Mass Communication, Living in a Media World

Chapter 2. Mass Communication Effects: How Society and Media Interact



Chapter Summary

With the rise of mass society and the rapid growth of the mass media starting in the nineteenth century, the public, media critics, and scholars have raised questions about the effects various media might have on society and individuals. These effects were viewed initially as being strong, direct, and relatively uniform on the population as a whole. After World War I, critics were concerned that media-oriented political campaigns could have powerful, direct effects on voters. This view, though still widespread, was largely discredited by voter studies conducted in the 1940s and 1950s. These studies found that the voters with the strongest political opinions were those most likely to pay attention to the campaign and hence were least likely to be affected by the campaign. More recently, research has expanded to move beyond looking just at the effects that media and media content have on individuals and society to examinations of how living in a world with all-pervasive media changes the nature of our interactions and culture.

Understanding the effects of media on individuals and society requires that we examine the messages being sent, the medium transmitting them, the owners of the media, and the audience members themselves. The effects can be cognitive, attitudinal, behavioral, and psychological.

Media effects can also be examined in terms of a number of theoretical approaches, including functional analysis, agenda setting, uses and gratifications, social learning, symbolic interactionism, spiral of silence, media logic, and cultivation analysis.

Our understanding of the relationship among politicians, the press, and the public has evolved over the past half-century. Recent studies have supported interactional approaches to understanding campaign effects, including the resonance and competitive models.

Many people claim that the media are biased toward one political view or another. Conservative critics argue that there is a liberal bias arising from the tendency of reporters to be more liberal than the public at large. The liberals’ counterargument is that the press has a conservative bias because most media outlets are owned by giant corporations that hold pro-business views. Finally, some critics argue that the media hold a combination of values that straddle the boundary between slightly left and right of center. The press in the United States began as partisan during the colonial period, but adopted a detached, factual, objective style in the 1830s to appeal to a broader audience.


Learning Objectives

  • Explain how new media tools such as YouTube have changed the political process in the United States.
  • Discuss the history and development of the theories of media effects.
  • Name and define the four types of effects the mass media can have.
  • Define and explain the usefulness of the following mass communication theories: functional analysis, agenda setting, uses and gratifications, social learning, symbolic interactionism, spiral of silence, media logic, and cultivation analysis.
  • Name and explain two ways in which political campaigns affect voters.
  • Explain the debate and evidence about bias in the news media.
  • Name and define each of Herbert Gans’ eight basic journalistic values.


Review Questions

  • Describe in detail the results of Paul Lazarsfeld’s 1940 study of voters in Ohio.
  • Provide examples of cognitive, attitudinal, behavioral, and psychological media effects.
  • What is an opinion leader?
  • What is the focus of the critical/cultural model?
  • What are the three major social functions of the media according to Harold Lasswell?
  • What is the difference between the resonance and competitive campaign models?
  • What is cultivation analysis and how does it pertain to the mean world syndrome?
  • Name and explain one of Gans’ basic journalistic values.