Role of Groups in Mass Communication

Groups as Instruments of Change

Do you think a person’s group influence his / her attitudes and behaviours? Discuss the role of groups in mass communication.

Groups as Instruments of Change


Groups as Instruments of Change:

Because of the power of social influence, groups can sometimes be used as agents or instru­ments of change. Group structure and group dynamics are very much a part of the process at work in organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Weight Watchers, and some groups that help people to stop smoking. Thr principles of group norms and group pres­sure can often be seen at work in these kinds of efforts. Alcoholics Anonymous, for in­stance, has a group norm that permits and encourages people to talk about their problems with alcohol. This is a reversal of the norm in the culture at large, which discourages talk­ing about an individual’s alcohol problem and almost makes such discussion a taboo. AA members also share other norms, such as the willingness to be available to talk to another member any time of night or day. Similar forces are at wjrk’in stop-smoking groups, whose members often are encouraged to select a “Quit Day” and publicly announce it to the group. This then generates group pressure for the individual actually to quit on that day and then stick by the decision.

The writings of Alcoholics Anonymous (1967), which describe the 12 steps and the 12 traditions of AA, bring out the importance of the group as part of the process. Bill W., one of the founders of AA, wrote in The A.A. Way of Life:

The moment Twelfth-Step work forms a group, a discovery is made—that most individu­als cannot recover unless there is a group. Realization dawns on each member that he is but a small part of a great whole; that no personal sacrifice is too great for preservation of the Fellowship. He learns that the clamor of desires and ambitions within him must be si­lenced whenever these could damage the group.

It becomes plain that the group must survive or the individual will not. (p. 9)

Bill W.’s belief that the group was more important than the individual was once put to a severe test—he was offered a chance to have his picture on the cover of Time magazine as the cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous. He thought about it a while and turned it down.

Group dynamics can also be applied to fund drives, such as the United Way or United Fund. DeFleur and Ball-Rokeach (1982, pp. 227-228) have described the way this process often works. First a quota is set for the community as a whole. This quota is sometimes displayed in the middle of town on a big thermometer so that everyone can see it. This quota is in fact somewhat arbitrary, being set by the fund drive organizers, but it begins to take on the appearance of a community norm. This approach is carried further by distrib­uting pledge cards to individuals that indicate the “fair share” that they are supposed to pay for the community to meet the quota. This is a tactic of group pressure, in that the individual is made to feel that he or she will be letting others down if a donation is not made. Personal influence is also brought into the process. Often the pledge <?Srds are dis­tributed and collected by an important coworker, such as the boss’s secretary. Some of these fund drives also use door-to-door collections, in which the person doing the collect­ing is a neighbor or a person living on the same block—an effective use of social influence.

A kind of social influence within the primary group of the family appears to have been taking place lately in the revival of the ecology movement. Youngsters have been learning about threats to the environment from school, television, and rock stars, and have been exerting pressure on their parents to act in more ecologically sound ways. Often the chil­dren are more aware of environmental issues than their parents. Cases have been reported of children urging parents to avoid purchasing aerosol sprays; to recycle cans, bottles, plas­tic, and paper; and to use waxed paper instead of plastic sandwich bags (Manning, 1990).

Groups and Mass Communication:

The importance of group influence has been well understood by many people involved in mass communication. Father Coughlin, the “radio priest” who was such a skillful user of propaganda, would ask his audience to listen to him in groups. He also began his broad­casts with music and told audience members to take that time to call a friend and ask the person to listen to the program.

Many advertisements and commercials attempt to incorporate some form of group influ­ence. For instance, a television commercial for a dye for gray hair makes the statement, “I bet a lot of your friends are using it and you don’t even know it.” Basically, this type of commercial is using the old propaganda device of band wagon.

Another promising idea is to use mass communication channels to attempt to stimulate interpersonal discussion. For instance, one California grocery chain’s campaign theme was “Tell a Friend” (Solomon, 1989, p. 100).

Researchers working in the field of health communication have found an approach based on group influence to be an effective one . One example of this work is the Stanford Heart Disease Prevention Program, a joint effort by Stanford’s Department of Communi­cation and School of Medicine (Maccoby & Farquhar, 1975, 1976). The purposes of the program were to apply communication theory to the development of a health communica­tion campaign and to use evaluation research to measure change due to the campaign. The campaign was intended to change people’s habits relating to the three leading risk factors in heart disease—diet, smoking, and lack of exercise. The researchers picked three Califor­nia towns that were as alike as possible to test their approaches. The first was given an eight-month media campaign involving local TV and radio spots, a newspaper tabloid, billboards, and direct mail. The second town was given the same media campaign but selected groups of high-risk people were also given intensive group instruction in reducing risks. The third town served as a control group and received no campaign or instruction.

The results showed some effect of the media-only campaign in changing attitudes and behavior related to heart disease risk, but much greater effect with the people receiving the media campaign plus the intensive group instruction. Cholesterol level was down 1 per­cent in the media-only town, down 5 percent in the media-plus-group-instruction town, and up 2 percent in the town receiving no campaign.

The Stanford Heart Disease Prevention Program also found that using mass mailings to send nutrition tip sheets and refrigerator magnets to hold them was effective in stimulating some discussion of nutrition issues (Solomon, 1989, p. 100).

Flay (1987), in a summary of research on mass media programs designed to help people stop smoking, found that television self-help clinics that included social support in the form of group discussion were particularly effective. The studies examined by Flay sug­gested that making written materials available to accompany a television program will dou­ble its effectiveness, and that adding group discussions can triple it. Flay estimates that television self-help clinics are able to help 5-15 percent of participating smokers to quit permanently. Although this may sound like a small effect, if such a clinic were conducted once nationally, it could help between 2.5 million and 7.5 million of the nation’s 50 million smokers to quit. It has been suggested that the same kind of television self-help clinic might be useful in getting people to modify other health-related behaviors such as alcohol and drug abuse, or sexual practices increasing the risk of AIDS and other sexually trans­mitted diseases (McAlister. Ramirez, Galavotti, & Gallion, 1989).

In politics, the. mass media campaigns are often supplemented by various types of inter­personal communication, including door-to-door visits, telephone calls, and neighborhood coffees.  *

Rogers and Storey identify interpersonal communication as one of the important factors that contribute to the success of a communication campaign. They wrote, “Interpersonal communication through peer networks is very important in leading to and maintaining behavior change” (Rogers & Storey, 1987, p. 837).

Reardon and Rogers (1988) have suggested that the common division in academic circles between mass communication and interpersonal communication is a false dichotomy, and that the strongest possible communication theory wili be developed only when researchers integrate the two.


Groups have impact on mass communication in a number of ways:

–       Groups serve to anchor attitudes and make them hard to change. This was suggested by the Cooper and Jahoda study of the Mr. Biggott cartoons and also documented in the area of politics by the election studies of Lazarsfeld and his associates.

–       Knowledge of the groups that a person belongs to or identifies with can often help us predict the person’s behavior. This is particularly true in the area of political preferences, where knowledge of five or six broad group categorizations about a person will often give a high degree of accuracy in predicting an election vote.

–       Effective programs of communication often involve a combination of mass commu­nication and interpersonal communication. This is true of many of the well-organized charity fund drives and many election campaigns. Programs aimed at reducing the risk of heart disease or helping people stop smoking suggest that a combination of mass media and interpersonal communication is also an effective approach in the health area.

Sometimes ways can be found to obtain some of the advantages of interpersonal com­munication through mass communication. Television programs in which a candidate an­swers questions telephoned in by viewers would be an example. So would presidential “citizens press conferences,” in which the president answered questions phoned in by cit­izens during a national radio broadcast. Some of the same advantages can be obtained by having a panel of typical citizens in the studio to question a political candidate in a kind of “town meeting” format.



Continue Reading

Various Techniques of Persuasion

What are the various techniques of persuasion? Explain with   your own examples.

Various Techniques of Persuasion

Techniques of Persuasion

We now turn to three important techniques commonly used in persuasion: appeals to humor, appeals to sex, and extensive repetition of an advertising message. Audiences and communicators need to understand their applications—and their potential misuse.

Appeals to Humor:

The use of humor is a popular technique in communication. Many public speakers ob­viously believe in the importance of beginning their talks with a humorous story. Studies have suggested that 15 to 20 percent of television commercials contain some element of humor (Kelly & Solomon, 1975; Duncan & Nelson, 1985).

In the typical study of the effects of humor on attitude change or other variables in the hierarchy of effects, different groups are exposed to different versions of the same mes­sage—one with humor and one without. For instance, Brooker (1981) examined the effects of humor in two commercials—one for a toothpaste and one for a flu vaccine. Examples of the humorous appeals used in his study appear in Table 9.7.

When attitude change or persuasion is the dependent variable of interest, most stud­ies have not found a significant effect due to humor (Gruner, 1965, 1967, 1970, 1972; Brooker, 1981).

Other studies of the effectiveness of humor indicate that it has more of an effect on lower-order communication effects (responses lower in the response hierarchy) than on higher-order communication effects (Gelb & Pickett, 1983; Duncan & Nelson, 1985). That is, humor is more effective in attracting attention, generating liking for the communicator, and so forth, than it is in producing attitude change or changes in behavior.

Not all studies agree, however, that humor is even effective in generating liking for the communicator. One study showed that a woman speaker was liked less when she used humor than when she did not (Taylor, 1974). The author suggests that the speaker was perceived as “trying too hard to curry favor?’ Similarly, another study showed that college teachers who use humor are perceived with “suspicion and hostility” because they are acting contrary to student expectations that a teacher’s behavior will be controlling and evaluative (Darling & Civikly, 1984).

The research on the effectiveness of humor that has been conducted so far should be interpreted in light of its limitations, however. One limitation is that the settings of the studies have often been classrooms or laboratories, which might not be representative of the settings where humor is expected. Another limitation is that the research has tended to be nontheoretical, with little discussion of why humor might or might not be effective in achieving various effects. Markiewicz (1974) has suggested that learning theory and dis­traction theory are two promising theories for understanding the relationship of humor to persuasion. A learning theory approach might suggest that humor would provide rein­forcement and thus lead to greater attitude change. A distraction theory approach might





Toothbrush: Vaccine:







Here’s an idea with some “teeth” in it.

Song of the spring camper: “We’re tenting tonight on the old damp ground.”


If your lady friend turns aside her nose Whenever you begin to propose The halitosis demon Might be what sends her screamin’ And your toothbrush could help to solve your woes.

There was an old lady of Crewe Who was horribly frightened of flu. She spoilt her complexion Through fear of infection Having fixed on her gas mask with glue.


Detecting decay in the tooth of a beautiful young woman, the dentist said, “What’s a place like this doing in a girl like you?”

A little boy was found watchinj a movie by the manager in the morning. “Why aren’t you in school?” he asked the boy. “It’s O.K., mister, I’m just getting over the flu.”


Oscar Levant once said, “The first thing I do in the morning is brush my teeth and sharpen my tongue.”

Many flu sufferers have said, “I hope I’m really sick. I’d hate to feel like this if I’m well.”

From G. W. Brooker, “A Comparison of the Persuasive Elects of Mild Humor and Mild Fear Appeals,’ Journal of Advertising 10, no. 4 (1981): 32. Used by permission make the prediction that humor would be distracting. This distraction, in turn, might lead to greater attitude change by preventing counterarguing (Festinger & Maccoby, 1964). Or distraction might lead to less attitude change by interfering with attentiveness to the mes­sage.

It has also been suggested that the use of humor needs to be studied in relation to other variables (Kelly & Solomon, 1975). For instance, in advertising, is the humor more effec­tive when it relates to the topic or when it does not? In a commercial, should the humor come at the beginning, at the end, or all through the commercial?

Appeals to Sex

The use of sexy models and other sexual appeals is a common technique in advertising. One study has indicated that more than one-fourth of magazine ads contain “obviously alluring” female models (Sexton & Haberman, 1974). Furthermore, these kinds of ads are on the increase. The same study showed the ads with “obviously alluring” models in­creased from 10 percent it 1951 to 27 percent in 1971. Many advertisers apparently be- » lieve that “sex sells.” But does it?

At least one study suggests that a sexy model can affect the perception or image of a product, even if there is very little logical connection between the model and the product. Smith and Engel (1968) prepared a print ad for an automobile in two versions. In one version, a female model clad in black lace panties and a simple sleeveless sweater stood in front of the car. She held a spear—on the assumption that the spear might be regarded as a phallic symbol and might lead the model to be seen as more aggressively seductive. In the other version, there was no model. When the car was pictured with the woman, subjects rated it as more appealing, more youthful, more lively, and better designed. Even objective characteristics were affected. When the car appeared with the woman, it was rated as higher in horsepower, less safe, more expensive by $340, and able to move an average 7.3 miles per hour faster. In general, male and female subjects responded the same way other ads.

In contrast to the Smith and Engel study, however, a number of studies investigating the effects of sexy models on brand recall have shown either no effect or less recall with the sexy moder(Chestnur, LaChance, & Lubitz, 1977; Alexander & Judd, 1978). It appears that the sexy models distract the viewers’ attention away from the portion of the ad pre­senting the product or company name.

One study suggests that for certain products, an attractive female might not be as effec­tive in stimulating sales as an attractive male (Caballero & Solomon, 1984). This study changed the displays for a brand of beer and a brand of tissue that appeared at the end of an aisle in a Tom Thumb supermarket. They found that overall, the male models tended to stimulate more beer sales among both male and female customers than either the female stimulus or the control (no model) treatment.

Another study indicates that response to sex in advertising is not a simple variable (Mor­rison & Sherman, 1972). The study had a number of subjects look at ads from magazines and express their reaction to them on rating scales. They then used cluster analysis to look for different patterns of response. For the males, they identified three dimensions of re­sponse as important: (1) the “Tom Jones” dimension, (2) the intellectualizing dimension, and (3) the fetishism dimension. For females, they identified four dimensions: (1) sensualism, (2) love/sexism, (3) romanticism, and (4) fantasism. Not only do different ads empha­size some of these dimensions and not others, but different people respond to some , dimensions favorably while ignoring others completely. The authors also found that, con­trary to their expectation, women were more quick to pick up on suggestiveness in copy than men.

There are also some clear-cut age differences in responses to sex appeals in advertising, with younger people approving of them more than older people (Wise, King, & Merenski, 1974).

Even though sex in advertising is common, it appears that there are some risks in using it. Appeals to sex might be disapproved of by some audience members, might be misperceived or missed by others, and might distracfstill others from the real purpose of the ad. Fev(, if any, studies exist that show a positive effect of sex in advertising on brand recall or product sales. While the Smith and Engel study shows a sexy model having the effect of increasing the favorable evaluation of an automobile in an ad, it did not test for brand recall after seeing the ad. It is possible that the subjects did not recall the name of the kind of automobile any better with the sexy model than without, and this would defeat the purpose of the ad.

Jib Fowles, the author of an article titled “Advertising’s Fifteen Basic Appeals,” draws this conclusion about appeals to the need for sex: “As a rule, though, advertisers have found sex to be a tricky appeal, to be used sparingly. Less controversial and equally fetch­ing are the appeals to our need for affectionate human contact” (1982, p. 278).

Effects of Repetition

Many mass communication messages—particularly advertisements, whether commer­cial or political—are repeated extensively. There are a number of reasons why this might be a good idea. Not all audience members will be watching at the same time, of, in the print media, not all readers will see a single printing of an advertisement. Another advantage of repetition is that it might remind the audience of a source for a message from a high-cred­ibility source, and thus prevent the drop-off in attitude change from a high-credibility source found over time by Hovland and Weiss. Repeating a message might help the learn­ing of attitudes and emotional meanings for words discussed by Staats and Staats, since a repeated association of the two stimuli is part of the process of conditioning. Repetition might help the audience remember the message itself. Zielske (1959) showed that advertis­ing is quickly forgotten if not continuously exposed.

Krugman (1972) has presented the intriguing argument that three exposures might be all that are needed for a television advertisement to have its desired effect. But he adds the important qualification that it might take 23 exposures to get the three that produce the particular responses that are needed. Krugman suggests that the first exposure to an ad is dominated by a cognitive “What is it?” response. The second exposure is dominated by an evaluative “What of it?” response. And the third exposure is a reminder, but also the be­ginning of disengagement. Krugman points out a fundamental difficulty, however, in that people can screen out television ads by stopping at the “What is it?” response without further involvement. Then, on perhaps the 23rd exposure, they might, or might not, move on to the “What of it?” response. Thus, Krugman’s analysis is stating that three exposures to an advertisement might be enough under ideal circumstances, but that it might take a number of repetitions to achieve those three.

Too much repetition can also have some undesirable effects, however. In one study, three groups of subjects were presented with one, three, or five repetitions of a persuasive message (Cacioppo & Petty, 1979). The researchers found that the message repetition led at first to increasing agreement with the advocated position, but that after a certain point it led to decreasing agreement with the advocated position. They found repetition led to decreas­ing, then increasing, counterarguing against the message by the recipient of the message. And they found that any amount of repetition led to increasing topic-irrelevant thinking. This kind of curvilinear relationship between repetition and communication effects was also found in a study of political advertising. Becker and Doolitfle (1975) found that both liking for a candidate and seeking of information about a candidate were highest with a moderate amount of repetition but declined with high repetition.

Another study found that humor ratings declined steadily with repetition of ads (Gelb & Zinkham, 1985). A change in the creative execution of the ad was found to boost the humor ratings back up, though.

Continue Reading

Heider’s Balance, Newcomb’s Symmetry, Osgood’s Congruity & Cognitive Dissonance Theories

Discuss the following theories:

  1.         Heider’s Balance Theory
  2.          Newcomb’s Symmetry Theory
  3.        Osgood’s Congruity Theory
  4.    Festinger’s Theory of Cognitive Dissonance.


Heider’s Balance Theory:

Most writers usually credit Fritz Heider (1946) with the earliest articulation of a consis­tency theory, although the informal concept can be traced back to earlier work (see Kiesler et al., 1969, p. 157). As a psychologist, Heider was concerned with the way an individual organizes attitudes toward people and objects in relation to one another within that individual’s own cognitive structure. Heider postulated that unbalanced states produce tension and generate forces to restore balance. He says that “the concept of a balanced state designates a situation in which the perceived units and the experienced sentiments co-exist without stress” (1958, p. 176).

Heider’s paradigm focused on two individuals, a person (P), the object of the analysis, some other person (O), and a physical object, idea, or event (X). Heider’s concern was with how relationships among these three entities are organized in the mind of one individual (P). Heider distinguished two types of relationships among these three entities, liking (L) and unit (U) relations (cause, possession, similarity, etc.). In Heider’s paradigm, “a bal­anced state exists if all three relations are positive in all respects or if two are negative and < one is positive” (1946, p. 110). All other combinations are unbalanced.

In Heider’s conception, degrees of liking cannot be represented; a relation is either posi­tive or negative (Figure 8.1). It is assumed that a balanced state is stable and resists outside influences. An unbalanced state is assumed to be unstable and is assumed to produce psy­chological tension within an individual. This tension “becomes relieved only when change within the situation takes place in such a way that a state of balance is achieved” (Heider, 1958, p. 180). This pinpoints the communicator’s interest in the theory for it implies a model of attitude change and resistance to attitude change. Unbalanced states, being unsta­ble states, are susceptible to change toward balance. Balanced states, being stable states, resist change. Data supporting Heider’s balance theory are discussed in Zajonc (1960), Kiesler et al. (1969), and Abelson et al. (1968)

Newcomb’s Symmetry Theory:

Social psychologist Theodore M. Newcomb took Heider’s idea of balance out of the head of one person and applied it to communication between people. He uses the term symme­try to distinguish it from balance theory and contends that we attempt to influence one another to bring about symmetry (or balance or equilibrium). As discussed in some detail



Figure 8.1 • Examples of Balanced and Unbalanced States according to Heider’s Definition of Balance (Solid Lines Represent Positive Relations; Broken Lines, Nega­tive Relations.)

From R. B. Zajonc, “The Concepts of Balance, Congruity, a”-1. Dissonance,” Public Opinion Quarterly 24 (1960): 283. Copyright 1960 by Princeton University. Reprinted by p.’mission of University of Chicago Press.

Newcomb postulates that attempts to influence another person are a function of the attraction one person has for another. In this respect Newcomb’s theory is more of a theory of interpersonal attraction than one of attitude change. If we fail to achieve symme­try through communication with another person about an object important to both of us, we may then change our attitude toward either the other person or the object in question in order to establish symmetry.

Because Newcomb’s model (see Chapter 3) deals with two people and the communica­tion between them, he labels them A and B (rather than Heider’s (P and O) and retains X to represent the object of their attitudes. As with Heider, he assumes a human need for con­sistency, which he calls a “persistent strain toward symmetry.” If A and B disagree about X, the amount of this strain toward symmetry will depend on the intensity of A’s attitude toward X and A’s attraction for B. An increase in A’s attraction for B and an increase in A’s intensity of attitude toward X will result in (1) an increased strain toward symmetry on the part of A toward B about their attitudes toward X, (2) the likelihood that symmetry will be achieved, and (3) the probability of a communication by A to B about X. The last item, of course, is the focus of our concern.

Newcomb says, “The likelihood of a symmetry-directed A to B re X varies as a multiple function of the perceived discrepancy (i.e., inversely with perceived symmetry), with va­lence toward B and with valence toward X” (Newcomb, 1953, p. 398).

Newcomb, in contrast to Heider, stresses communication. The less the symmetry be­tween A and B about X, the more probable that A will communicate with B regarding X. Symmetry predicts that people associate with or become friends of people with whom they agree (“Birds of a feather flock together”).

However, for attitude change to take place, a person must come imo contact with infor­mation that differs from his or her presen* trudes. Newcomb’s syma ry model predicts

that the more A is attracted to B (a person or a group), the greater the opinion change on the part of A toward the position of B.

Osgood’s Congruity Theory

The congruity model is a special case of Heider’s balance theory. Though similar to bal­ance theory, it deals specifically with the attitudes persons hold toward sources of informa­tion and the objects of the source’s assertions. Congruity theory has several advantages over balance theory, including the ability to make predictions about both the direction and the degree of attitude change. The congruity model assumes that “judgmental frames of reference tend toward maximal simplicity.” Because extreme judgments are easier to make than refined ones (see discussion of either-or thinking and two valued evaluation, valuations tend to move toward the extremes, or there is “a-e«ntinuing pressure toward polarization.” In addition to this maximization of simplicity, the assumption is also made that identity is less complex than discrimination of fine differences (either-or think­ing and categorization). Because of this, related “concepts” are evaluated in a similar man­ner.

In the congruity paradigm a person (P) receives an assertion from a source (S), toward which he has an attitude, about an object (O), toward which he also has an attitude. In Osgood’s model, how much P likes S and O will determine if a state of congruity or consis­tency exists (Figure 8.2).

According to congruity theory, when a change occurs, it is always toward greater con­gruity with prevailing frames of reference. Osgood uses his semantic differentia


In essence, the definitions of balance and congruity are identical. Incongruity exists when the attitudes toward the source and the object are similar and the assertion is negative or when they are dissimilar and the assertion is positive. An unbalanced state has either one or all negative relations.

Percy Tannenbaum had 405 college students evaluate three sources—labor leaders, the Chicago Tribune, and Senator Robert Taft—and three objects—gambling, abstract art, and accelerated college programs. Sometime later the students were presented with newspaper clippings that contained assertions attributed to the sources about the objects. The entire range of predicted changes was supported by Tannenbaum’s data, as summarized in Table 8.1. The direction of change is indicated by either a plus or a minus sign, while the extent of change is indicated by one or two such signs.

   Festinger’s Theory of Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is the term used in modern psychology to describe the state of holding two or more conflicting cognitions (e.g.,ideasbeliefsvaluesemotional reactions) simultaneously. In a state of dissonance, people may sometimes feel surprise, dread, guilt, anger, or embarrassment.[1] The theory of cognitive dissonance in social psychology purposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance by altering existing cognitions, adding new ones to create a consistent belief system, or alternatively by reducing the importance of any one of the dissonant elements.[1] An example of this would be the conflict between wanting to smoke and knowing that smoking is unhealthy; a person may try to change their feelings about the odds that they will actually suffer the consequences, or they might add the consonant element that the short term benefits of smoking outweigh the long term harm. The need to avoid cognitive dissonance may bias one towards a certain decision even though other factors favour an alternative.[2]

The phrase was coined by Leon Festinger in his 1956 book When Prophecy Fails, which chronicled the followers of a UFO cult as reality clashed with their fervent belief in an impending apocalypse.[3][4] Festinger subsequently published a book called “A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance”, published in 1957, in which he outlines the theory. Cognitive dissonance is one of the most influential and extensively studied theories in social psychology.

Cognitive dissonance theory warns that people have a bias to seek consonance among their cognitions. According to Festinger, we engage in a process he termed “dissonance reduction”, which he said could be achieved in one of three ways: lowering the importance of one of the discordant factors, adding consonant elements, or changing one of the dissonant factors.[5] This bias gives the theory its predictive power, shedding light on otherwise puzzling, irrational, and even destructive behavior.

  • Decision Making
  • Forced Compliance
  • Selective Exposure and Selective Attention
  • Entertainment Choices.


Continue Reading

Readability and Measurement it in mass communication

What does readability mean? How to measure it in mass communication?

Readability and Measurement it in mass communication



In 1998, traffic accidents caused 46 percent of all accidental deaths of infants and children aged 1 to 14 (National Center for Health Statistics, 2000). One study (Johnston et al. 1994) showed that the single strongest risk factor for injury in a traffic accident is the improper use of child-safety seats. Another study (Kahane 1986) showed that, when correctly used, child safety seats reduce the risk of fatal injury by 71 percent and hospitalization by 67 percent.

To be effective, however, the seats must be installed correctly. Other studies, showed that 79 to 94 percent of car seats are used improperly (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration 1996, Decina and Knoebel 1997, Lane et al. 2000).

Public-health specialists Dr. Mark Wegner and Deborah Girasek (2003) suspected that poor comprehension of the installation instructions might contribute to this problem. They looked into the readability of the instructions and published their findings in the medical journal Pediatrics. The story was covered widely in the media.

The authors referred to the National Adult Literacy Study (National Center for Educational Statistics, 1993), which states the average adult in the U.S. reads at the 7th grade level. They also cited experts in health literacy who recommend that materials for the public be written at the fifth or sixth-grade reading level (Doak et al., 1996; Weiss and Coyne, 1997).

Their study found that the average reading level of the 107 instructions they examined was the 10th grade, too difficult for 80 percent adult readers in the U.S. When texts exceed the reading ability of readers, they usually stop reading. The authors did not address the design, completeness, or the organization of the instructions. They did not say that the instructions were badly written. Armed with the SMOG readability formula, they found the instructions were written at the wrong grade level. You can be sure the manufacturers of the car safety seats are scrambling to re-write their instructions.

 Guidelines for readability:

In works about technical communication, we are often told how to avoid such problems. For example, JoAnn Hackos and Dawn Stephens in Standards for Online Communication (1997) ask us to “conform to accepted style standards.” They explain:

Many experts, through much research, have compiled golden rules of documentation writing. These rules apply regardless of medium:

  • Use short, simple, familiar words
  • Avoid jargon.
  • Use culture-and-gender-neutral language.
  • Use correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling.
  • Use simple sentences, active voice, and present tense.
  • Begin instructions in the imperative mode by starting sentences with an action verb.
  • Use simple graphic elements such as bulleted lists and numbered steps to make information visually accessible.

For more suggestions, we recommend referring to one of many excellent books on writing style, especially technical style.

We all know of technical publications that do not follow these guidelines and are read only by a small fraction of the potential readership. One reason may be that the writers are not familiar with the background and research of these guidelines.

This paper looks most carefully at two of the most important elements of communication, the reading skills of the audience and the readability of the text.

The readability formulas:

In the 1920s, educators discovered a way to use vocabulary difficulty and sentence length to predict the difficulty level of a text. They embedded this method in readability formulas, which have proven their worth in over 80 years of application.

Progress and research on the formulas was something of a secret until the 1950s. Writers like Rudolf Flesch, George Klare, Edgar Dale, and Jeanne Chall brought the formulas and the research supporting them to the marketplace. The formulas were widely used in journalism, research, health care, law, insurance, and industry. The U.S. military developed its own set of formulas for technical-training materials.

By the 1980s, there were 200 formulas and over a thousand studies published on the readability formulas attesting to their strong theoretical and statistical validity.

Are the readability formulas a problem?

In spite of the success of the readability formulas, they were always the center of controversy. When the “plain language” movement in the 1960s resulted in legislation requiring plain language in public and commercial documents a number of articles attacked the use of readability formulas. They had titles like, “Readability: A Postscript” (Manzo 1970), “Readability: Have we gone too far?” (Maxwell 1978), “Readability is a Four-letter Word” (Selzer 1981), “Why Readability Formulas Fail” (Bruce et al. 1981), “Readability Formulas: Second Looks, Second Thoughts” (Lange 1982), “Readability Formulas: What’s the Use?” (Duffy 1985) and “Last Rites for Readability Formulas in Technical Communication” (Connaster 1999).

Many of the critics were honestly concerned about the limitations of the formulas and some of them offered alternatives such as usability testing. Although the alternatives are useful and even necessary, they fail to do what the formulas do: provide an objective prediction of text difficulty.

Although the concerns of the formula critics have been amply addressed elsewhere (Chall 1984, Benson 1984-1985, Fry 1989b, Dale and Chall 1995, Klare 2000), we will examine them again in some detail, with a special regard for the needs of technical communication.

The purpose of this article is to very briefly review the landmark studies on readability and the controversy regarding the formulas. I will be happy if you learn something of the background of the formulas, what they are good for, and what they are not. That knowledge will give you greater confidence and method in tailoring your text for a specific audience.

What is readability?

Readability is what makes some texts easier to read than others. It is often confused with legibility, which concerns typeface and layout.

George Klare (1963) defines readability as “the ease of understanding or comprehension due to the style of writing.” This definition focuses on writing style as separate from issues such as content, coherence, and organization. In a similar manner, Gretchen Hargis and her colleagues at IBM (1998) state that readability, the “ease of reading words and sentences,” is an attribute of clarity.

The creator of the SMOG readability formula G. Harry McLaughlin (1969) defines readability as: “the degree to which a given class of people find certain reading matter compelling and comprehensible.” This definition stresses the interaction between the text and a class of readers of known characteristics such as reading skill, prior knowledge, and motivation.

Edgar Dale and Jeanne Chall’s (1949) definition may be the most comprehensive: “The sum total (including all the interactions) of all those elements within a given piece of printed material that affect the success a group of readers have with it. The success is the extent to which they understand it, read it at an optimal speed, and find it interesting.”

The classic readability formulas

Harry D. Kitson—Different readers, different styles Psychologist Harry D. Kitson (1921) published The Mind of the Buyer, in which he showed how and why readers of different magazines and newspapers differed from one another. Although he was not aware of Sherman’s work, he found that sentence length and word length measured in syllables are important measures of readability. Rudolph Flesch would incorporate both these variables in his Reading Ease formula 30 years later.

Although Kitson did not create a readability formula, he showed how his principles worked in analyzing two newspapers, the Chicago Evening Post and the Chicago American and two magazines, the Century and the American. He analyzed 5000 consecutive words and 8000 consecutive sentences in the four publications. His study showed that the average word and sentence length were shorter in the Chicago American newspaper than in the Post, and the American magazine’s style simpler than the Century’s, accounting for the differences in their readership.

The Flesch Formulas:

Flesch indicated that he was working on a new formula element that was the “percentage of nondeclarative.sentences,” and that this element correctly indicated that James was more readable than Koffka. Flesch did come out with a revised formula the following year, but it did not contain the “percentage of nondeclarative sentences.” Instead, Flesch (1948) had dropped the count of “personal references” from the readability formula and used it to create a new “human interest” formula. Another change was that the count of affixes in the readability formula had been replaced by a measure of word length, the number of syllables per 100 words. TJie results were two formulas, the reading ease formula and the human interest formula, both still in use today.

The reading ease formula is as follows:

R.E. = 206.835 – .846 wl – 1.015 si

where R.E. = reading ease score

wl = number of syllables per 100 words si = average number of words per sentence

The resulting score should range between 0 and 100 and can be looked up in a chart such as the one presented in Table 7.1.

The human interest formula is as follows:

H.I. = 3.635 pw + .314 ps

where H.I. = human interest score

pw = number of personal words per 100 words ps = number of personal sentences per 100 sentences

The resulting score should fall between 0 and 100 and can be looked up in a chart such as the one in Table 7.2.

The Flesch reading ease formula has proved to be the most widely used readability for­mula (Klare, 1963). Jt was popularized in a book published in 1949— The Art of Readable Writing.

The Flesch reading ease formula has produced a number of useful offshoots. The Gun­ning fog index, developed by Robert Gunning (1952), is based on two elements: average sentence length in words and number of words of three syllables or more per 100 words. These two numbers are added and multiplied by .4, and the resulting number is the ap­proximate grade level at which the material can be read. When Gunning began his consult­ing work with newspapers, he was using the original Flesch formula that counted affixes ((X nning, 1945), and the formula that he later developed resembles the reading ease for­mula. At the earlier stage in Gunning’s career, the term fog index also had a different mean­ing—it referred to a “measure of uselessly long and complex words” (p. 12). The main advantage of the Gunning fog index over the Flesch reading ease formula is that the former

Table 7.1


Reading Ease Score Description of Style Estimated Redding Grade
90-100 Very easy 5th grade
80-90 Easy 6th grade
70-80 Fairly easy 7th grade
60-70 Standard 8th and 9th grade
50-60 Fairly difficult 10th to 12th grade
! 30-50 Difficult college
0-30 Very difficult college graduate



Human Interest Score                        Description of Style

0-10                                     Dull

10-:20                                   Mildly interesting

20-40                                    Interesting

40- 50                                   Highly interesting

60-100                                  Dramatic

Table from The An of Readable Writing by Rudolf Flesch. Copyright 1949,-1974 by Rudolf Flesch. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers Inc.

gives a grade level immediately while a reading ease score has to be looked up in a table to produce a grade level.

In another step of simplification, Wayne Danielson and Sam Dunn Bryan (1963) devel­oped a computerized readability formula in which the computer does the counts and the computations and gives a readability score. The formula is based on two elements that are similar to the two in the Flesch reading ease formula except that they are defined in units that the computer can recognize easily. They are: average number of characters per space (essentially a measure of word length) and average number of characters per sentence (es­sentially a measure of sentence length). The resulting score is very much like a reading ease score and in fact can be looked up on the Flesch reading ease chart.

Initially, in order to use the Danielson and Bryan computerized formula, you had to have the written material you wanted to analyze punched on cards, paper tape, or some other means of input that the computer could read. In some cases, this required keyboard- ing by hand. But in the case of wire copy such as that provided by the Associated Press, the hand keyboarding was not necessary. Wire copy is normally available in the form of punched paper tapes that can be used to operate a typesetting machine in a newspaper building. Danielson discovered that it was necessary to modify the tape punching machine only slightly for the paper tapes to be read directly into a computer. This allowed him to study the readability of the Associated Press output for a week without keyboarding the material. Today most wire service copy is transmitted as electrical impulses to be stored in computer memory banks, making it easy to apply computerized readability formulas, to it.

Also available are tables that eliminate the computation necessary to apply the Flesch reading ease and human interest formulas (Farr & Jenkins, 1949). To determine the read­ing ease score of a sample, you simply look up the average sentence length at the side of the table and the number of syllables per 100 words across the top of the table. Where the row ?nd the column intersect can be found the reading ease score. A similar table for the human it terest score has percentage of personal sentences at the side and percentage of personal words across the top.

Using a Formula:

An example will help to bring out exactly how the Flesch reading ease formula can be applied to a piece of writing. We will take a sample of writing and make the necessary counts and do the computations to come up with a reading ease score. Before we begin, we need to present exact definitions of some of the things we will be counting. Flesch defines a word as a letter, number, symbol, or group of letters, numbers, or symbols surrounded by white space. Thus, 1949, C.O.D., and unself-conscious would all be counted as words. Flesch defines a sentence as a unit of thought that is grammatically independent and is usually marked by a period, question mark, exclamation point, semi­colon, colon, or dash. Syllables are counted the way you would pronounce the word. For example, 1916 would count as a four-syllable word. Since you need to find the number of syllables per 100 words, one shortcut that is sometimes useful is to start by writing down 100 and then count only the words of two syllables or more, writing down a 1 for a two- syllable word, a 2 for a three-syllable word, and so forth. 1 hen you simply add all the numbers you have written down, including the 100. This can often save time because many words have only one syllable. Writing down the number of syllables for each word permits you to go back and check your work.

Now we are ready to apply the reading ease formula to the following sample—the begin­ning paragraphs of a news story written by a student.

The Texas Water Rights Commission (TWRC) voted Tuesday to allow the South Texas Nuclear Project the use of Colorado River water despite a warning from Atty. Gen. Johr -till that such action could result in state instituted court proceedings against TWRC.

Hill’s warning came at the commission’s meeting, after he advised it that the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) had no control over the unallocated waters involved in a debate between LCRA ana TWRC and should not be paid for the use of them.

The debate stemmed from a dispute between TWRC, which controls all the unallocated water in the state, and LCRA, which has power over all Colorado River water within a 10-county area, over who would profit from sale of the water.

This sample is more than 100 words long, so it is adequate to illustrate the workings of the formula, although you would probably measure the entire story if you were seriously attempting to determine its readability.

First, it is necessary to determine the average sentence length (si). Remember that LCRA, TWRC and 10-county should count as one word each. The sample contains 3 sen­tences and 124 words. Dividing 124 by 3 gives an average sentence length of 41.33 words.

Next, it is necessary to determine the number of syllables per 100 words (wl). The easi­est way to determine this is to count the syllables in the first 100 words. The 100th word is the word the before the word state in the third paragraph. The only tricky parts in count­ing the syllables might be the word TWRC, which includes six syllables when it is pro­nounced, and the words Atty. and Gen., which include three syllables each when pro­nounced in full. The number of syllables in the first 100 words is 189.

Next, we substitute these numbers for si and wl in the reading ease formula, and obtain the following:

R.E. = 206.835 – .846(189) – 1.015(41.33)

Performing the two numbers calculations gives the following.

R.E. = 206.835 – i5y.394 – 41.950

And doing the final subtractions gives 4.991, the reading ease score. This is a very low reading ease score. In the reading ease chart in Table 7.1, it falls in the “very difficult” category, where the estimated reading grade is “college graduate.” This is understandable when we look at the long sentences used, the acronyms (LCRA and TWRC), and the use of complicated terms (unallocated water). Of course, if the entire story had been analyzed, the reading ease score might have been higher. News writers often attempt to pack a great deal of information into the beginning of a news story, and this can make the beginning less readable than the rest of the story. This practice can be questioned, however; if the begin­ning of the story is not readable, people might not get to the later sections.

Continue Reading

Various Propaganda Techniques

Discuss the various techniques of propaganda with your own examples.

Propaganda Techniques

Propaganda is a set of the messages intended to influence the opinions of the masses, not giving the opponents any opportunity to rebut the idea. Instead of telling people the truth, propaganda often aims at manipulation of ideas to influence the behavior of a large number of people. So, it presents ideas selectively. Propaganda is related to advertising, where it is about promoting a product. It is also used to influence religious beliefs of society.

During the 20th century, the term propaganda acquired a negative meaning in the western countries. It meant, a deliberate dissemination of frequently false, but ‘obligating’ justifications of certain political ideologies. The propagandist seeks to alter the way people understand an issue in favor of the interest group.

The five types of propaganda techniques used in advertising are Bandwagon, Testimonial, Transfer, Repetition and Emotional words.

  • Bandwagon: – It aims at persuading people to do a certain thing because many other people are doing it. An example can be a soft drink advertisement wherein a large group of people is shown drinking the same soft drink. People feel induced to opt for that soft drink as it is shown to be consumed by many. Snob appeal is reverse of bandwagon. It indicates that buying a certain product will make you stand out from the rest, as the masses won’t afford to buy it.
  • Testimonial: – This propaganda technique uses words of an expert or a famous person to promote a particular idea. For example, a sports person is shown recommending a brand of sport shoes. Generally, people idealize celebrated figures. So celebrities are used to advertise certain products. A testimonial has to be reasonable. Advertisers are cautioned not to use false testimonials, as they lack authenticity.
  • Transfer: – In this technique, qualities of a well-known person are associated with a product to promote or demote it. Linking an item to a respected person is positive transfer. Creating an analogy between a disliked person and a product is negative transfer. It is also used during war times.
  • Repetition: – It is when the product name is repeated many times during an advertisement. This technique may use a jingle, which is appealing to the masses and fits in their minds.
  • Emotional words: – This is meant to generate positive feelings in the minds of the masses. Words like ‘luxury’, ‘paradise’ are used to evoke certain feelings in the minds of the people, which they associate with the product being sold.

Propaganda Techniques

Edward Filene helped establish the Institute of Propaganda Analysis in 1937 to educate the American public about the nature of propaganda and how to recognize propaganda techniques. Filene and his colleagues identified the seven most common “tricks of the trade” used by successful propagandists (Marlin 102-106Propaganda Critic: Introduction). These seven techniques are called:

  • Name Calling
  • Glittering Generalities
  • Transfer
  • Testimonial
  • Plain Folks
  • Card Stacking
  • Band Wagon

These techniques are designed to fool us because the appeal to our emotions rather than to our reason. The techniques identified by the Institute for Propaganda Analysis are further refined by Aaron Delwich in his website, Propaganda where he “discusses various propaganda techniques, provides contemporary examples of their use, and proposes strategies of mental self-defense.” By pointing out these techniques, we hope to join with others who have written on this topic to create awareness and encourage serious consideration of the influence of contemporary propaganda directed at us through the various media and suggest ways to guard against its influence on our lives.

Name Calling: Propagandists use this technique to create fear and arouse prejudice by using negative words (bad names) to create an unfavorable opinion or hatred against a group, beliefs, ideas or institutions they would have us denounce. This method calls for a conclusion without examining the evidence. Name Calling is used as a substitute for arguing the merits of an idea, belief, or proposal. It is often employed using sarcasm and ridicule in political cartoons and writing. When confronted with this technique the Institute for Propaganda Analysis suggests we ask ourselves the following questions: What does the name mean? Is there a real connection between the idea and the name being used? What are the merits of the idea if I leave the name out of consideration? When examining this technique try to separate your feelings about the name and the actual idea or proposal (Propaganda Critic: Common Techniques 1).

Glittering Generalities: Propagandists employ vague, sweeping statements (often slogans or simple catchphrases) using language associated with values and beliefs deeply held by the audience without providing supporting information or reason. They appeal to such notions as honor, glory, love of country, desire for peace, freedom, and family values. The words and phrases are vague and suggest different things to different people but the implication is always favorable. It cannot be proved true or false because it really says little or nothing at all. The Institute of Propaganda Analysis suggests a number of questions we should ask ourselves if we are confronted with this technique: What do the slogans or phrases really mean? Is there a legitimate connection between the idea being discussed and the true meaning of the slogan or phrase being used? What are the merits of the idea itself if it is separated from the slogans or phrases?

Transfer: Transfer is a technique used to carry over the authority and approval of something we respect and revere to something the propagandist would have us accept. Propagandists often employ symbols (e.g., waving the flag) to stir our emotions and win our approval. The Institute for Propaganda Analysis suggests we ask ourselves these questions when confronted with this technique. What is the speaker trying to pitch? What is the meaning of the thing the propagandist is trying to impart? Is there a legitimate connection between the suggestion made by the propagandist and the person or product? Is there merit in the proposal by itself? When confronted with this technique, question the merits of the idea or proposal independently of the convictions about other persons, ideas, or proposals.

Testimonial: Propagandists use this technique to associate a respected person or someone with experience to endorse a product or cause by giving it their stamp of approval hoping that the intended audience will follow their example. The Institute for Propaganda Analysis suggests we ask ourselves the following question when confronted with this technique. Who is quoted in the testimonial?  Why should we regard this person as an expert or trust their testimony? Is there merit to the idea or product without the testimony? You can guard yourself against this technique by demonstrating that the person giving the testimonial is not a recognized authority, prove they have an agenda or vested interest, or show there is disagreement by other experts.

Plain Folks: Propagandists use this approach to convince the audience that the spokesperson is from humble origins, someone they can trust and who has their interests at heart. Propagandists have the speaker use ordinary language and mannerisms to reach the audience and identify with their point of view. The Institute for Propaganda Analysis suggests we ask ourselves the following questions before deciding on any issue when confronted with this technique. Is the person credible and trustworthy when they are removed from the situation being discussed? Is the person trying to cover up anything? What are the facts of the situation? When confronted with this type of propaganda consider the ideas and proposals separately from the personality of the presenter.

Bandwagon: Propagandists use this technique to persuade the audience to follow the crowd. This device creates the impression of widespread support. It reinforces the human desire to be on the winning side. It also plays on feelings of loneliness and isolation. Propagandists use this technique to convince people not already on the bandwagon to join in a mass movement while simultaneously reassuring that those on or partially on should stay aboard. Bandwagon propaganda has taken on a new twist. Propagandists are now trying to convince the target audience that if they don’t join in they will be left out. The implication is that if you don’t jump on the bandwagon the parade will pass you by. While this is contrary to the other method, it has the same effect: getting the audience to join in with the crowd. The Institute of Propaganda Analysis suggests we ask ourselves the following questions when confronted with this technique. What is the propagandist’s program?  What is the evidence for and against the program? Even though others are supporting it, why should I? As with most propaganda techniques, getting more information is the best defense.  When confronted with Bandwagon propaganda, consider the pros and cons before joining in.

Card Stacking: Propagandist uses this technique to make the best case possible for his side and the worst for the opposing viewpoint by carefully using only those facts that support his or her side of the argument while attempting to lead the audience into accepting the facts as a conclusion. In other words, the propagandist stacks the cards against the truth. Card stacking is the most difficult technique to detect because it does not provide all of the information necessary for the audience to make an informed decision. The audience must decide what is missing. The Institute for Propaganda Analysis suggests we ask ourselves the following question when confronted with this technique: Are facts being distorted or omitted? What other arguments exist to support these assertions? As with any other propaganda technique, the best defense against Card Stacking is to get as much information that is possible before making a decision.

Continue Reading

Characteristics of Language

 What are those characteristics of language that cause problems in encoding and make communication difficult?


Characteristics of Language

The general semanticists were first led by Alfred Korzybski, a Polish count who emigrated to the United States. His seminal work, Science and Sanity, was popularized by Wendell Johnson. These scholars have been concerned with language and how it relates to our suc­cess in everyday living and our mental health. They argue that we run into many of our problems because we misuse language. They say we would misuse language less if we used it more the way scientists use it—so that it constantly refers to the realities it represents.

The general semanticists point out several characteristics of language that make it diffi­cult to use it carefully. These characteristics cause difficulty in encoding and make commu­nication difficult.

Language Is Static; Reality Is Dynamic:

Words themselves do not change over a period of time, yet the world around us is full of change. Modern science has shown that matter is ultimately made up of small particles moving very rapidly. A wooden table that appears to be solid is actually decaying and oxidizing. Twenty years from now it might not be a table at all, but a pile of firewood. Einstein’s formula E = mc2 brought out that even matter and energy are not distinct but can be converted one into the other. Modern biology shows the same pattern of constant change. The caterpillar becomes a butterfly. The hard shell crab loses its shell and temporarily becomes a soft shell crab so •hat it may grow bigger. The theory of evolution brought out that even the species are not permanent and distinctive but are changing and developing through time.

Reality is a process, yet the language we must use to describe it is fixed and static. Another example of the process nature of reality is the cycle of the day. The sun is constantly moving, and its position in the sky changes throughout the day. The words we have to describe that ever-changing process are primarily two: night and day. Anyone who has watched a sunset and tried to say exactly when it has become night recognizes the difficulty of fitting those two words to reality in an exact way. People have invented a few other words to help deal with that problem: twilight, dusk, dawn. But we still have only a handful of words to refer to an ever-changing process.

The Greek philosopher Heraciitus said, “One cannot step in the same river twice.” The Way of Practical Attainment in the teachings of Buddha puts it this way: “Everything is changeable, everything appears and disappears.” George Bernard Shaw is supposed to have said, “The only man who behaves’ sensibly is my tailor: he takes my measure anew each time he sees me, whilst all the rest go on with their old measurements and expect them to fit me. ‘ T. S. Eliot in The Cocktail Party wrote, “What was known of other people is only our memory of the moments during which we knew them. And they have changed since then … at every meeting we are meeting a stranger.”

The Chinese 13th-century classic Romance of the Three Kingdoms in the opening, “All Under Heaven,” begins, “Such is the grand scheme of all under heaven, things that are separated will eventually come together, things that are together will eventually break apart.”

Towns and people change, yet the words (names) we have to refer to them usually re­main the same. The fact that the word does not change over lime can blind us to the fact that the reality is changing. A man might spend twenty years dreaming of retiring in Pleas­ant Valley, a town he visited as a young man, only to go there and find that it has become a busy city. Eldridge Cleaver in 1968 was a militant, critical nf almost everything Ameri­can. Eldridge Cleaver today is a converted Christian who says things are better in the United States than they are in most countries. The name stayed the same; the behavior of the person being referred to changed drastically. The general semanticists recommend a technique of dating to help remind ourselves of this kind of change. Putting a date after the name would help remind us which Eldridge Cleaver we are referring to: Eldridge Cleaver1968 or Eldridge Cleaver,,90.

Alvin Toffler, author of Future Shock and The Third Wave, said, among other things:

We felt the metaphor of waves offers a powerful way to characterize periods of fundamen­tal change in society, . . . The emphasis on process that Korzybski stressed is present in all the intellectual work my wife and I have done over the years. (TofHer, 1989)

The world changes much faster than words do. We are always using verbal models that are somewhat out of date and no longer describe the world we live in. The survival of civilizations and individuals depends on their ability to adapt to change. Failure to recognize change with time leads to generalizations like “If Tom said it, it’s a lie. He’s lied to me before” or “Once a failure, always a failure.”

Language Is Limited; Reality Is Virtually Unlimited:

Wendell Johnson (1972) points out that there are 500,000 to 600,000 words in the En­glish language and that they must represent millions of individual facts, experiences, and relationships. The vocabularies that people ordinarily use are much smaller. In telephone conversations, people typically use a vocabulary of about 5,000 words, and the average novel uses a vocabulary of about 10,000 (Miller, 1963,p. 121). This might suggest that our vocabularies are normally sufficient for everyday communication, but it is not difficult to think of cases in which our vocabularies begin to appear limited.

Suppose someone were to place a dozen oranges on a table before you and randomly pick one of them and ask you to describe it in words. Could you describe it in such a way that someone else who had not been present could later pick that orange out of the dozen? Unless by luck the orange had some obvious deformity, the task would probably be diffi­cult. The point is that we can make more distinctions in reality than we have words to describe easily.

The same kind of problem shows up on a more practical level in giving physical descrip­tions of people. Sometimes it seems as if people are only a little easier to describe than the oranges in the example just given. The problem shows up frequently in law enforcement work, where people have to describe another person so exactly that the person can be rec­ognized by other people. Many people often aren’t very good at this, partly because they don’t observe carefully but also because only a limited number of words exist for describ­ing people.

Or think of the problem of describing in words some continuous process, such as play­ing a violin, riding a bicycle, or tying a shoe. Most people would find these acts difficult to convey in words, and they are the kinds of things that are typically taught by one person showing another. Something as simple as the correct way to hold a guitar might be almost impossible to express in words, and a guitar book for beginners will usually caption a pic­ture to get the message across. The writer of a beginner’s guitar manual has a similar prob­lem in communicating what certain guitar effects are supposed to sound like when they are done correctly. Such a writer might be forced to describe a certain rhythm pattern by in­venting words such as “boom-chicka, ioom-chicka.” Even these invented words would’ only approximate the desired sound.

Because of the limited nature of our knowledge and our language, general semanticists stress you can never say all about anything. Thomas Edison said, “We don’t know one millionth of one percent about anything.” General semanticists recommend a technique of putting etc. at the end of any statement to remind yourself that more could be said about anything. (If you don’t actually say or write the etc., you can at least think it.) The general semanticists named their journal ETC. to stress the importance of this idea.

Language Is Abstract:

Abstraction is a process of selecting some details and leaving out other details. Any use of language involves some abstraction. And indeed, abstraction is one of the most useful features of language. It allows us to think in categories, and this gives us the ability to generalize.

In classifying a number of fruits into categories—apple, pear, orange, and peach, for instance, we are selecting some details, such as their color, shape, and texture, and ignor­ing others, such as their weight. We could classify them another way, into categories such As six-ounce fruits, seven-ounce fruits, eight-ounce fruits, and So forth; in this case we

would be selecting a different detail, their weight, and ignoring the details we paid attention to at first. Much human knowledge is intimately bound up in the process of categorizing or classifying we learn that certain red, round objects are good to eat, and giving those objects a name makes it easier to remember that knowledge and pass it on to others.

Abstraction is a useful characteristic of words, but it is also one that can lead to problem particularly when people are not aware of abstraction.

All words involve some abstraction, or leaving out of details, but some words are more. Abstract than others. And as words become more and more abstract, their correspondence to reality becomes less and less direct. S. I. Hayakawa(1964, p. 179) has developed a useful diagram to show the way words can have differing degrees of abstraction. His diagram, called an “abstraction ladder,” is based on a concept developed by Korzybski (1958, p. -” i called the “structural differential. An example of an abstraction ladder appears in Figure.

The abstraction ladder in Figure 5.1 takes a particular object, an automobile belonging to one of the authors of this text, and shows how it can be referred to at different levels of :. Abstraction. The lowest level of abstraction, at which no details are left out, is the process level at which scientists using instruments can observe the car. The second level is car as the object that we can experience with our senses. Notice that even at this level, the level of everyday observation, some details are being left out. This is partly because the eye can process more information than the brain. But it is also because we can observe from c. 3ne point at a time. When we observe the car from the front, we do not see the details se back. And we see only the surface, not the internal structure of the car. Even in observation some abstraction or leaving out of details takes place. The third level is the first level, the first level involving the use of words. At this level there is one word or : that refers uniquely to the one car being described. This could be the phrase Werner t; Accord. At this level, the word being used refers to the one particular object. At this level, we can use the word Honda to refer to the same object. We have then assigned object to a category, the category of all Hondas. We have left out the detail i: -d distinguish that particular Honda from all other Hondas. At the next level, that that of the word car, we would be including not only Hondas but also Volkswagens, Fords,

Verbal Levels  
8 Transportation
7 Land transportation
6 Motor vehicle
5 Car
4 Honda
3 Servin’s Honda Accord
Non Verbal Levels  
2 (Object Level) The maroon Honda Accord in the parking lot that we can see and touch
1 (Process Level) The car as atomic process


Cadillacs, and all other makes, so still more distinguishing detail would be left out. At the sixth level, we could refer to the car as a motor vehicle, putting it into a category that also includes trucks and jeeps and leaving out still more detail. At the seventh level, we could use the term land transportation, categorizing the car with railroad trains and snowmobiles. And at the eighth level, we could refer to the car with the word transportation, putting it in a class that would also include airplanes and ships. Notice that at each level more detail is left out until at the eighth level we come to a very abstract word, transportation. This word does not suggest a particular picture to the mind the way the word Honda does. Some people might hear the word transportation and visualize a boat, while others might visual­ize a truck, and many others would have no clear picture of anything. That is one of the characteristics of abstract words: they do not suggest a clear picture of something in reality, and people often have very different meanings in mind for them.

Because our language is limited and because we abstract and categorize, language com­pels us to emphasize similarities but permits us to ignore differences. We see similarities by ignoring differences. There are similarities among different things, just as there are differ­ences among similar things.

A well-known historian and philosopher of science, J. Bronowski, said, “The action of putting things which are not identical into a group or class is so familiar that we forget how sweeping it is. The action depends on recognizing a set of things to be alike when they are not identical. . . . Habit makes us think the likeness obvious” (Bronowski, 1951, p. 21).

With the exception of proper nouns, our language has no words for unique events, feel­ings, and relationships. We speak, perceive, and think of the world in categories. These categories are in our language and in our heads; they are not in nature.

We can use language to group together any two things (categorization). We can use language to place anything in more than one category. We can use language to treat things as identical (through categorization) when, indeed, they are unique. Language is some­times used in this way to imply “guilt by association.” What we call a person depends on our purpose, our projections, and our evaluations, yet the person does not change when we change the label.

One political campaign handbill depicts a red scorpion, the body labeled “DEMO PARTY” and the segments of the long tail, which ends in a poisonous stinger, labeled “queens; communist party programs; funny farm refugees; dope fiends; etc.” The bottom of the handbill contains a mail-in coupon that includes the statement, “I certify that I am of good character with Anglo Saxon blood foaming and churning through my veins.” This handbill supposedly originates with an organization called Americans to Restore Freedom.

Another leaflet listed 52 “reasons” why a candidate for the presidency should be de­feated, including:

Favorite candidate of the national homosexual-lesbian society.

Favorite candidate of the marijuana cult.

Has the support of all left wing organizations everywhere.

Favorite candidate of the left wing New York Times.

Supported enthusiastically by the widow of Martin Luther King.

He is the enthusiastic choice of the treason machine, sometimes referred to as the na­tional networks.

Supports Cesar Chavez, who is considered as a spearhead of the Marxist revolution among farm workers.

Supports the World Council of Churches which donates to international revolutionary activities.

Assumptions Built into Languages:

The structure and vocabulary of every language contains many assumptions about the nature of reality. Many are so ingrained that we are no longer aware of them. Wendell Jhonson observed that the language we use not only puts words in our mouths, but it also puts notions in our heads. Benjamin Lee Whorf put it this way:

And every language is a vast pattern-system, different from others in which is culturally ordained the forms and categories by which the personality not only communicates, but analyzes nature, notices or neglects types of relationships and phenomena, channels his reasoning, and builds the house of his consciousness. Each language performs this artificial chopping up of the continuous spread and flow of existence in a different way. (Whorf, 1952, p. 173)

One example of hidden assumptions in the English language is the many instances of sexism, often unperceived. The women’s movement has made us aware of many of them. Other languages face the same problems. For example, the Chinese language is built of ideograms (characters, symbols, or figures that suggest the idea of an object without expressing its name). The ideogram representing woman is often combined with other ideograms for other meanings. The combination of woman and child means good; woman and eyebrow means flattery; and woman repeated three times means treachery. The ideogram . woman is also used in other combinations, including adultery and lustful.

As Wendell Johnson observed, the language we use not only puts words in our mouths, but also puts notions in our heads—a major point mass communicators need to be aware of.

Continue Reading

Perception, Psychological Factors that Influence Perception in Mass Communication

Q.5:Define perception and identify some psychological factors that influence perception. Also highlight the role of perception in mass communication.


Perception, Psychological Factors that Influence Perception in Mass Communication


Much of the research showing that perception is influenced by assumptions has come from a group of researchers working at one time or another at Princeton University. These researchers, who have included Adelbert Ames, Jr., Hadley Cantril, Edward Engels, Albert Hastorf, William H. Ittelson, Franklin p. Kilpatrick, and Hans Tech, have presented what has been called the transactional view of perception. The concept is abstract and somewhat philosophical, but essentially it means that both the perceiver and the world are active participants in an act of perception (Tech & MacLean, 1962).

The transactional thinkers have developed a number of convincing demon­strations that perception is based on assumptions. One of the most striking, invented by Adelbert Ames, Jr., is called the monocular distorted room. This room is constructed so that the rear wall is a trapezoid, with the vertical distance up and down the left edge of the wall longer than the vertical distance up and down the right edge of the wall. The rear wall is positioned at an angle so that the left edge is farther back than the right edge. This angle is carefully selected so that the room will appear to be an ordinary rectangular room to an observer looking through a small hole at the front of the room. If two people walk into the room and stand in the rear corners, something interesting happens. The one on the right appears to a viewer looking through the hole to be very large because he or she is closer to the viewer and fills most of the distance from the floor to the ceiling. The one on the left appears to be very small because he or she is farther away and fills less of the distance from the floor to the ceiling. This illusion occurs because the mind of the viewer is assuming that the rear wall is parallel to the front wall of the room. This assumption is based on prior experience with other rooms that looked similar. The illusion is so strong that if the two people in the corners switch places, one will appear to grow larger and the other will appear to get smaller, right before the viewer’s eye.

Psychological Factors that Influence Perception:

Cultural Expectations and Perception

Some of the most striking evidence for the influence of cultural expectations on perception comes from research on binocular rivalry (Bagby, 1957). It is possible to construct a device that has two eyepieces like a pair of binoculars, but can be used to present a different picture to each eye. When this is done, people seldom see both pictures. They more often see one picture and not the other or one picture and then the other. Sometimes they see a mixture of some elements of each picture, but this usually occurs after seeing one picture alone first. Bagby used this instrument to investigate the effect of cultural background on perception.

Subjects were 12 Americans (6 males and 6 females) and 12 Mexicans (6 males and 6 females). Except for one matched pair made up of a person from each country, the subjects had not traveled outside their own country. Bagby prepared ten pairs of photographic slides, each pair containing a picture from the American culture and a picture from the Mexican culture. One pair, for instance, showed a baseball scene and a bullfight scene. Subjects were exposed to each slide for 60 seconds and asked to describe what they saw. The assignment of the Mexican or the American picture to the left or right eye was randomized to eliminatethe effect of eye dominance. The first 15 seconds of viewing for each slide were scored for which scene was dominant—the Mexican or

TABLE :Perceptual predominance in 10 pairs of pictures for Mexican and American subjects

Trials Where

  Trials Where Americana Total Number
  Mexicans Dominated Dominated of Trials
Mexican males (6) 44 16 60
Mexican females (6) 45 15 60
American males (6) 7 53 60
American females (6) 12 48 60

source From J. W. Baby, “A Cross-cultural Study of Perceptual Predominance in Binocular Rivalry,” Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 54 (1957): 333. Copyright © 1957 by the American Psychological Association, Reprinted by permission, the American. Dominance was determined by the scene that was reported first or was reported as showing up for the longest period of time. The results (Table 4.1) indicate a strong tendency for subjects to see the scenes from their own culture rather than the scenes from an unfamiliar culture.

Motivation and Perception:

One of a number of experiments that shows the effect of motivation on percep­tion was done by McClelland and Atkinson (1948). The type of motivation being investigated was hunger. Subjects were Navy men waiting for admission to a submarine training school. One group had gone 16 hours without food, a second 4 hours without food, and the third 1 hour without food. All subjects were told they were participating in a test of their ability to respond to visual stimulation at very low levels. The men went through 12 trials in which a picture was supposedly projected, but actually nothing was projected at all. To make this realistic, during the instructions they were shown a picture of a car and then the illumination was turned down until the car was only faintly visible. In some of the trials subjects were given clues such as: “Three objects on a table. What are they?”

The results (Table 4.2) showed that the frequency of food-related responses increased reliably as the hours of food deprivation increased. Furthermore, in another phase of the experiment food-related objects were judged larger than neutral objects by hungry subjects but not by subjects who had recently eaten.


Mood and Perception:

An experiment using hypnosis demonstrated that mood has an effect on percep­tion. Leuba and Lucas (1945) hypnotized subjects, suggested to them that they were experiencing a certain mood, and then asked them to tell what they saw

in a picture. Each subject was put in a happy mood and then shown six pictures. Then the subject was told to forget the pictures and what had been said about them and was put in a critical mood and again shown the same six pictures. Finally, the subject was given the same treatment once more except that the suggested mood was anxious. The descriptions of the pictures were drastically different depending on the mood the person was in. They differed not only in the train of thought the pictures suggested but also in the details noticed.

One picture showed some young people digging in a swampy area. Here is one subject’s description of that picture while in a happy mood:

It looks like fun; reminds me of summer. That’s what life is for; working out in the open, really living—digging in the dirt, planting, watching things grow.

Here is the same subject describing the same picture while in a critical mood:

Pretty horrible land. There ought to be something more useful for kids of that age to do instead of digging in that stuff. It’s filthy and dirty and good for nothing.

Here is the same subject describing the same picture while in an anxious mood:

They’re going to get hurt or cut. There should be someone older there who knows what to do in case of an accident. I wonder how deep the water is.

Attitude and Perception:

The effects of attitude on perception were documented in a study of perception of a football game by Hastorf and Cantrii (1954). The 1951 football clash between Dartmouth and Princeton was an exciting and controversial one. Princeton’s star player Dick Kazmaier was taken out of the game in the second quarter with a broken nose. In the third quarter, a Dartmouth player received a broken leg. Discussion of the game continued for weeks, with editorials in the two campus newspapers charging the other school with rough play. Hastorf and Cantrii took advantage of this situation to conduct a study in perception. They showed a film of the game to two groups: two fraternities at Dartmouth and two undergraduate clubs at Princeton. Students from both schools saw about the same number of infractions by the Princeton team. But Princeton students saw an average of 9.8 infractions by the Dartmouth team, while Dartmouth students saw an average of 4.3 infractions by the Dartmouth team. That is, the Princeton students saw more than twice as many violations by the Dartmouth team as did the Dartmouth students. Hastorf and Cantrii state, “It seems clear that the ‘game’ actually was many different games and that each version of the events that transpired was just as ‘real’ to a particular person as other versions were to other people” (p. 132).





So far this discussion of research has shown that perception in general is influenced by assumptions (often unconscious), cultural expectations, needs, moods, and attitudes. The same kinds of forces are at work when people respond to mass communication messages, as the following cases show.

U.S. Army TV Spots:

Mass media messages are often misunderstood. Keck and Mueller (1994) con ducted a study of U.S. Army television commercials to see whether viewers were perceiving the intended messages, and if not, what messages they were perceiving.

The study focused on two 30-second TV spots. One spot, titled “Dear Dad,” was intended to show that Army service builds personal growth, maturation, and character development, and to portray the Army as exciting, adventurous, and challenging. The second spot, titled “Basic Excellence,” portrayed basic training as a means to discover one’s ability and to overcome personal fears and inhibi­tions. The target audience for the ads was white males between 18 and 24 years of age.

A group of 396 respondents drawn from the target audience was then shown the spots and asked to fill out a questionnaire. Results showed that some of the intended messages were being perceived by the audience. For instance, 61 percent of the respondents agreed that the activities portrayed in “Basic Excellence” were exciting and challenging. Also, 68 percent agreed that a senseof personal accomplishment could be gained from engaging in the activities highlighted in the spot.

But large percentages also perceived unintended messages. For instance, 39 percent perceived that the drill sergeant was not portrayed realistically in the advertisement. And 66 percent perceived that engaging in the activities portrayed in the commercial would not lead to a good job.

There were also systematic relationships between misperceiving the ads and various characteristics of the audience. For instance, 54 percent of the black respondents felt that the drill sergeant in “Basic Excellence” was accurately portrayed, while only 26 percent of the white respondents and 32 percent of the Hispanic and Asian respondents felt that he was.

In addition, 84 percent of those with no college education thought that “Dear Dad” was a true representation of life in the Army, while only 27 percent of those with some college and 9 percent of the college grads felt that it was.

Antiprejudice Cartoons

Satire is a familiar journalistic device. It has been used in works ranging from Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels to Garry Trudeau’s “Doonesbury” comic strip. But how is satire perceived?

The American Jewish Committee was interested in studying the effects of satire in reducing prejudice. It sponsored a study by Eunice Cooper and Marie Jahoda (1947) that investigated the effects of antiprejudice cartoons. The cartoons featured an exaggerated figure named “Mr. Biggott,” who appeared in situations designed to make prejudice appear ridiculous. For instance, one cartoon showed Mr. Biggott lying in a hospital bed and dying. He is saying to the doctor, “In case I should need a transfusion, doctor, I want to make certain I don’t get anything but blue, sixth-generation American blood!” The intention was that people looking at the cartoon would see how ridiculous prejudice is and would lessen their own feelings of prejudice.

Cooper and Jahoda tested the cartoons on 160 white, non-Jewish working- class men. About two-thirds of the sample misunderstood the cartoons. Some said the purpose of the cartoons was to legitimize prejudice. These people explained that the cartoons showed that other people had attitudes of prejudice, so the viewer should feel free to have those attitudes also. The cartoons were most likely to be understood by respondents low in prejudice and most likely to be misunderstood by respondents high in prejudice. Cooper and Jahoda suggested that fear of disapproval by a social group was one of the factors leading to this evasion of propaganda. They argued that accepting the antipreju­dice message threatened the individual’s security in groups the individual valued.

This study suggests that making fun of prejudice is not an effective way of reducing it. People tend to view satiric cartoons differently, depending on their own attitudes. Both prejudiced and unprejudiced people tended to see elements in the cartoons that confirmed their existing attitudes.


The mass media frequently employ pictures as part of messages. What do we know about how people interpret these pictures? Scott (1994) has argued that we need a theory of visual rhetoric to help us understand how people process pictures, and has offered some thoughts to move us forward in developing such a theory.

Scott suggests that much research on images in advertising has dealt with pictures either as transparent representations of reality or as conveyors of an emotional appeal. She argues for a third possibility—that pictures can act as symbols and can be used to construct rhetorical arguments. She states that visual elements are capable of representing concepts, abstractions, actions, metaphors, and modifiers, and that they can be assembled into complex arguments. Further­more, this conceptualization of images means that pictures need to be processed cognitively like other forms of information.

Scott’s article brings out three ways of thinking about pictures in the mass media—as transparent representations of reality, as conveyors of affective or emotional appeal, and as complex combinations of symbols put together to make up rhetorical arguments. Different types of pictures in the mass media may be used in these three ways to varying degrees. For instance, news photos may be higher in use as transparent representations of reality than pictures in advertisements, while pictures in advertisements may be used as parts of rhetorical arguments more than news photos. Both types of images may be at times high in conveying affective or emotional appeal (see Table 4.3).

To illustrate the rhetorical use of visual images, Scott analyzes a Clinique ad that shows tubes of lipstick and makeup immersed in a glass of soda water garnished with a slice of lime.

The image is not intended to be taken literally—the message is not that the lipstick and makeup tubes are waterproof, for instance. Scott says we can restate the message of the image in verbal terms in this way “Clinique’s new summer line of makeup is as refreshing as a tall glass of soda with a twist.” The ad is essentially a visual simile. It is an example of a visual trope, an argument presented in a figurative form in order to break through a viewer’s skepticism, boredom, or resistance.

Perceiving the Clinique ad correctly requires some rather complex informa­tion processing on the part of the perceiver. The viewer must compare two rather dissimilar things—soda water and cosmetics—and deduce what they have in common. Of several things they have in common, the correct one must be selected (“refreshing” but not “tasteless”) in order to arrive at the simile.

Continue Reading