media influence bullet theory by 50A1Mpa2


									The Frankfurt School and the Bullet or Hypodermic Needle Theory:
The Bullet Theory holds that the mass media are so powerful that they can ‘shoot’ or
‘inject’ their messages straight into the viewer’s head. The passive viewers (referred to
collectively as the ‘masses’) are immediately influenced by the message. According to this
theory, there is only one way for an audience to read a particular media ‘text’.

The people who began the Frankfurt School were mainly German academics (many of whom
were Jewish) who had fled Nazi Germany prior to World War Two. They had seen how an entire
nation had been influenced to become firmly anti-Jewish. The Frankfurt School saw the mass
media as a bad influence and believed in the powerlessness of the mass media’s audience. They
believed modern culture had been taken over by the mass media, which shaped every aspect of
their lives.

The Frankfurt School proposed the Bullet (sometimes referred to as the Hypodermic Needle)
Theory, the first major communication theory to be developed at a time when the media was
becoming a force to be reckoned with. According to this theory, the masses are ‘sitting ducks’
who passively absorb all the media material ‘shot’ at them and end up thinking what they have
been told. The audience is given virtually no credit for being able to discern truth from fiction.
The media is seen as substantially shaping their lives.

With the development of television after World War Two and the very rapid increase in
advertising, concern about the ‘power’ of the media continued to mount and we find that concern
reflected in the popular press. Today, incidents such as the Columbine High School massacre are
sometimes blamed on the media. Some people have argued that exposure to violent movies, video
games and songs have caused violent acts. For example, in the popular press, Michael Ryan was
reported to have gone out and shot people at random in Hungerford (UK) because he had watched
Rambo videos.

There are still people who believe that the Bullet Theory is correct, and believe that the ideas that
shaped this theory are valid, however these people are certainly in the minority. There is a wealth
of research to suggest that audience members actively choose which messages they attend to and
how they interpret them.

The hypodermic needle model is a model of communications also referred to
as the magic bullet perspective. Essentially, this model holds that an intended
message is directly received and wholly accepted by the receiver. The model
emerged from the Marxist Frankfurt School of intellectuals in the 1930s to explain
the rise of Nazism in Germany.

The most famous example of what would be considered the result of the magic
bullet or hypodermic needle model was the 1938 broadcast of The War of the
Worlds and the subsequent reaction of its mass American audience.
The phrasing "hypodermic needle" is meant to give a mental image of the direct,
strategic, and planned infusion of a message into an individual. This view entails
a conceptually fatal flaw in that it tends to ignore matters such as interpretation
which are crucial aspects to the communicative process.
A more modern version is the two-step flow of communication theory.
This view of propaganda took root after World War I and was championed by
theorists such as Lasswell in his pioneer work Propaganda Technique in the
World War (1927). He noted that the people had been duped and degraded by
propaganda during the war. Works such as Lasswell's expressed a fear of
propaganda. Lasswell based his work on a stimulus-response model rooted in
learning theory. Focusing on mass effects, this approach viewed human
responses to the media as uniform and immediate. E. D. Martin expressed this
approach thusly: "Propaganda offers ready-made opinions for the unthinking
herd" (cited in Choukas, 1965, p. 15). Known as the "Magic Bullet" or
"Hypodermic Needle Theory" of direct influence effects, it was not as widely
accepted by scholars as many books on mass communication indicate. The
magic bullet theory was not based on empirical generalizations from research but
rather on assumptions of the time about human nature. People were assumed to
be "uniformly controlled by their biologically based 'instincts' and that they react
more or less uniformly to whatever 'stimuli' came along" (Lowery & DefFleur,
1995, p. 400). As research methodology became more highly developed, it
became apparent that the media had selective influences on people.

Hypodermic Needle Theory

direct influence via mass media
Or: Magic Bullet Theory
(in Dutch also known as: ‘almacht van de media-theorie’, stimulus-response,
injectienaald, transportband, lont in het kruidvat theorie).
History and Orientation
The "hypodermic needle theory" implied mass media had a direct, immediate and
powerful effect on its audiences. The mass media in the 1940s and 1950s were
perceived as a powerful influence on behavior change.
Several factors contributed to this "strong effects" theory of communication, including:
- the fast rise and popularization of radio and television
- the emergence of the persuasion industries, such as advertising and propaganda

- the Payne Fund studies of the 1930s, which focused on the impact of motion pictures
on children, and
- Hitler's monopolization of the mass media during WWII to unify the German public
behind the Nazi party
Core Assumptions and Statements
The theory suggests that the mass media could influence a very large group of people
directly and uniformly by ‘shooting’ or ‘injecting’ them with appropriate messages
designed to trigger a desired response.
Both images used to express this theory (a bullet and a needle) suggest a powerful and
direct flow of information from the sender to the receiver. The bullet theory graphically
suggests that the message is a bullet, fired from the "media gun" into the viewer's
"head". With similarly emotive imagery the hypodermic needle model suggests that
media messages are injected straight into a passive audience which is immediately
influenced by the message. They express the view that the media is a dangerous means
of communicating an idea because the receiver or audience is powerless to resist the
impact of the message. There is no escape from the effect of the message in these
models. The population is seen as a sitting duck. People are seen as passive and are
seen as having a lot media material "shot" at them. People end up thinking what they
are told because there is no other source of information.
New assessments that the Magic Bullet Theory was not accurate came out of election
studies in "The People's Choice," (Lazarsfeld, Berelson and Gaudet, 1944/1968). The
project was conducted during the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940 to determine
voting patterns and the relationship between the media and political behavior. The
majority of people remained untouched by the propaganda; interpersonal outlets
brought more influence than the media. The effects of the campaign were not all-
powerful to where they persuaded helpless audiences uniformly and directly, which is the
very definition of what the magic bullet theory does. As focus group testing,
questionnaires, and other methods of marketing effectiveness testing came into
widespread use; and as more interactive forms of media (e.g.: internet, radio call-in
shows, etc.) became available, the magic bullet theory was replaced by a variety of
other, more instrumental models, like the two step of flow theory and diffusion of
innovations theory.
Conceptual Model

Magic bullet theory model
Source: Katz & Lazarsfeld (1955)
Favorite Methods
To be added.
Scope and Application
Mass media.

The classic example of the application of the Magic Bullet Theory was illustrated on
October 30, 1938 when Orson Welles and the newly formed Mercury Theater group
broadcasted their radio edition of H.G. Wells' "War of the Worlds." On the eve of
Halloween, radio programming was interrupted with a "news bulletin" for the first time.
What the audience heard was that Martians had begun an invasion of Earth in a place
called Grover's Mill, New Jersey.
It became known as the "Panic Broadcast" and changed broadcast history, social
psychology, civil defense and set a standard for provocative entertainment.
Approximately 12 million people in the United States heard the broadcast and about one
million of those actually believed that a serious alien invasion was underway. A wave of
mass hysteria disrupted households, interrupted religious services, caused traffic jams
and clogged communication systems. People fled their city homes to seek shelter in
more rural areas, raided grocery stores and began to ration food. The nation was in a
state of chaos, and this broadcast was the cause of it.
Media theorists have classified the "War of the Worlds" broadcast as the archetypal
example of the Magic Bullet Theory. This is exactly how the theory worked, by injecting
the message directly into the "bloodstream" of the public, attempting to create a uniform
thinking. The effects of the broadcast suggested that the media could manipulate a
passive and gullible public, leading theorists to believe this was one of the primary ways
media authors shaped audience perception.

1. The Hypodermic Needle Model

Dating from the 1920s, this theory was the
first attempt to explain how mass audiences
might react to mass media. It is a crude
model (see picture!) and suggests that
audiences passively receive the information
transmitted via a media text, without any attempt on their part to process or challenge
the data. Don't forget that this theory was developed in an age when the mass media
were still fairly new - radio and cinema were less than two decades old. Governments
had just discovered the power of advertising to communicate a message, and produced
propaganda to try and sway populaces to their way of thinking. This was particularly
rampant in Europe during the First World War (look at some posters here) and its

Basically, the Hypodermic Needle Model suggests that the information from a text passes
into the mass consciouness of the audience unmediated, ie the experience, intelligence
and opinion of an individual are not relevant to the reception of the text. This theory
suggests that, as an audience, we are manipulated by the creators of media texts, and
that our behaviour and thinking might be easily changed by media-makers. It assumes
that the audience are passive and heterogenous. This theory is still quoted during

moral panics by parents, politicians and pressure groups, and is used to explain why
certain groups in society should not be exposed to certain media texts (comics in the
1950s, rap music in the 2000s), for fear that they will watch or read sexual or violent
behaviour and will then act them out themselves.


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