Critique on Limited Effects

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The two-step flow of communication hypothesis was first introduced by Paul Lazarsfeld, Bernard Berelson, and Hazel Gaudet in The People's Choice, a 1944 study focused on the process of decision-making during a Presidential election campaign. These researchers expected to find empirical support for the direct influence of media messages on voting intentions. They were surprised to discover, however, that informal, personal contacts were mentioned far more frequently than exposure to radio or newspaper as sources of influence on voting behavior. Armed with this data, Katz and Lazarsfeld developed the two-step flow theory of mass communication. This theory asserts that information from the media moves in two distinct stages. First, the opinion leaders, who pay close attention to the mass media and its messages, receive the information. Opinion leaders pass on their own interpretations in addition to the actual media content. The term ‘personal influence’ was coined to refer to the process intervening between the media’s direct message and the audience’s ultimate reaction to that message. Opinion leaders are quite influential in getting people to change their attitudes and behaviors and are quite similar to those they influence. The two-step flow theory has improved our understanding of how the mass media influence decision making. The theory refined the ability to predict the influence of media messages on audience behavior, and it helped explain why certain media campaigns may have failed to alter audience attitudes or behavior. The two-step flow theory gave way to the multi-step flow theory of mass communication or diffusion of innovation theory. Limited Effects theory suggested that communication from the mass media did not directly influence its audience, but first reached “opinion leaders”, who filtered the information they gathered to their associates, with whom they are influential. Thus, it assumes that media rarely have any direct influence upon...
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