The hypodermic needle model (known as the hypodermic-syringe model, transmission-belt model, or magic bullet theory) is a model of communications suggesting that an intended message is directly received and wholly accepted by the receiver. The model was originally rooted in 1930s behaviorism and largely considered obsolete for a long time, but big data analytics-based mass customization has led to a modern revival of the basic idea.
The "magic bullet" or "hypodermic needle theory" of direct influence effects was based on early observations of the effect of mass media, as used by Nazi propaganda and the effects of Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s. People were assumed to be "uniformly controlled by their biologically based 'instincts' and that they react more or less uniformly to whatever 'stimuli' came along". The "Magic Bullet" theory graphically assumes that the media's message is a bullet fired from the "media gun" into the viewer's "head". Similarly, the "Hypodermic Needle Model" uses the same idea of the "shooting" paradigm. It suggests that the media injects its messages straight into the passive audience. This passive audience is immediately affected by these messages. The public essentially cannot escape from the media's influence, and is therefore considered a "sitting duck". Both models suggest that the public is vulnerable to the messages shot at them because of the limited communication tools and the studies of the media's effects on the masses at the time. It means the media explores information in such a way that it injects in the mind of audiences as bullets.
The "magic bullet" and "hypodermic needle" models originate from Harold Lasswell's 1927 book, Propaganda Technique in the World War. Recent work in the history of communication studies have documented how the two models may have served as strawman theory or fallacy or even a "myth". Others have documented the possible medical origins of the metaphor of the magic bullet model.
Main article: Two-step flow of communication
The phrasing "hypodermic needle" is meant to give a mental image of the direct, strategic, and planned infusion of a message into an individual. But as research methodology became more highly developed, it became apparent that the media had selective influences on people.
The most famous incident often cited as an example for the hypodermic needle model was the 1938 broadcast of The War of the Worlds and the subsequent reaction of widespread panic among its American mass audience. However, this incident actually sparked the research movement, led by Paul Lazarsfeld and Herta Herzog, that would disprove the magic bullet or hypodermic needle theory, as Hadley Cantril managed to show that reactions to the broadcast were, in fact, diverse, and were largely determined by situational and attitudinal attributes of the listeners.
In the 1940s, Lazarsfeld disproved the "magic bullet" theory and "hypodermic needle model theory" through elections studies in "The People's Choice". Lazarsfeld and colleagues executed the study by gathering research during the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940. The study was conducted to determine voting patterns and the relationship between the media and political power. Lazarsfeld discovered that the majority of the public remained unfazed by propaganda surrounding Roosevelt's campaign. Instead, interpersonal outlets proved more influential than the media. Therefore, Lazarsfeld concluded that the effects of the campaign were not all powerful to the point where they completely persuaded "helpless audiences", a claim that the Magic Bullet, Hypodermic Needle Model, and Lasswell asserted. These new findings also suggested that the public can select which messages affect and don't affect them.
Lazarsfeld's debunking of these models of communication provided the way for new ideas regarding the media's effects on the public. Lazarsfeld introduced the idea of the two-step flow of communication in 1944. Elihu Katz contributed to the model in 1955 through studies and publications. The model of the two-step flow of communication assumes that ideas flow from the mass media to opinion leaders and then to the greater public. They believed the message of the media to be transferred to the masses via this opinion leadership. Opinion leaders are categorized as individuals with the best understanding of media content and the most accessibility to the media as well. These leaders essentially take in the media's information, and explain and spread the media's messages to others.
Thus, the two step flow model and other communication theories suggest that the media does not directly have an influence on viewers anymore. Instead, interpersonal connections and even selective exposure play a larger role in influencing the public in the modern age.
Contemporary one-step flow
More recently, the use of big data analytics to identify user preferences and to send tailor-made messages to individuals led back to the idea of a "one-step flow of communication", which is in principle similar to the hypodermic needle model. The difference is that today's massive databases allow for the mass customization of messages. So it is not one generic mass media message, but many individualized messages, coordinated by a massive algorithm. For example, empirical studies have found that in Twitter networks, traditional mass media outlets receive 80–90% of their Twitter mentions directly through a direct one-step flow from average Twitter users. However, these same studies also argue that there is a multitude of step-flow models at work in today's digital communication landscape.
- Berger, A. A. (1995). Essentials of Mass Communication Theory. London: SAGE Publications.
- Croteau, D. & Hoynes, W. (1997). "Industries and Audience". Media/Society. London: Pine Forge Press.
- Davis, D.K. & Baron, S.J. (1981). "A History of Our Understanding of Mass Communication". In: Davis, D.K. & Baron and S.J. (Eds.). Mass Communication and Everyday Life: A Perspective on Theory and Effects (19-52). Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing.
- Katz, E., Lazarsfeld, P.F. (1955). Personal Influence: the Part Played by People in the Flow of Mass Communication's. 309.
- Katz, E (1957). "The Two-Step Flow of Communication: an Up-To-Date Report on a Hypothesis". The Public Opinion Quarterly. 21 (1): 61–78.
- Lubken, D. (2008). Remembering the Straw Man: The Travels and Adventures of Hypodermic. In D. W. Park & J. Pooley (Eds.), The history of media and communication research: contested memories: Peter Lang Publishing.
- Severin, W. J. and Tankard, J.W. (1979). Communication Theories -- Origins, Methods and Uses. New York: Hastings House.
- Sproule, J. M. (1989). Progressive Propaganda Critics and the Magic Bullet Myth. Critical Studies in Mass Communication, 6(3), 225-246. doi:citeulike-article-id:9472331
- Thibault, G. (2016). Needles and Bullets: Media Theory, Medicine, and Propaganda, 1910-1940. In K. Nixon & L. Servitje (Eds.), Endemic: Essays in Contagion Theory (pp. 67-91). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
- ^Communication Theory; Mass Communication: MAGIC BULLET OR HYPODERMIC NEEDLE THEORY OF COMMUNICATION http://communicationtheory.org/magic-bullet-or-hypodermic-needle-theory-of-communication/
- ^Lowery, Shearon (1995). Milestones in Mass Communication Research: Media Effects (en inglés). USA: Longman Publishers. p. 400. ISBN 9780801314377.
- ^Arthur Asa (1995). Essentials of Mass Communication Theory. Londres: SAGE Publications.
- ^ abD. Croteau, W. Hoynes (1197). Media/society: industries, images, and audiences. Pine Forge Press. ISBN 9780803990654.
- ^Davis, D.K. & Baron, S.J. (1981). A History of Our Understanding of Mass Communication. Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing.
- ^Lasswell, H. (1927) "Propaganda Technique in the World War"
- ^Lubken, Deborah. (2008). Remembering the Straw Man: The Travels and Adventures of Hypodermic. In D. W. Park & J. Pooley (Eds.), The history of media and communication research: contested memories: Peter Lang Publishing.
- ^Sproule, J. M. (1989). Progressive Propaganda Critics and the Magic Bullet Myth. Critical Studies in Mass Communication, 6(3), 225-246. doi:citeulike-article-id:9472331
- ^Thibault, Ghislain. (2016). Needles and Bullets: Media Theory, Medicine, and Propaganda, 1910-1940. In K. Nixon & L. Servitje (Eds.), Endemic: Essays in Contagion Theory (pp. 67-91). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
- ^Paul Felix Lazarsfeld, Bernard Berelson, Hazel Gaudet (1948). The People's Choice: How the Voter Makes Up His Mind in a Presidential Campaign. Columbia University Press.
- ^cf.Two-step flow model
- ^Katz, E., Lazarsfeld, P.F. (1955) ‘Personal influence: The part played by people in the flow of mass communications‘, The Free Press, New York.
- ^"The Two-Step Flow of Communication: An Up-To-Date Report on an Hypothesis". Public Opinion Quarterly. 21 (1): 61–78. 1957. doi:10.1086/266687.
- ^Werner Joseph Severin, James W. Tankard (1979). Communication Theories: Origins, Methods, Uses. Hastings House. ISBN 9780803812741.
- ^Bennett, W. L., & Manheim, J. B. (2006). The One-Step Flow of Communication. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 608(1), 213–232. http://doi.org/10.1177/0002716206292266
- ^ abHilbert, M., Vasquez, J., Halpern, D., Valenzuela, S., & Arriagada, E. (2016). One Step, Two Step, Network Step? Complementary Perspectives on Communication Flows in Twittered Citizen Protests. Social Science Computer Review. Freely available at http://escholarship.org/uc/item/0nn4p7mv
- ^Choi, S. (2014). The Two-Step Flow of Communication in Twitter-Based Public Forums. Social Science Computer Review, 0894439314556599.
- ^Stansberry, K. (2012). One-step, two-step, or multi-step flow: the role of influencers in information processing and dissemination in online, interest-based publics. PhD Dissertation presented to the School of Journalism and Communication, University of Oregon.
Show MoreThe Bulletproof Audience Maria Fidela Diosa S. Romana University of the Philippines, Diliman
This paper discusses the Hypodermic Needle Theory – its history, key concepts and criticism. As the theory suggests direct and immediate effect of mass media to its audience, a social phenomenon called ‘copycat crimes’ is analyzed through its lens. The criticisms and ambiguities of the hypodermic needle theory are used to formulate a new theory believed to be more applicable and accurate to social issues and media awareness at present. The theory named Bulletproof Audience Theory suggests that viewers are indirectly affected by mass media since they already have different backgrounds, attitudes and ideas beforehand.…show more content…
An individual’s attitudes, intelligence, moods and prejudices greatly influence how one perceives the message each receives. Aside from that, other psychological and social factors intervene even before a media message reaches its audience. On a more important note, contrary to the theory’s definition of audience as passive receptors, media awareness upholds that audience are active, participative and conscious especially on messages which affect the society. At present, although the hypodermic needle theory is no longer considered valid, it still surfaces as an explanation for some social issues especially when the audience or an individual is in a sensitive state of mind or is highly dependent on media for information. One particular phenomenon which can be associated with the theory is the ‘copycat crimes’. It is defined as a criminal act that is inspired by a previous crime that has been reported in the media or is described in fiction. It highlights sensational publicity about crimes such as suicide and murder to result in to another crime very similarly imitated. There have already been a number of times when mass media have been greatly pressured to ensure proper reporting and censorship of violence-related content to avoid popularizing such cases. Just recently, September 2011, there was an occurrence supposed by the police to be a