Mass Media Influence: 3 Theories About the Media’s Role

mass media influenceUnless you model your life off of those that shun society, such as ascetic monks or perhaps The Unabomber, chances are that you are exposed to mass media during most of your waking hours. Mass media refers to any type of communication, be it written, spoken, or broadcast, that reaches a large audience. This includes radio, television, film, the Internet, magazines, newspapers, or any other forum in which messages are disseminated on a large scale. While they may not necessarily be bad or harmful in and of themselves, they are quite influential on individual people, as well as society as a whole, which has led sociologists to refer to our culture as a “mediated culture”, in which media not only reflects culture, but creates it as well.

Today, we are discussing the influence of mass media, a topic which falls within the realm of sociology. If you would like to learn more about this subject, this coarse on the basics of sociology and this article on the many different careers in Sociology will get you better acquainted with this topic.

Three Theories About Media Influence

Whether you like it or not, the influence and reach of mass media is incalculable and ubiquitous. Everyone is exposed to it, and it affects how we feel about everything, including products, people, events, and even ourselves, and influences our sense of what is and isn’t important. Whereas media used used to appeal to a smaller portion of the population, regardless of income, location, and background, there is now something for everyone, with every segment of viewer being catered to in all conceivable ways. Mass media is often used to benefit someone, and if you have a business and think you could benefit from the media by gaining exposure, this course on promoting your business for free will help you get the message out.

A thorough investigation as to the influence of mass media is a subject more fitting for a college dissertation, so our limited space today will only allow for a brief discussion, in which we will focus on three sociological perspectives of the role and influence of mass media.

  1. Limited-Effects Theory: Coming about in the 1940s and 50s, this theory claims that more well-informed, experienced, intelligent people already have an opinion, and as a result, are minimally influenced by the media. Conversely, those who are less informed are more likely to be influenced by the media. One major issue with this theory is the fact that, in the 40s and 50s, media was nowhere near as widespread as it is these days. Also, it fails to take into account the fact that the media frames and limits the debating of issues, thus influencing the conclusions that people draw, and doing so in a covert manner.
  2. Class-Dominant Theory: This theory is especially relevant today, where a small fraction of the elite class controls most of the media outlets. With media conglomerates merging, and billionaires like Rupert Murdoch overseeing many media outlets, the class-dominant theory claims that these corporations, and the people that run them, dictate what goes out over the airwaves, and onto computers and papers, and as a result, are easily able to restrict what we as consumers know, and in the process, benefit themselves and their interests. Because most media outlets run on advertising dollars, this theory claims that they will do what it takes to keep any kind of negative stories or harmful impressions of corporate culture from being exposed.
  3. Culturalist Theory: This final theory is a combination of the other two, and states that people are influenced by the media as much as they allow themselves to be, creating their own meanings out of the messages the media offers them. Furthermore, their own experiences and knowledge influence how they take in these messages, with their age, income, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, etc. coloring how they process media, and how they create it, as well.

You can probably tell that any discussion of this subject could go one for quite some time, even the brief one we’ve mentioned today could fill a few pages. This is one of those rare subjects that, whether people know it or not, affects everyone, and one person’s opinion on the subject would be as valid as anyone else’s (assuming they aren’t a sociologist). If you’d like to learn more about different aspects of the media, this course on outsmarting the mass media, and this course on media and public relations will take you deeper into this interesting (and relevant) topic.