Mass Communication Theories

Agenda Setting

“The mass media may not be successful in telling us what to think, but they are stunningly successful in telling us what to think about.”

Critical Cultural Theory

The idea that media operate primarily to justify and support the status quo at the expense of ordinary people

Cultivation Theory

The idea that television constructs a version of the world that, despite its potential inaccuracies, becomes the accepted reality simply because the culture believes it to be true

Dependency Theory

The idea that media’s power is derived from the audience’s dependency on that media

Hypodermic Needle Theory

According to this theory, mass media have a direct, immediate, and powerful effect on their audiences

Limited Effects Theory

Media’s influence on an audience is limited by individual differences between audience members, social categories, and personal relationships

Magic Bullet Theory

Another version of hypodermic Needle Theory


Television’s ability to move people toward a common view of the world is known as what?

News Production Research

The study of how economic and other influences on the way the news is produced distort and bias news coverage toward those in power

Reinforcement Theory

The idea that if media have any impact at all, it is only in terms of reinforcing current behavior and/or beliefs

Selective Exposure

The idea that people only willingly expose themselves or attend to messages that are consistent with their preexisting attitudes and beliefs

Selective Perception

The idea that people only interpret messages in a manner that is consistent with their preexisting attitudes and beliefs

Social Cognitive Theory

the idea that people learn by observation

Uses and Gratifications Approach

the idea that media don’t do things to people, people do things with media

Agenda Setting Theory

According to this theory, when the media concentrate on a few issues or subjects, the public will perceive those issues as more important than others

Cultivation Theory

Mass media are responsible for shaping, or “cultivating” their viewers’ conceptions of social reality

Dependency Theory

In this theory, media are not used equally. Which medium is most heavily relied on depends on the number of needs the medium meets and societal factors surrounding the medium.


According to this construct, media focuses attention on certain events and then places those events within a larger field of meaning.


This extension of agenda-setting theory examines the way media and media gatekeepers organize and present the events and issues they cover, thus influencing the audience’s perceptions of and attitudes towards those events.


The person or people who decides which information will go forward, and which will not

Knowledge Gap

According to this concept, information in society is not evenly acquired; people of a higher socioeconomic status acquire more information more easily and more frequently than people of a lower socioeconomic status.

Marshall McLuhan

According to this theorist, “the medium is the message.”

Medium Theory

In this theory, the primary sense used by a medium influences the way the messages conveyed by that medium are perceived by the audience.

Modernization Theory

This theory examines the effects of the modernization process on human communication

Social Network Theory

The study of how the social structure of relationships around a person, group, or organization affects beliefs or behaviors


According to this off-shoot of agenda-setting theory, the effects of the media are enhanced by offering the audience a prior context that is used to interpret subsequent information

Social Cues Approach

According to this approach, Computer-Mediated Communication leads to a deregulation of behavior because it diminishes awareness of the self and the other.

Social Presence Theory

This new-media theory argues that a medium’s social effects are principally caused by how much it allows its users to sense the presence of an interaction partner.

Spiral of Silence

This term refers to how people tend to remain silent when they feel that their views are in the minority. As the perceived distance between public opinion and an individual’s opinion grows, the likelihood of that individual openly expressing their opinion shrinks.

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