Theories of media and society

The following will be about will three major approaches to media and society:

•Agenda setting

•Spiral of silence

•Cultivation theory

 All these theories share a concentration on explaining public opinion and the processes through which the media shape person´s view of the world.

Agenda setting theory

The modern concept of agenda setting is often attributed to Walter Lippmann who, in his book Public Opinion, argued that the mass media create images of events in our minds and that policy makers should be cognizant of those pictures in people´s heads.

The definition of agenda setting involves the consideration of three related agendas: the media agenda or the set of topics addressed by media sources, then, the public agenda that sets of topics that members of the public believe is important and finally the policy agenda that represents issues that decision makers believe are particularly salient. These three agendas might share some items, but other items might be included on only one agenda.

Agenda setting is the process whereby the news media lead the public in assigning relative importance to various public issues. The media agenda influences the public agenda not by saying that an issue is important in an overt way but giving more space and time.

There is a very strong relationship between the public agenda and the media agenda, because the public agenda was a virtual reflection of the media agenda. That is, in a wide range of studies, the topics that are given a high level of coverage in newspapers and on television are the same topics that people believe are important issues of the day.

Critiques of Agenda Setting Theory

In evaluating any theory, qualities that are appealing to one critic are damning to another. This is particularly true of agenda setting theory, perhaps because it has engendered such wide ranging research. Indeed, some scholars do not even believe that agenda setting is a theory, preferring to call it a model, a term more modest than the term theory.

Spiral of Silence Theory

This theory was proposed by Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann. She sees the spiral of silence as an all-encompassing theory of public opinion that connects disparate processes of social psychology interpersonal communication, and mass media.

The Major components of spiral of silence theory: (Some of these are psychological processes, some social psychological and interpersonal, and some clearly sociological.(

1-    Fear of Isolation. Individuals have a strong need to be connected to a social collective and that cohesiveness within that collective must be constantly ensured. Elisabeth notes that this force is one driven by fear of ostracism and fear of isolation, not by the desire to be part of the winning team or on the bandwagon.

2-    Assessing Public Opinion. Given this fear of isolation, it is important for individuals to be able to gauge public opinion, for in order to fit in on a particular issue, you need to know what others think about that issue. Noelle-Neumann develops several ideas relevant to an individual´s assessment of public opinion. She calls this the quasi-statistical sense and finds evidence for this ability in both the willingness of individuals to make predictions about public opinion and the uncanny accuracy of many of those predictions.

3-    Willingness to speak.  Combining the first two factors leads to the key prediction for spiral of silence theory. Specifically, Noelle-Neumann argues that because individuals fear isolation, when they believe prevailing opinion is opposed to their own opinion or is moving in a direction way from their opinion, those individuals will not be willing to speak out

4-    The spiral of silence. Noelle-Neumann sees the spiral of silence as a dynamic and ongoing process in which the unwillingness to speak out on a particular issue will further enhance media portrayals and personal assessments that prevailing opinion is against a certain opinion.

Critiques of Spiral of Silence Theory

The spiral of silence theory has generated a great deal of attention, both empirically and critically. Kennamer has called Noelle-Neumann´s theory one of the most influential recent theories of public opinion formation, and as a result it has been the subject of intense scrutiny. Indeed, Salmon and Moh note that there as many critiques of the theory as there are empirical tests. Many scholarly commentators have dealt with the lack of empirical support for key tenets of the theory especially the relationship between perceived public opinion and willingness to speak. Other scholars have criticized the theory for its lack of clarity and falsifiability. 

Cultivation Theory

Cultivation theory differs from agenda setting theory and spiral of silence theory on two important respects: first, cultivation theory concentrates on one specific medium “television”. Second, cultivation theory predicts not direct impacts on our thinking about specific issues or the attributes of those issues, but impacts on the very way we view the world.

Cultivation theory is based on several assumptions about television and the way we view it:


1-    The nature of television. Several characteristics contribute to the power of television. First, television is pervasive, almost all Americans households owned a television, and most had more than one set. Television is also highly accessible, regardless of literacy or other skills. But perhaps the most important point cultivation theories make about television is that it is coherent, presenting the same basic messages about society across programming and across time.

2-    The Nature of Viewing. Cultivation theorists have also developed ideas about how we view television. Specifically, they argued that the viewers watch bye the clock. That is, most of the people do not choose to watch particular shows or even a particular genre of shows. Rather, there are certain times of the day when they watch, and whatever is on at that time will be watch.

This cultivation has great effects on society and people. Given the unique nature of television and the centrality of television viewing in our lives, Gerbner and his colleagues then propose that television will serve to cultivate our views of the world. The notion of cultivation describes a long-term and cumulative impact of television on our views of reality. Cultivation theorists believe that television can create and maintain very basic sets of beliefs about the world and that these influences are cumulative and long-lived ones.

Critiques and Extensions of Cultivation Theory

There have been widespread critiques of cultivation theory, and lively debate has ensued between Gerbner and his colleagues and various commentators. Early critics of cultivation theory tended to attack the empirical and philosophical base of cultivation theory and argue for a total rejection of cultivation effects. These critiques were met with strong opposition from Gerbner and his colleagues.


Its important to know how the media works today, and what it is trying to express to people of society. Getting to know these lasts theories, gives you a lot more information and explanations of way society sometimes works the way it does. Without having to repeat myself, its important to analyze how people in society work; this involves people at work, at party´s, at meetings, and much more. Communication, has mysterious ways in involving people in the lifes of others.  


Bibliography: Miller, Theories of media and society,  chapter 15


Una respuesta to “Theories of media and society”

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