The hypodermic or one-step flow of communication model has formed a point of general reference in crediting the media with power over audiences. The basic assumption is that the mass media have a direct, immediate and influential effect upon audiences by “injecting” information into the consciousness of the masses. The audience is seen as impressionable and open to manipulation. Like other early models of communication flow from the media. it overlooks the possible effects of INTERVENING VARIABLES In the communication process and it presents the masses as being unquestioning receptacles of media messages. This sense of all powerfulness of the media is a central feature of early MASS SOCIETY research. It is now regarded as crude and simplistic.
Basically, two-step and multi-step flow of communication models are refinements of the HYPODERMIC NEEDLE MODEL OF COMMUNICATION. The one-step model denies the role of opinion leader in the flow of communication and presents the view that the mass media communicate directly to a mass audience. There is no suggestion, however, that the messages reach all receivers equally or that they have the same effect on each individual in the audience. The model takes into account the influence of an individual’s perception, memory and SELECTIVE EXPOSURE on his/her particular interpretation of a message SALIENCE – or the factor of prominence- is also considered to be an important variable in the model.
A study conducted by Paul Lazarsfeld and others of the 1940 presidential election in the US threw doubt on the validity of the one-step theory, reporting in the people’s choice (US Duell. Sloan & Pearce 1944), the authors found little evidence of the direct influence of the media, indeed people seemed more influenced by face-to-face contact with others Lazarsfeld and his fellow researchers suggested that the flow of communication to the individual is often directed through an opinion leader who plays a vital role in both spreading and interpreting the information/ they thus proposed a two-step model of communication flow which later research has found to be generally useful In highlighting the importance of the social context of the receiver in the process of the interpretation of mass communication messages this model differs significantly from earlier ones. It presents the mass audience as being composed of interacting and responsive individuals rather that of the socially isolated, passive atoms of earlier mass society theories.
The multi-step is a development of the other two’ allowing for the sequential relaying of a MESSAGE It is not specific about the number of steps there will be in the relaying process nor does is specify that messages must originate from a source and then pass straight through the agencies of the mass media. The model suggests a variable number of relays in the communication process and that the receivers may relay NETWORK The exact number of steps in the process depends upon the following:
- the intentions of the source
- the availability of the mass media
- the extent of audience exposure to agencies of communication
- the nature of the message
- the importance of the message to the audience
The model has often been used in recent research Its advantage is that it allows the researchers to account for different variables in different communication situations.