Hypodermic Needle Theory

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The Bulletproof Audience
Maria Fidela Diosa S. Romana
University of the Philippines, Diliman

This paper discusses the Hypodermic Needle Theory – its history, key concepts and criticism. As the theory suggests direct and immediate effect of mass media to its audience, a social phenomenon called ‘copycat crimes’ is analyzed through its lens. The criticisms and ambiguities of the hypodermic needle theory are used to formulate a new theory believed to be more applicable and accurate to social issues and media awareness at present. The theory named Bulletproof Audience Theory suggests that viewers are indirectly affected by mass media since they already have different backgrounds, attitudes and ideas beforehand.

The Bulletproof Audience
Known as the first and also the foundation of most communication and media theories from decades ago until present, the Hypodermic Needle Theory – also known as Magic Bullet Theory, Transmission-Belt Theory or Hypodermic-Syringe Model always serves as a basic viewpoint in analyzing certain phenomena occurring in our society. The roots of the hypodermic needle theory can be traced as early as the late 1920s. Harold Lasswell in theorized that new mass media could directly influence and sway public opinion. In the 1930s, researchers examining the World War I propaganda and Hitler’s use of mass media to manipulate the German public behind the Nazis even strengthened the theory more. It was popularized during the 1940s and 1950s since mass media back then was considered as a powerful influence on behavioural change. Basically, the theory suggests that mass media has a direct, immediate and powerful effect on its audience. The message projected by any mass media influences all people directly and uniformly by ‘shooting’ them with appropriate messages designed to trigger a desired response, and the audience are only passive receptors. Graphically, the message is a “bullet”, fired through the...
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