As focus group testing, questionnaires, and other methods of marketing effectiveness testing came into widespread use; and as more interactive forms of media (e.g.: internet, radio call-in shows, etc.) became available, the magic bullet theory was replaced by a variety of other, more instrumental models, like the two step of flow theory and diffusion of innovations theory.

Knowledge Gap
increasing gap between higher and lower educated people

History and Orientation
The knowledge gap theory was first proposed by Tichenor, Donohue and Olien at the University of Minnesota in the 70s. They believe that the increase of information in society is not evenly acquired by every member of society: people with higher socioeconomic status tend to have better ability to acquire information (
Weng, S.C. 2000). This leads to a division of two groups: a group of better-educated people who know more about most things, and those with low education who know less. Lower socio-economic status (SES) people, defined partly by educational level, have little or no knowledge about public affairs issues, are disconnected from news events and important new discoveries, and usually aren’t concerned about their lack of knowledge.

Core Assumptions and Statements
The knowledge gap can result in an increased gap between people of lower and higher socioeconomic status. The attempt to improve people’s life with information via the mass media might not always work the way this is planned. Mass media might have the effect of increasing the difference gap between members of social classes. Tichenor, Donohue and Olien (1970) present five reasons for justifying the knowledge gap. 1) People of higher socioeconomic status have better communication skills, education, reading, comprehending and remembering information. 2) People of higher socioeconomic status can store information more easily or remember the topic form background knowledge 3) People of higher socioeconomic status might have a more relevant social context. 4) People of higher socioeconomic status are better in selective exposure, acceptance and retention. 5) The nature of the mass media itself is that it is geared toward persons of higher socioeconomic status.

This example shows that education level or socioeconomic status made a difference in knowledge. The question was whether or not respondents felt astronauts would ever reach the moon. Those with high levels of education (based on three levels: grade school, high school and college) were more likely to agree that man would reach the moon than those with lower levels of education both at a certain point in time and over all four intervals. Most important was that the gap between levels widened over time in that the percentage of respondents in the high education level who agreed rose more than 60 percentage points over 16 years while those in the low level of education category rose less than 25 percentage points.

Media Richness Theory
a medium fits with a task

History and Orientation
Media richness theory is based on contingency theory and information processing theory (Galbraith 1977). First proponents of the theory were made by Daft & Lengel (1984).

Core Assumptions and Statements
Core: Researchers Daft, Lengel and successors propose that communication media have varying capacities for resolving ambiguity, negotiating varying interpretations, and facilitating understanding.
Two main assumptions of this theory are: people want to overcome equivocality and uncertainty in organizations and a variety of media commonly used in organizations work better for certain tasks than others. Using four criteria, Daft and Lengel present a media richness hierarchy, arranged from high to low degrees of richness, to illustrate the capacity of media types to process ambiguous communication in organizations. The criteria are (a) the availability of instant feedback; (b) the capacity of the medium to transmit multiple cues such as body language, voice tone, and inflection; (c) the use of natural language; and (d) the personal focus of the medium. Face-to-face communication is the richest communication medium in the hierarchy followed by telephone, electronic mail, letter, note, memo, special report, and finally, flier and bulletin. From a strategic management perspective, the media richness theory suggests that effective managers make rational choices matching a particular communication medium to a specific task or objective and to the degree of richness required by that task (Trevino, Daft, & Lengel, 1990, in Soy, 2001).

Medium Theory
the medium affects perception
(also known as channel theory, or media formalism)

History and Orientation
McLuhan (1964) challenged conventional definitions when he claimed that the medium is the message. With this claim, he stressed how channels differ, not only in terms of their content, but also in regard to how they awaken and alter thoughts and senses. He distinguished media by the cognitive processes each required. McLuhan popularized the idea that channels are a dominant force that must be understood to know how the media influence society and culture.

Core Assumptions and Statements
Core: Medium theory focuses on the medium characteristics itself (like in media richness theory) rather than on what it conveys or how information is received. In medium theory, a medium is not simply a newspaper, the Internet, a digital camera and so forth. Rather, it is the symbolic environment of any communicative act. Media, apart from whatever content is transmitted, impact individuals and society. McLuhan’s thesis is that people adapt to their environment through a certain balance or ratio of the senses, and the primary medium of the age brings out a particular sense ratio, thereby affecting perception.
Statement: Some of the metaphors used by McLuhan are: The medium is the message! The medium is the massage. We live in a mess-age. The content of a new medium is an old medium.

Spiral of Silence
formation of public opinion

History and Orientation
Neumann (1974) introduced the “spiral of silence” as an attempt to explain in part how public opinion is formed. She wondered why the Germans supported wrong political positions that led to national defeat, humiliation and ruin in the 1930s-1940s.

Core Assumptions and Statements
The phrase "spiral of silence" actually refers to how people tend to remain silent when they feel that their views are in the minority. The model is based on three premises: 1) people have a "quasi-statistical organ," a sixth-sense if you will, which allows them to know the prevailing public opinion, even without access to polls, 2) people have a fear of isolation and know what behaviors will increase their likelihood of being socially isolated, and 3) people are reticent to express their minority views, primarily out of fear of being isolated.
The closer a person believes the opinion held is similar to the prevailing public opinion, the more they are willing to openly disclose that opinion in public. Then, if public sentiment changes, the person will recognize that the opinion is less in favor and will be less willing to express that opinion publicly. As the perceived distance between public opinion and a person's personal opinion grows, the more unlikely the person is to express their opinion.

Two Step Flow Theory
influence of media messages

History and Orientation
The two-step flow of communication hypothesis was first introduced by Paul Lazarsfeld, Bernard Berelson, and Hazel Gaudet in The People's Choice, a 1944 study focused on the process of decision-making during a Presidential election campaign. These researchers expected to find empirical support for the direct influence of media messages on voting intentions. They were surprised to discover, however, that informal, personal contacts were mentioned far more frequently than exposure to radio or newspaper as sources of influence on voting behavior. Armed with this data, Katz and Lazarsfeld developed the two-step flow theory of mass communication.

Core Assumptions and Statements
This theory asserts that information from the media moves in two distinct stages. First, individuals (opinion leaders) who pay close attention to the mass media and its messages receive the information. Opinion leaders pass on their own interpretations in addition to the actual media content. The term ‘personal influence’ was coined to refer to the process intervening between the media’s direct message and the audience’s ultimate reaction to that message. Opinion leaders are quite influential in getting people to change their attitudes and behaviors and are quite similar to those they influence. The two-step flow theory has improved our understanding of how the mass media influence decision making. The theory refined the ability to predict the influence of media messages on audience behavior, and it helped explain why certain media campaigns may have failed to alter audience attitudes an behavior. The two-step flow theory gave way to the multi-step flow theory of mass communication or diffusion of innovation theory.

Uses and Gratifications Approach
explaining of media use

History and Orientation
Originated in the 1970s as a reaction to traditional mass communication research emphasizing the sender and the message. Stressing the active audience and user instead. Psychological orientation taking needs, motives and gratifications of media users as the main point of departure.

Core Assumptions and Statements
Core: Uses and gratifications theory attempts to explain the uses and functions of the media for individuals, groups, and society in general. There are three objectives in developing uses and gratifications theory: 1) to explain how individuals use mass communication to gratify their needs. “What do people do with the media”. 2) to discover underlying motives for individuals’ media use. 3) to identify the positive and the negative consequences of individual media use. At the core of uses and gratifications theory lies the assumption that audience members actively seek out the mass media to satisfy individual needs.
Statement: A medium will be used more when the existing motives to use the medium leads to more satisfaction.

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