Com 314: Mass Communication Theory
Updated: 08 October, 2003
EARLY THEORIES Part 2: LIMITED EFFECTS PARADIGMS:
Additional Resources: Baran and Davis, Ball-Rokeach and DeFleur
Some of these theories are called Theories of Selective Influence. We'll use the limited effects term because that's the one used in our text book.
Several events took place in the 1920s and 1930s that changed mass media theory.
Empirical research developed and was used on a larger and larger scale
sociological and psychological theories were not consistent with the bullet theory
In the 1920's the Payne Fund Studies were conducted. They showed a heavy influence of film content on children and supported the bullet theory. But those results were not replicated in later studies.
Empirical research was seen as "scientific" and therefore more advanced and reputable
The media industries saw potential for themselves in this kind of research.
Key institutions -- government and non-profit -- supported the new research financially and socially
It's also important to note that before World War II there was no unified field of communication studies. It was all done in sociology, psychology or some related field. There were lots of people working independently on similar things.
Then when the "War of the Worlds" was broadcast and the panic ensued, that became a focus of research and some new questions emerged. The classic research, published in 1940 (Cantril, Gaudet, and Herzog, 1940) had some very interesting results:
The people who panicked, didn't take time to listen carefully and thoroughly evaluate the program.
Simulated news bulletins were believed to be real and were reacted to as though they were real
There were few car radios and no portable ones at the time, so once people were in the car, they lost touch with the program.
Word of mouth spread the news through neighborhoods rapidly; people reacted to neighbors they trusted
MOST people did not panic, did not flee, were not fooled by the practical joke. The question was, "WHY?"
How could that answer be determined? Through the use of scientific methods. Two key men were leaders in that movement: Paul Lazarsfeld and Carl Hoveland. Lazarsfeld began using survey research to ask those questions. Hoveland developed and refined new techniques of rsearch. They found little or no influence of media in many of the projects they conducted. As a result of their work and the events listed above and the work of others, the old paradigm was questioned. The idea that it was common sense (deductive logic: generalize that if it affects some, it affects all in the same way) that media affected every body the same way at the same time was seriously questioned.
Some key concepts:
Induction: working from documented specifics to general application. In mass com theory, it means using empirical research data as the basis for com theory development.
Middle-Range Theory: Theories constructed from such empirical data, which, because of sample selection and appropriate research design have application/generalizability to the general public. (Rooted in the desire to justify social science by using accepted physical scientific methodology.)
Paradigm: a theoretical perspective; may be the dominant --or most accepted-- paradigm or a new or developing paradigm.
Thomas Kuhn wrote The Structure of Scientific Revolution in 1970 (2nd ed. University of Chicago Press) in which he held that science only makes real advances when old ways of explaining things are challenged. It is only through those challenges that new ways of thinking are considered, tested, and either accepted or denied. Either way, the knowledge and understanding in the scientific field is expanded significantly.
As a result of those developments, a paradigmatic shift took place.
On the macro level, a key theory developed explaining the role of media institutions in societies:
Individual Differences/Limited Effects theories are PSYCHOLOGICAL theories at their roots.
We're taking these a little out of order according to your textbook because I want to look at the "macro" theories together. Functionalism, like the mass society theories, examines impact on large groups and on people who make up those large groups.
The perspective of Functionalism is slightly different as well. Mass society theories saw media as a "mass manipulator" that could be and was primarily a negative force that required control by responsible entities. Functionalism didn't cast media as negative, and in fact backed away from "good" and "bad" value judgments. It also relied on empirical research to evaluate whether the functional activity served the purpose for which it was intended...
Functional Analysis or Functionalism:
Be sure you refer back to chapter 3 and Baran and Davis' discussion of the rise and decline of various media forms and industries. Notice that while the technologies and modes of delivery change, the social need met by those industries remains. It is the need that is stable, the means to meet it may change.
Be sure you have done your reading in this chapter (Chapter 7) concerning this and other limited effects theories.
Also, be sure you understand the concept of paradigm and who Thomas Kuhn was and how he thought paradigms were formed.
Robert Merton and Middle Range Theories:
Wanted to construct a paradigm that connected empirical approach to work in communication research.
His answer to the problems of the mass society theories:
but on limited issues or questions
don't try to do it all in one fell swoop
select research questions and theories that could be explored with the modern statistical research methodologies available.
this approach would lay the building blocks for broader theories which could be developed later.
Merton used his background in anthropology and sociology to develop the Functional Analysis Theory.
Functional displacement: "When the functions of an existing medium are replaced by a newer technology, the older medium finds news functions." (Baran and Davis, p. 45)
One of the best examples of this are the functions served by radio in the 1930s and 1940s and how those functions were taken over by television. Drama and comedy programs for entertainment were the primary staple for radio in those years, and radio was the primary means of news delivery as well, though newspapers were still read widely and visual news was obtained through the newsreel at motion picture theatres. When television became widely adopted by the public in the early 50s, radio lost its dramatic and comedic audience and had to reinvent itself. It went from its most profitable year ever in 1949 to being virtually penniless by 1952. As the stars and the programs went to TV, radio had to find a new audience and modern radio formats, primarily music formats, were formed. Similarly, when TV news took off, newsreels disappeared as did the photo news magazines like Life and Look.
Functionalism is NOT an individual effects theory. It is an institutional effects theory, dealing with the MACRO level of the society or social system as a whole. While Uses and Gratifications Theory addresses individual actions and effects, Functionalism looks at a much bigger picture.
Functionalism is concerned social systems and the stability necessary to preserve them. Functionalism is part of the limited effects paradigm, and it was very popular in the 1950s and 1960s.
The Basics of Functional Analysis:
One of the primary assumptions is that media appeal to the masses and the masses want the kind of content they get, and so media continue to provide that for them. (Does that sound familiar?) That happens because of the structural functional paradigm.
Media are social systems themselves
They operate within bigger external social systems that make up the socio-cultural system
The paradigm is concerned with patterns of action (called phenomena) which are exhibited by people or groups within a system
may be hard to define
may be social, cultural, professional, or even personality systems (of individuals)
patterns of action:
what define the system
the actions may be similar but the context and situation in which they occur may be sigificantly different
cultural system: In the South, we usually nod or wave to people even if we don't know them; it would be rude not to acknowledge their presence. In the North East, such action might be considered in some places "forward" or rude.
social system: Have you ever traveled to a different campus and noticed that what is fashionable there is not the same as what is "in" here? We may be in the same, studying the same things, but what's "cool" or "hot" may be defined entirely differently. That applies to other things as well, including expectations, traditions, relationships with faculty, etc.
personality system: each of us has different personality patterns which influence our thinking and our behavior and attract us to some people but not to others.
If you want to get along in a particular cultural, social or personality system, you have to know what works -- what functions to get you the benefit you desire.
So you study the patterns of actions of the system you want to be successful in
Then you apply those actions to your own behavior to get the benefit
That is the premise of functional analysis.
So What Is a Function?
It is the result of a repeated set of actions (repetitive phenomena) within a particular social, cultural or personality system
It is therefore a CONSEQUENCE
It reinforces the usefulness and need for the repeated set of actions
It is important to remember that while FUNCTIONALISM is a MACRO-LEVEL theory, the term "FUNCTION" can be applied to individual actions, events or effects. So a function can operate at the MICRO level as well.
Pattern of Actions/Phenomenon:
If you're going analyze this, you have to identify what it is. What constitutes "watching a program"? Is it being in the room? Is it giving undivided attention to the program? Can you work on the computer and watch TV and still be watching TV? Or what is the difference between "high taste" and "low taste" content? Is Fear Factor low taste? Why? Is Jeopardy ? If not, why not? They're both game shows? Contestants may be humiliated if they don't win.... What about Wheel of Fortune? Let's make a Deal? What are the boundaries?
You also have to identify HOW the pattern of action works to provide a benefit and IDENTIFY the benefit.
Let me give you a personal example. When my boys were little I used to carry a wooden spoon in my jean's hip pocket. The boys seemed to behave better when the spoon was "handy" because they knew it meant Mom was ready to mean what she said and back it up NO MATTER WHERE we were. The boys better behavior was the reason the spoon was in my pocket. In our social system, appropriate behavior is required. It's also necessary not to have your kids screaming, fighting, or running off when you're trying to write a check for their new pair of sneakers. I also wanted to socialize my kids properly so I wouldn't be embarrassed, and even more importantly, so that they would know how to lead happy, productive lives.
The boys' improved behavior was function of my attitude which was represented by the spoon. It met my need to fulfill my role, to be social acceptable, and to establish permanent behavior patters expected in our family social system.
Some other examples of functional symbols:. What are their functions? Each of the examples below have several. How many can you name?
Bonus point or those "what is your name?" quizzes I give on days when there is low attendance?
To understand how the function works, you have to understand the social, cultural, or personal system in which it works or exists. What are the BOUNDARIES of the system?
This is particularly significant today as we consider the industry trend of media consolidation. Within the conglomerate company of a Time-Warner, for example, you have numerous TV stations, radio stations, AOL, CNN, cable companies, production companies, etc. A set of actions which might be good for an individual radio station might not be good for the cable company or the corporation as a whole. It might be functional for the radio division to eliminate local news from their programming, in order to simplify program schedules and reduce costs among hundreds of stations. On the other hand, the small-market station which provided the sole local news coverage for a town of a few thousand people my lose listeners because it no longer offers something the townspeople couldn't get anywhere else.
In fact, the FCC is going "on the road" beginning in October of 2003 to investigate just HOW local electronic media outlets are serving the 'public interest, convenience, and necessity" of the local communities to which they are licensed. What is functional for the media corporation may not be functional for the local community.
External conditions can also effect the social system. The social system of radio was deeply impacted by the development of a new social system, television. War, economic conditions, the moral/cultural norms of the "bigger" society in which a smaller social system works -- any of these can affect what "works" or does not.
Media will also relate to each other in different ways , depending on the culture in which the mass com system works. So what is FUNCTIONAL could be very different from one culture to the next.
Functions deal with those things that PROMOTE THE STABILITY OF THE CULTURE or Social System.
If the set of actions leads to a negative outcome, it is said to be DYSfunctional. It's important to remember: Functions are morally neutral. So whether a pattern of action is said to be functional or dysfunctional has nothing to do with whether what was done is GOOD or BAD.
In Lasswell's initial discussion of Functionalism, he established THREE FUNCTIONS OF THE MEDIA, sometimes called Three Activities of the Media. Notice that they are broken down by WHO/WHAT part of society they impact.
Surveillance of the environment: (sometimes called information function) What's going on. What's happening. Example: You watch the news and see that airport security is tightened.
Correlation: How do the parts, events, or people of the society fit or work together and what is my role? How does that affect me? Example: You know you're traveling for the holidays. How does increased security affect how you pack, what you carry on, what you wear? You may decide to wear slip on shoes rather than sneakers because the slip-ons come off easier if you're asked by security personnel to remove your shoes. Used to build consensus, to co-ordinate activities, to establish priorities, etc.
Transmission of Social Heritage: (continuity) This is socialization, passing on the important ideals, mores, values, and information about positive role models that contribute to the perpetuation and stability of the culture or group.
Later, additional theorists added two additional functions to the original three.
Entertainment: You'll find this connects with a theory we'll discuss later in the lecture. This function provides diversion, relaxation, and relief of stress and tension.
Mobilization: Get's people "on board" for societal objectives such as a response to a crisis or natural disaster, war effort, community project or even a religious movement.
Research and decision-making based on functionalism, is loaded with complications. The biggest complication is that what is functional for one part of society may not be functional for another. I may think Fear Factor is dysfunctional for society and for me, but the people who participate in the show my find it functional even if they lose. In their social system they may have a more secure place, more respect, more attention because they were on TV. (Why else would they agree to eat spiders?)
This leads to another problem. Because of variable functionality of any media phenomenon, it's really hard to draw conclusions about the role of media-related activities in the culture. If we eliminate the "bad" effects, we may also eliminate some "good" ones. How do you know and who gets to decide?
While functional analysis makes a lot of common sense on some levels, another problem is that functionalism inherently supports the status quo. If "functional" = preserving the stability of the social system, that = preserving the status quo. As long as things aren't falling apart, the system must be in balance, even if there are dysfunctional things going on. It's a pretty low standard.... So as if violent television only affects some children some of the time, then most children aren't effect most of the time, so the violent program must be acceptable..... Nothing changes. Nothing gets better. Baran and Davis do a good job explaining how this works and how "convenient" it is for network programmers then and now.
When we get to the MICRO-level theories which deal with impact of media on individuals, we find more emphasis on psychological roots of communication theory.Therefore it's is important to realize how psychology changed during this period:
In the early 19th century, it was believed that people do what they do largely because of inherited traits. That meant our reactions could be due to instinct or the fact that were human beings.
As the 20th Century progressed, thinking changed. How much of what we do is because we LEARN to do it? That was the new questions for psychologists.
Thus the "nature vs. nurture" debate was begun. The complication was that if we learn our behaviors and all of things around us that teach us are individualized and different, then WE and our BEHAVIORS will be individualized and different. If, on the other hand, we behave because of instinct, then we should all be behaving pretty much the same.
Some early LEARNING THEORIES were developed by Edward Thorndike, B.F.Skinner, (conditioning, reinforcement) and Pavlov (conditioning via extraneous stimulus) contributed to the discussion.
MOTIVATION THEORY also added to the perspective:
biological needs should be fairly stable and predictable
learned needs were much more variable
discovered that instinct was NOT the motivator behind all needs as was previously thought
but if instinct was not the motivator, what was?
attitudes then became the focus of attention
became one of the most basic and central concepts in psychology
Research that examined the role of attitude in media response was widely conducted and accepted because
it was fairly easy to test and easy to use in survey
it yielded hard numerical data which could be statistically analyzed
could easily test "before" and "after" conditions
Because of the concern about propaganda, there was real need seen to figure out how to fight it in order to protect citizens and military personnel. With so many people enlisting in the military, there are an easily accessible sample population on which to do research.
This was important for mass communications because of two assumptions:
As we discussed earlier, by the time of World War II (after watching all of the uses of radio and other mass media in Europe it was believed that mass media were very effective in persuading people. FDR used it very well.
attitudes and behavior were seem to be very closely related. So if you change attitudes, you change behavior
These assumptions are the basis for the limited effects or individual differences theories that dominated mass media research up through the mid 1960s.
Basics of the individual differences theories: Individual differences in the psychological or cognitive make-up of audience members are key factors in shaping their attention to the media as well as their behavior toward the issues and objects discussed here.
As a result of work in this theoretical perspective, focus has been on the importance of psychographic and demographic market segmentation research.
DISCUSSION: Why would this be true? See Les Brown, Television: The Business Behind the Box. pp. 285-287 for good explanation from television history.
SOCIAL DIFFERENTIATION THEORY:
This one is more of a sociological theory because it deals with larger groups. It was developing at the same time as some of the others, but it still focuses on differences based on differences in the key unit which is the group.
It holds that modern societies are characterized by
urbanization: which is the inevitable result of modern society
modernization: new technologies and new ways in which people do their jobs. I'm typing my notes in HTML because they're going on the web. 10 years ago, these notes were typed on the computer word processor to print it out for my notebook; if I can't find the fabric I need for quilt at the store in town, I now look on the Internet....I usually find it.
Migration: families no longer stay in the same place all of their lives
Division of Labor: more specialized; more demands on the education system
Stratification: social classes no longer "upper, middle, and lower" but more complex and blurry.
Upward mobility is the goal and is possible for most individuals
Bottom line: Social differentiation basically = complex society
Social categories assumes that there are different groups within a society with distinct characteristics and members of those groups or social categories will react to media messages in similar ways.
Research methodology: samples, surveys, participant observation of subcultures; empirical analysis of data
Important shift from previous methods:
recognition of subcultures
MASS concept is breaking down, even this early
Empirical methods easy to apply to this research because can sample all different groups:
This became a very popular means of examining media impact given beliefs about beliefs and attitudes. It combined psychology research with sociological concepts to examine media relationships to beliefs and attitudes and subsequent behavior.
USES AND GRATIFICATIONS THEORY:
This theory was developing at the same time. We don't need to address it here, but note that the POWER has shifted from the media message to the audience member/receiver. That is a significant change in the paradigmatic perspective of the time. It was actually revolutionary at the time, and a logical outcome of the progression of limited effects or individual differences research and theory.
THEORY OF SOCIAL RELATIONSHIPS
Harrold Lasswell turns up again in our study of theory. He laid the groundwork for communication research and the beginnings of mass communication theory. He took the Bullet Theory and elaborated it into a selective influences social categories type of theory which he called the theory of Social Relationships which asks a key question: "Who says what to whom with what effect?" While the "group" was a part of the relationship, the theory focused on individuals and used empirical methods to try to answer those questions.
This is the basic model of communication:
WHO = sender
WHAT = message
WHOM = audience/receiver
WHAT CHANNEL = medium/channel
WHAT EFFECT = decoding process
This was the first time people thought about the process as encoding and decoding messages. Individual differences and social differentiation apply to the TO WHOM aspect, but those two theories don't answer all the questions posed in the Lazarsfeld questions.
In May, 1940, paul Lazarsfeld with colleagues Berelson and Gaudet explored media impact on voters during an election campaign: This was the most elaborate field study ever conducted and became known as the Erie County studies.
The study was conducted in Sandusky, Ohio (Erie County, population 43,000)
It was considered to be an average American community
3,000+ people were interviewed in their homes
600 of those were interviewed 7 times -- once/month from May to November
1 of every three households was visited (assuming 5 persons/HH)
Focused on changes in voting behavior using lengthy, detailed questionaire
wanted to know how media impacted voters:
participation in campaign
formulating voting decisions
believed that IF the bullet theory worked, media messages should have brought about a clear change in behavior which would be visible
changes should be clear
didn't show up that way
some people were motivated by the media to become involved, but had made voting decision BEFORE the campaign
only in rare cases did media cause changed minds.
WHAT was the reason for changed behavior? OTHER PEOPLE
political discussions with others led to changed minds and behavior
heavy media users became gatekeepers of information
passed some info on, but didn't pass on information they didn't agree with
those heavy users became opinion leaders
opinion followers were the folks they persuaded by passing on the information they obtained
social relationships explained by social differentiation explained that occurrence
place of residence
RESULT: Bullet Theory changed from Stimulus-Response Theory to TWO STEP FLOW THEORY
S -R to S - OL - R
Stimulus Response to Stimulus - opinion leader - response
Movement of ideas/information was in two key stages
from media to well-informed people
from well-informed people to less-informed people
Found that two-step flow occurs in almost every situation where people have to make decisions about purchases, candidates, causes or other issues where they seek first-hand information. Still, it has some limitations (See Baran, p. 137) chief of which may be that there are more steps than just two, and it doesn't necessarily reflect the modern media situation. It also doesn't take into consideration that Nazis were scaring the American public at the time and FDR was strongly supported; those factors alone would reduce the possibility that people would change their voting behavior prior to the election...They had decided long before....
Characteristics of opinion leaders:
much like those they inform
conform to societal or group norms
knowledgeable in one area, but not necessarily in others
similar in status
"position in lifestyle" is critical
variable about who would influence whom
young woman might advise mother about make-up
mother might advise her about child care
Limited Effects Theories...
So you see how Lazarsfeld's work laid the groundwork for theories which expected little direct media effects. As a group, these theories have certain concepts in common:
Human beings (whether or not there are two or more steps involved) have more influence on media behavior; opinion leaders interpret media messages for the masses.
Adults have usually developed strong ideas, opinions, world views which are associated with their interpersonal and group connections, and it is very hard for media to overcome those things.
Any media effects which do occur are few and far between.
Considering the political climate of the early forties, concerns about propaganda effectiveness and the development of new research techniques, the scene was set for that paradigm shift to kick into high gear.
Carl Hoveland and experimental research
Hoveland was a psychologist who headed experimental section of the research branch of the Army's Information and Education Division. Their mission was to make sure that the programs the army used in the war effort were successful. They worked with film directors such as Frank Capra and others as well as other media. Jordan Braverman has written an outstanding book about the media during World War II that explores this subject. It's called To Hasten the Homecoming: How Americans Fought World War II through the Media. You may not find Hoveland's work discussed in this book, but you'll see some of the efforts that came as a result of it and the work of others at the time....
The problem was, many of the films that were designed to improve morale, etc., didn't really have that measurable an effect. They helped people understand the situation better, but didn't really make significant changes in motivation or attitude, and that was what they were designed to do. The only attitudes that were changed at all were the very specific ones which were targeted.
This work showed that the Mass Society theory had some major flaws and that propaganda maybe wasn't the overpoweringly successful tool it was thought to be.
They did find that sometimes attitudes changed, but it happened over a longer period of time than expected
Another significant discovery was the effectiveness of one-sided and two-side messages
one-sided messages work best with people who agree with the message already (to increase attitude, etc.)
two-sided messages work best with people who hold opposing views from the one presented as desirable and who need their "yes, but...." questions answered.
Attitude change might indeed change behavior, but it was much more complex process than first expected.
INFORMATION FLOW THEORY:
This theory rose after World War II in order to assess how people received information. It was assumed that a well-informed electorate was necessary for the preservation of a democratic-republic, especially in the Cold War environment. The primary means of investigation was through survey research.
The theory identified some key concepts:
soft news vs. hard news
barriers exist to information as well as persuasive messages
level of education
interest in the topic or in news in general
most people tend to focus on news seriously only in a crisis situation
soft news gets more interest than hard news
even when accurate information is delivered, people often "get it wrong."
ADOPTION OF INNOVATION or INFORMATION DIFFUSION THEORY
Very relevant to this. People accept new ideas via media very much the same way they accept technical innovations. Everett Rogers was the chief investigator in this area of research. It's primary focus was on helping the development in third world countries. How do you encourage people to have their children vaccinate? To plant crops more efficiently? To adopt better sanitation practices? Or, in a more developed society, to switch to High Definition Television, send e-mail in stead of letters, use virus protection on your computer or even to USE a computer. Rogers found that there were clear steps in the process:
People have to become aware of innovations
Small group of early adopters will try it out
The early adopters share their successes with opinion leaders who try the innovation themselves
Then they share their success with opinion followers, who ultimately try it out.
The late adopters finally get with the program when most everybody else has adopted the innovation.
Think about how your family has adopted the use of cell phones or personal computers. You probably have some early adopters, some opinion leaders and some late adopters in your family with regard to those technologies. You yourself may be an early adopter in one kind of innovation but a late adopter in another.....
The role of media in this process is to create awareness of the innovation and focus on the early adopters and opinion leaders who make a successful adoption of the innovation. Roger's Information Diffusion theory has been used for the last 40 years by the state department and other U.S. agencies and organizations in their work to improve conditions in less developed nations.
The theory may put too much emphasis or power with the message however. It says very little about the nature of the people to whom the innovation is targeted and if they even want it. Not every innovation works the same in every culture and your text offers some clear examples of some that didn't. (see p. 170)
SELECTIVE INFLUENCE THEORIES:
If we're all so different, how is it that we perceive and use media messages? (Back to clearly psychological theories)
People try to maintain cognitive consistency or cognitive balance
the tendency of people to seek out messages which support the values and beliefs they already have
concept originated with Theory of Cognitive Dissonance
information that conflicts with strongly held beliefs or values causes physical discomfort
think about that feeling you get when you learn your checking account is overdrawn
people work really hard to keep their knowledge of themselves and their world consistent
We do this by means of selective processes: defense mechanisms to protect ourselves from painful ideas, information, etc.
REINFORCEMENT THEORIES or PHENOMENISTIC THEORY: developed by Joseph Klapper
people expose themselves to mass com messages that are consistent with their existing beliefs, etc.
If there is inconsistency, sometimes we don't see it or reinterpret it to fit our preconceptions
At its heart this is another theory that deals with the influence of attitude on behavior and explains why Mass Society theory doesn't work as powerfully as originally thought.
selective exposure: choose programs/messages that are consistent with what we want /believe, etc
selective attention: pay attention to consistent messages
can't pay attention to everything
membership in social categories influences attention
we also pay attention to things we know other people are interested in (social rewards for that)
to things that don't threaten our cognitive balance
easy example: Mom: "Please take out the trash...." Kid: " ---------" (watching TV, video games, talking on phone and so doesn't even hear Mom....)
selective perception: select those things that agree with the way you think or view the world
group membership may strongly influence this
we also select things that are useful to us
that give us prestige in our group
that others are interested in (may be 'cultural capital')
things that don't threaten our cognitive balance
easy example: Mom: "Please take out the trash..." Kid: "You mean now?"
selective retention: remember the things that agree with the way you think or view the world
info may be "recast" to fit existing perceptions
definitely influenced by group membership
influences how we attribute meaning
remember: you can't retain that to which you have not been exposed....
Example: People watching a political debate on TV will usually think "their guy" did best.
Easy Example: Mom: "Didn't I ask you to take out the trash an HOUR ago?" Kid: "You did?"
final part of the chain
dependent on all the previous ones for action to take place
what kind of action is determined by previous elements of the chain as well.
The bottom line of Klapper's original research is that media don't influence us that much but rather reinforce what we already think or believe because of mediating factors that have already influenced what we believe. He thought those were things like church, family, school or regional identification. Media only had strong direct effects when those things weren't operative. Many of those aren't as powerful as they once were, but they still do exists and have been joined by others.
DISCUSSION: What do you think are the most powerful mediating factors to media influence today? Why?
MASS ENTERTAINMENT THEORY:
Developed by Harold Mendelson in the 1960s, this is sort of a "so what's the big deal?" theory. He argued that people needed to relax, reduce stress, even to escape the concerns of daily life. TV provided a way to do that. Critics of television and other media were just trying to create jobs for themselves and exaggerating the significance of long-term effects of media. To put it bluntly, if we weren't watching TV we'd be doing something else just as useless.....
This theory returned focus to the role of citizen and Lazarsfeld's original work. It and the much of the research that followed seemed to indicate that ordinary people weren't as tuned in to critical civic issues as the founders had hope they would be when our governmental system was established. As a result, things worked better here if change came slowly. It took time to get people to adopt worthy innovations and the old libertarian ideas that people left alone would come up with the right choices, answers and developments didn't seem to hold much water any more. If media wasn't working to improve the level of citizenship in the nation, why worry about it? Let it entertain us and don't worry about it. What we have is a society that allows the elites to run the big stuff and diverse ordinary folks with their own interests. It's working, so don't fuss about it.
These ideas weren't particularly well-received. They were seen as a betrayal to the ideals and sacrifices of the founding fathers and a cop-out which offered no direction for future policy or research. Others criticized it as an excuse for the power elite to go on running things for their own benefit without worrying about the disadvantaged situations of minorities and others.
Baran and Davis outline some key assumptions/conclusions of limited effects theories:
Theory can be developed through the use of empirical methods which are more rigorous, scientific, and inductive in nature.
Mass media have only limited effects in society, rarely bring about change, and generally reinforce existing beliefs and trends
Even though mass media does not play a significant role in most people's lives, for some it can be dysfunctional
Media does not have a negative effect on the relatively stable U.S. governmental and social system, though potential harmful effects could occur and should be detected and prevented.
It did show the weakness of Mass Society Theory
They encouraged empirical specificity and rigor where it had not been previously required
They provided a useful foundation on which to build research and theory efforts for more than two decades; it was a logical and positive stepping-stone to the next level....
Weakness are also identified:
experimental and survey research both have limitations in their abilities to assess the truth in media impact and operation
despite their limitations, empirical methods were the only methods considered to be worthy of use
it only looked for immediate effects, ignoring the potential for long-term or less visible impact
It's important to remember that all of these theories are progressive steps in our understanding of media impact on individuals and cultures. There are valuable insights, but none of them hold all the answers. They are building blocks to our understanding as social scientists and as citizens.
McQuail, Dennis. Mass Communication Theory, 3rd. Ed. 1994 Sage: Thousand Oaks.
Dr. Janet McMullen