Mass Communication Theories: Explaining Origins, Processes, and Effects

Mass Communication Theories: Explaining Origins, Processes, and Effects

Mass Communication Theories: Explaining Origins, Processes, and Effects

Mass Communication Theories: Explaining Origins, Processes, and Effects


Mass Communication Theories: Explaining Origins, Processes, and Effectsexplores mass communication theories within the social and cultural context that influenced their origins. An intimate examination of the lives and times of prominent mass communication theorists both past and present bring the subject to life for the reader.


This book has four objectives: (1) It will set forth the background of each theory, explaining where it came from; (2) It will discuss and clarify the basic ideas of each of the theories presented; (3) It will describe and explain four new theories that have been developed specifically for this book; And (4) it will provide a “formalization” of each of the theories presented as a set of simplified statements of their basic assumptions and predictions.

Thus, the first objective is to explain for you the origins of each of the various theories discussed in the included chapters. As will be made clear in the text, some theories emerged from specific research studies that encouraged their authors to develop a new explanation of the processes or the effects of the mass media that were available at the time. The nature of those founding studies will be explained in detail in each such case.

Other theories included in the book were based on conceptions and beliefs about the nature of the American society—the way in which it is organized and the manner in which people relate to and communicate with each other. These conceptions have changed over time with the continuing development of the social sciences. At earlier times such conceptions included the belief that people in modern societies were made up of a mix of unlike people—that is, people who had few ties to each other. Thus, it was thought that they lacked interpersonal channels of communication and were essentially a “lonely crowd” of unlike individuals. This conception implied that each individual could be influenced in similar and powerful ways by the existing mass media. Later, as the social and behavioral sciences developed, research in those fields showed that this conception was naive. It became clear that people in modern societies communicated regularly and interpersonally with friends, neighbors, and relatives. That process limited the influence of the media. In other words, these different interpretations of society at various points in history influenced thinking about the process and effects of mass communication. These issues will made clear in the chapters that follow.

Previous scholarly understanding about the nature of human psychological organization and cognitive functioning also influenced the development of several mass communication theories discussed in the text. Such psychological issues as the nature of perception, as well as the processes of individual learning and remembering played a part in the ways in which scholars viewed the nature and influences of mass communications. These issues will also be clarified.

In more recent times, a (relatively) new academic discipline has emerged. The field of media communication is composed of scholars who specialize in the study of the mass media that exist today—print, broadcasting, film, and digital systems. These scholars have made profound contributions to our current understanding of mass communication. Every year, they continue to provide a substantial flow of research findings concerning how the media function, the nature of their audiences and the influences . . .

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