The greatest shortcoming of the two-step theory appears to be .t.hat if pursued too diligently, it discredits the considerable original, direct influence of the mass media. While the dimensions of this influence are not entirely known, it is safest to hypothesize that the real function of the mass media in molding public opinion lies in some combination of the two-step and other theories
There are other shortcomings to the two-step theory. It evolved from the political realm, which, because of its polarized nature in society, is relatively easy to study. Consequently, it omits many other factors that exist in broader issues involving the mass media-demographics and psycho-graphics, matters of taste, importance of the topics, and so forth. Because the studies used were concerned with presidential elections, they were necessarily concentrated in time. Public opinion formation is not so restricted. The studies were also conducted decades ago and have not been thoroughly updated on the same scale 88 the originals. Because the 1940 research had been”conducted in an atmosphere devoid of television, a medium whose full impact while unknown, is enormous, its direct applicability to contemporary political science is questionable
Once opinion leadership was studied, it was found not only that opinion leaders came in all sizes and shapes, but that their intervention between the media and audiences worked in more than one direction. Their influence was not always “downwards,” as when they interpreted the media messages for was “upwards” or back toward the media sources, when they helped tell gatekeepers how to do their job. At other times +heir influence was “side wards,” sharing insights with other opinion leaders. Indeed, the two-step flow was soon recognized as a multi step , because the social relations of audiences (and opinion leaders) are generally complex and not unidirectional or uni dimensional (figure 3.4). Surveys, previously used to study audiences, were found to be inadequate in giving an Understanding of these complex social relations.
In addition, further studies on interpersonal influences demonstrated that individuals’ sense of belongingness to a group! club, organization, or mass strongly affects the kinds of information sought and utilized. Group norms, whether .A informally agreed upon or spelled out in codes of behaviour, are significant variables. Shared opinions, attitudes, and values constitute a type of “social reality” that remains quite impervious to mass-mediated messages to the contrary. Naturally, media produced by one’s own group serve to maintain the status members utilize the media to reinforce their own individual and collective prejudices and values.
All in all, a wide body of research in social psychology has shown how groups and other individuals influence audience members’ reactions to mass media messages. Much of that research has been underwritten by advertisers interested in the effects of persuasion. Increasingly, however, the research is being done by entertainment and news researchers whose primary concern is getting individual and collective members of audiences to pay attention and remember what they are being shown; such researchers also have come to appreciate the importance of social influences upon individual audience members .
The Theories Modernize
Early models ‘and theories of mass communication inadequately accounted for subtle nuances in the mass media’s physical, social, and semantic environments. Complex interrelationships of source, message, medium, and receiver became more readily apparent when looked at through contemporary lenses focusing on such elements as feedback, noise, and competition for audience attention. Most fascinating of all seems to be the conclusion reached by many current media observers that much of the impact and effect of the mass media reside not in the hands of omnipotent media sources, but in the hands of the media users. As one generally accepted modem theory puts it, it is not just a case of what media do to people; it is a case of what people do with media. The recent emphasis on audiences, on the consumer-as-producer, may be the most significant finding by mass communication researchers in the past two or three decades.
These new models and theories of human behavior developed fairly logically from the findings of the 1940s that interpersonal and group relationships intervened between us and the primary forces of influence upon us. Once scholars began to recognize the extent of these intervening variables, it was only a matter of time before some began to conclude that if the relationship between the media and the audience is all this complex, they had better delay making pronouncements about absolute cause-effect relationships. The hesitancy may never have been more poignantly stated than in Bernard Bergson’s 1949 conclusion that “Some kinds of communication on some kinds of issues, brought to the attention of some kinds of people under some kinds of conditions, have some kinds of effects.” It was only natural for scientists to take a closer look at the subtleties. Significantly, few of them concluded that the media and messages made no difference in audience reactions. The problem became one of pinpointing all the variables in the equation to see if the cause-effect connections could be measured and controlled, or whether the impacts of media were due to a slow, imperceptible process of osmosis.
In short, the old hypodermic needle theories were being replaced by what might be called stalagmite theories: explanations showing how change occurs unnoticeable over a long period of time, as stalagmites form on cave floors after eons of steady dripping from above.
Numerous models and theorizes have emerged based on this stalagmite approach. Several of the most representative of these will be introduced; practical examples will show how they have helped us come to grips with the functions and impacts of mass communication in society.