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Mass communication plays an influential role in modern society. In this lesson, you’ll learn what mass communication is and about some theories related to it. You’ll also have a chance to take a short quiz after the lesson.

Mass Communication: Definition

Mass communication is a process in which a person, group of people, or an organization sends a message through a channel of communication to a large group of anonymous and heterogeneous people and organizations.

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You can think of a large group of anonymous and heterogeneous people as either the general public or a segment of the general public. Channels of communication include broadcast television, radio, social media, and print. The sender of the message is usually a professional communicator that often represents an organization.

Mass communication is an expensive process. Unlike interpersonal communication, feedback for mass communication is usually slow and indirect.


The following are some types of mass communication:

  • Advertising, which consists of communications attempting to induce purchasing behavior
  • Journalism, such as news
  • Public relations, which is communication intended to influence public opinion on a product or organization
  • Politics (for example, campaigning)

Theories of Mass Communication

There are too many theories of mass communication to discuss all of them here, but let’s take a look at a few of them:

  • Media systems dependency theory: This theory argues that the political system, media, and the public are all dependent upon each other, and each influences the others.
  • Agenda setting theory: This theory posits that while the media does not tell people what they should think, the media does influence the public’s perception of what issues are important to discuss. The idea is that the media sets the agenda of discussion by focusing on the reporting of certain issues more than others. For example, focus on a trial of a celebrity rather than an international crisis sets the tone for public discussion.
  • The spiral of silence: This is a theory of public opinion.

    It makes the assumption that people do not want to be perceived as different and will not display their opinions if they deviate from the majority opinion. In fact, we may eventually change our position just to fit in. The theory examines how society oppresses deviant opinions.

    For example, there may be people that support socialism in the United States but are afraid to speak up for fear of being isolated and ostracized.

  • Knowledge gap hypothesis: This theory hypothesizes that the public can be split into two classes: the information-rich and the information-poor. The information-rich have a higher socioeconomic status, including more wealth, more education, and possession of greater knowledge and information on many issues compared to the information-poor. The information-rich also have better access to current and new information technologies, which causes the information gap to continually increase.

  • Cultural imperialism: This theory argues that importation of cultural products, such as television shows, movies, magazines, and novels, to less-developed countries can have the effect of imposing the values of the importing country onto the lesser-developed countries. The Western industrial nations are often accused of cultural imperialism.
  • Critical cultural studies theories: Here, the focus is on the social role of mass media and how it can define power relations in society and maintain the status quo. It looks into how media relates to such things as ideology, race, social class, and gender. According to the theory, the media does not just reflect culture but produces it. For example, how the media reports on matters relating to Wall Street and the financial sector can either support or help undermine the institution.

Lesson Summary

Mass communication is the communication of information from a person, small group of people, or an organization to a large group of heterogeneous and anonymous people.

Common communication channels in mass communication include television, radio, social media, and print media. Examples of mass communication include commercial advertising, public relations, journalism, and political campaigning. Some important theories of mass communication include media systems dependency theory, agenda setting theory, spiral of silence, knowledge gap hypothesis, cultural imperialism, and critical cultural studies theories.

Learning Outcomes

After reviewing this lesson, you’ll have the ability to:

  • Define mass communication
  • Identify mass communication channels and examples of mass communication
  • Explain several important theories of mass communication

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