At about the same time psychologists were demonstrating fascination with the individual psychological differences of audience members, sociologists were emerging with an entirely differ not picture of why mass communication did what it did to certain people. Building upon the stimulus-response model, they too sought to discover what variables intervened between media and audience. As sociologists, they looked first at the common characteristics shared by various segments of the audiences, while the psychologists were looking primarily at the nature of the individual in the audience
This social categories perspective was based largely on a collection of stereotypes held by social scientists. Researchers assumed that persons sharing particular demographic characteristic! would have more or less uniform reactions to a given set of stimuli. Demographic variables-such as age, sex, income level, educational attainment, rural-urban residence, or religious affiliation–were seen as the basic distinctions between and guides to the type of communication content a given individual would or would not select from the available media
Whatever unit of analysis they studied-whether it was A public, mass, or audience-sociologists conceived of its membership dispersed group of individuals who never meet together and whose interaction must take place indirectly, through media. Therefore, public opinion or mass behavior was seen as merely the summation of all the private decisions made and acted upon acting on their own. Naturally, audience analysis, surveys, and demographic variables received the lion’s share of these sociologists’ attentions. They compiled study after study of the ways in which different categories of individuals utilized, learned from, and were persuaded by the mass media. Political scientists, intrigued by this research perspective, contributed volumes of voter-behavior studies and established numerous opinion-research centers .
Figure a.2 shows that, according to the social categories model of mass communication, audience members behave quite as Charles Wright has described them; they are anonymous to one another and to the source of communication. It also may be worth noting that social categories research produced a great deal of quantitative and descriptive data about what categories of people respond to what kinds of media content, but it paid very little attention to why people respond to the media the way they do. In essence, the generalizations about who reads, sees, or listens what, never became actual theories, but remained descriptive models of the process.
By 1940 scholars had come a long way from the hypodermic needle or bullet model of media effects. Even though their investigations into psychological and sociological characteristics as intervening variables in the mass communication process were .admirable, such investigations remained inconclusive. For one thing, neither the individual differences nor social categories approaches even hinted at the possibility that anything other than specific traits of audiences served as barriers or interventions between messages and effects. Basically, the models were still single-step views of causality.
By 1940 scholars had come a long way from the hypodermic needle or bullet model of media effects. Even though their investigations into psychological and sociological characteristics as intervening variables in the mass communication process were .admirable, such investigations remained inconclusive. For one thing, neither the individual differences nor social categories approaches even hinted at the possibility that anything other than specific traits of audiences served as barriers or interventions between messages and effects. Basically, the models were still single-step views of causality.constituted a more relevant portion of their decision-making than did their direct use of the mass media.
This finding was significant because it broke the back of the model of an Thomistic mass audience. People ,did talk to one another, despite sociologists’ pictures of an urbanized, indifferent, and defensively segregated humanity. “Informal communications” studies were born, and it was found that these informal communications networks, in which audiences talked to one another and Bough tout advice from opinion leaders, necessitated a new model of the influence of mass media
The 1940 study concluded that many voters had limited exposure to the mass media, but obtained most of their information from other people who had received it first hand. The stages of progression were therefore from the media sources directly to the opinion leaders, who passed it along to others (figure 3.3). Not only were opinion leaders passing along information, they were adding their own interpretations to it. But it was acceptable to the ultimate receivers, who actually sought out the ready-made conclusion
Sociologists therefore began to pay very close attention to the nature of the interpersonal influences. Why did certain kinds of people emerge as opinion leaders, what kinds of people relied on what kinds of opinion leaders for what kinds of information” and conclusions, etc.? It was found that opinion leaders are ..not
necessarily city council members, bank executives, chamber of commerce presidents, and the like. They exist everywhere, in the
classroom, in the shop, on the assembly line, in the ranks. They are those to whom others defer, possibly because of perceived expertise, certainly because of a confidence in them. They may be only vaguely recognized as opinion leaders. In their 1940 presidential election study, Bakersfield and Abelson cited the
example of a cafe waitress who accepted an unknown customer’s opinion overheard in a conversation because “he looked like he knew what he was talking about.” Thus, it is perceived expertise that matters. With reference to civic leaders and the like, whose prestige is great and whose opinions are sought, it is more likely that they hold their positions of prestige because they are, in effect, “natural” opinion leaders. This concept also goes .a long way toward explaining the popular appeal of certain charismatic leaders, to whom others defer in business, government, in society as a whole, and at the ballot box because “they look (and act) like they know what they’re doing.”