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Media Effects Theory – Minimal Effects

Lazarsfeld in The People’s Choice (1944) and then with Elihu Katz in Personal Influence (1955) developed the two step flow theory which moved away from the idea of direct effects on individuals.

This suggests that ideas flow from the media to opinion leaders in local communities who pick up those ideas that they agree with and spread them to other people, and this face-to-face contact is more powerful than media influence.

Early uses of the theory saw the opinion leaders as people with high social standing but more recent works sees opinion leaders as anyone who influences others and a range of factors may lead people to adopt that role, including just personality.

Davan Shah and Dietram Scheufele provide a good explanation of what these factors are in Political Communication, Volume 23 No 1 2006.

The internet has been seen as having limited effect on elections but Pippa Norris and John Curtice use the two-step model to show that people who gained information from the internet during the 2005 general election were more likely to talk to others about the election, almost always by telephone or face-to-face (Journal of Information Technolog,y Volume 4, No 4, 2008).

Even further from direct effects ideas is uses and gratification theory. Blumler and Elihu Katz in The Uses of Mass Communication (1974) reverse the idea of the media message affecting people.

They  argue that people have various reasons for using the media, which may include seeking information, entertainment, escapism, relaxation, socialising with friends or even just background noise and will choose what they look at to match their objective.

Different people may want different things out of the same piece of media. People’s individual characteristics and attitudes are more important than precisely what the message from the media is and, indeed, the media may adjust their content to provide what market research shows the audience is looking for.

The approach has typically used questionnaires to ask people why they use the media, although whether people can clearly articulate this has been one of the criticisms of the approach.

Joseph Klapper in his reinforcement theory argues that the media is just one of the many social influences on people and is more likely to reinforce than change the views developed from other social influences (The Effects of Mass Communication, 1960).

In terms of the political content of the media, people may selectively take from it what reinforces the political views that they have already, rather than that the media influences their political views.