Hey guys what is up, welcome to this post about the influence of mass media. There are basically three main theories about this subject, and they differ in the degree of strength they attribute to mass media on our beliefs. Let’s find out how these theories work. If you missed the previous post on mass media, make sure to check it out, because you might miss some important concepts to follow along with everything. Hope you enjoy the video, and for your comfort there is a summary underneath as well.
We know now that the influence of mass media is very wide, raudiences, millions, perhaps even billions every single day. And they are communicating messages all the time. Some of these are very biased with agendas in mind. Obviously, all these messages that are disseminated to the public are bound to have some influence. What exactly are these influences? Let’s find out.
There are a bunch of theories on this matter and they are basically spread out with respect to how strong the influence of mass media really is. Some say that its influence is really strong, determining much of our beliefs and thoughts. Then you have the other extreme side which basically says that mass media doesn’t influence us that much. We are strong individual entities with our own thoughts, and these are only indirectly affected by mass media.
And then you also have this view which is more in the middle, which says that yeah okay mass media does influence us. But things are not that simple. There are a lot of variables that come into play, and most importantly, us humans are not just passive receivers of information, but we are active interpreters.
Influence of Mass Media: Hypodermic Needle Model
The first theory, that states that the influence of mass media is very strong, can be referred to as the Hypodermic Needle model. A hypodermic needle is one of those needles that goes under your skin, hypo means under and derma means skin. The reason this theory is called this way is because they argue that just like a syringe can directly inject you with medicine under your skin, so too can mass media directly inject their messages under your skin and into your mind. There is no stopping it, if you are exposed to it, it goes under your skin, and it’s done.
But is this really true? A lot of evidence in the recent past has shown that this theory is a bit too strong. In fact, the hypodermic needle model is not based on a lot of evidence at all, it is rather based on speculation about human nature. That’s the main problem of this theory, it wasn’t based on much empirical evidence. Empirical means that you can somehow observe it or experience it through your senses. So, that you can see it or touch, etc. Then you know that something exists or how it works.
One example that was debunked by researchers was about voting behavior. The hypodermic needlists, argued that political propaganda was paramount to shaping the views of voters. But a sociologist named Lazarsfeld, together with two other researchers Berelson and Gaudet proved that this was not true. They proved this by using a technique which is now widely accepted in the social sciences, namely doing interviews! They interviewed large numbers of people, and figured out that most of them didn’t care about the campaigns at all. Rather, what was more important was the opinions of important people in their lives. For example, they would care more about who their best friend is voting for, or some people that they admire, perhaps a professor or a family member. This was much more important than what they were hearing on tv.
New Theory: Two-Step Flow of Communication
From these findings a new theory emerged in the 1940s and 50s which is called the two-step flow of communication. This theory states that the general public form their beliefs and worldviews not directly from the media, but via the influence of opinion leaders. Opinion leaders are people in the world who are important, know a lot of stuff, and have access to resources that not everyone has. For example, an opinion leader in sport may be someone like Jürgen Klopp, the current manager of Liverpool
So the two-step is as follows: first something happens or is shared in the media, then there are social influences in the middle, talking to your friends or listening to experts in the field, and THEN finally your beliefs are shaped, also with active interpretation on your end. Thus, according to this theory, mass media influence is just a minor step in a much bigger web of social influences.
The two-step flow of communication model was challenged again in the 1970s and 80s. In particular, researchers were figuring out that the empirical evidence that was collected in the past was too focused on the short-term. In the short term, not much influence could be found, but that doesn’t mean that there couldn’t be consequences on the long term. This was evidence that was overlooked. The way the media presents information can influence the way it is interpreted, and thus how beliefs and social reality are constructed in the long run.
This led researchers to develop a new theory, which is more of the middle ground and is called the social constructivist theory of media. This theory acknowledges that media can play significant roles in shaping worldviews of many people, but that the people are also actively involved in interpretation of information and attributing meaning to it. So we basically co-create the social world and reality together with mass media. Media brings us information in predictable formats, and we construct our social realities by interacting with these messages. But our worldviews and social reality is also constructed by other factors, such as opinion leaders, or even personal experience.
To conclude, here is an image of the three theories and how strong they think the influence is of mass media on our beliefs.