Spiral of Silence: Communication Theory

This report is based on the theory spiral of silence those main purpose is to state how it can be applied to everyday situations and particularly the I.T industry. Research is an investigative process where we search systematically for solutions to problems. It is about rules to guide our research and helping us to evaluate the research of others. The function of the research is to test the theory. Research is the instrument used to test whether a theory is correct or not. It is the process by which data is gathered to generate a theory and used to test a theory. This main purpose for this report is to explain the theory in detail and outline the key issues that the theory sates. Also it helps us understand communication theory better and clearer, since communication is an important skill to have in the I.T industry and we also use it in our everyday lives, it is an important skill to have. There are a lot of topics and political problems that people are afraid to talk about and speak out on and so I will try to prove or investigate the theory and see if the theory relates to what it states and if the theorist’s is credible.

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In the report I will be investigating the theory and its relationship it has to communication. I will also evaluate the credibility of the theorists and the theory and how it can be applied to the present day situations particularly in the information technology industry. There were a lot of different views expressed and in different context. I will be focusing more in the involvement and effect that the media has on us as individuals in forming opinions. Since media is seen to play a major role in this theory, I will focus more on it but not forgetting the other factors that may cause the spiral of silence. I will also outline some of the tests and experiments that were done by some scholars and theorist and evaluate it.
During the overall completion of the project I did face certain problems and ran into difficulties. Firstly although there was enough time given to complete the research I had other projects to complete, which in turn made it difficult to compile the report. There was however a bit of restriction on the amount of information that was available on the internet, in that case I had rely on the other sources like the pro-quest and the online data base. There weren’t many books available in the library that contained information regarding my theory so my tutor was able to issue me with some books which did help me compile my research. The computer labs on campus were usually occupied and so I had to do most of my research and the typing at home.
Research Methods
Searching for information and investigating the theory was a very challenging task to do especially when here were limited resources available on the internet. There were information available but most of it had similar information which made it hard to use. I had to use all resources available including library data bases, internet and old scholar journals.
I wasn’t really able to find any books in the library, but I was able to get two books from my tutor that contained information about my theory and it provided me with a lot of details that helped me understand the theory in details and explained the theory in detail and context. It explained a lot about the theory stating the history and how it is viewed by the public and each individual.
Most of the information which I found on the internet was manly repeated and each website stated almost similar information which really stated the same information. The only relevant information that I was able to use was the information about the theory and the theorist.
The Scholar journals did have a bit more information about the theory which mainly based on a research that was done. I found some journal that stated a research and the findings of the investigation. It looked at the theory in a different form in which it was applied in an investigation and research.
Structure Of The Report
In this report I will briefly explain and introduce the theory then explain the purpose, scope, research methods and limitations of the research. I will also do a literature review that will briefly review some of the sources where I got my information from. The main body will contain the findings, background, key issues, and application of the theory then finally evaluate it. In the final part I will summarise my report and then state my opinions and thoughts about the theory.
Literature Review
Book Reviews
Book 1: Communication Theories for Everyday Life
John R. Baldwin, Stephen D. Perry, Mary Anne Moffitt. (2003). Communication Theories for Everyday Life (1st Edition). Person: Allyn & Bacon, Inc.
The book Communication Theories for Everyday Life (New Edition) provides us with a lot of information on the theory by Elizabeth Neumann, The Spiral of silence. The author’s in this book mainly focus the theory spiral of silence based on the media which is said to play an influential role. They believe that the media plays an important role in influencing the public into making decisions or ideas. They explained how the theory provides some insight into why we might avoid contributing to some political discussions but participate fully in others based on our observation of opinion in the real world. Sports can also bring out heated opinions in certain settings with fans of a certain team will argue or debate amongst a member of the opposing teams. When issues like this arise we tend to be more careful about when and to whom we express our ideas and opinions. We are constantly surveying our environment subconsciously for trends in public opinions. Television is believed to be the most influential medium for this theory since it is everywhere. We may not own a TV of our own but we see it in stores, airports or at a friend’s house. Being part of the majority is what most people tend to want and we will compare our opinions with that of the majority because we desire social inclusion. Therefore if someone believes he or she is in the minority, that person will be inhibited from speaking out and expressing the minority view point.
After carefully reading and analysing the following abstract from the book, I conclude that the facts that were stated in this book do have some connections to the theory. They have outlined a lot of ideas to what the theory spiral of silence is about. It also points out some important facts mainly that mass media is seen to be a very important tool in changing people’s views or forming their decisions. Since people tend to base their decisions on the majority’s choice. It also provides some insight into how television actually has an impact on the people as a whole. It proves that people are double mined on speaking out as a minority and will be more comfortable if they believe that they are part of the majority. Since there is a lot of support in the majority we won’t fear social isolation, but if we are in the minority there is not much support and so we fear that we are on our own and so we may be isolated. According to the theory by Elizabeth she believes that mass media does have a huge effect on the theory and so the authors have based most of their finding on Neumann’s theory about the media. Most of the information in the abstract concentrates on the media’s influence, changes and perceptions that it may have on our opinions.
Book 2: Introducing Communication Theory: Analysis Application
Richard West, Lynn H. Tuner. (2004). Introducing Communication Theory: Analysis Application (2nd Edition). Marquette University
The Book Introducing Communication Theory: Analysis Application, explains the theory spiral of silence by Elizabeth Noelle Neumann. It explains how the media has impacted our opinions and changed dramatically over the years. The authors stated that over the years the media has helped to shape and make us what we are today. They believe that Neumann focused on what happened when people provide their opinions on a variety of issues that the media have defined for the public. Her theory suggests that people who believe that they hold a minority viewpoint on the public issue will remain in the background or isolated. Where their communication will be constrained, those who believe that they hold a majority viewpoint will be encouraged to speak out. Neumann stated that the media will focus more on the majority views while underestimating the minority viewpoint. She believes that the media will only be focused on the minority and their views while forgetting the minority groups. The minority will be less assertive in communicating their opinions therefore leading to a downward spiral of communication. The minority will then overestimate their influence and will become emboldened in their opinions where the media reports on their opinions and activities. The media is seen to play a very important role in the theory. The media chooses to report on the majority group’s opinions and activities and only tend to focus on them where they will be heard by the public. The minority will then be forgotten and so their opinions and view s are not heard.
The authors have highlighted some very important points about the theory. Mass media being the main focus, it has a lot of influence on people’s opinions. It is seen to be a very powerful tool that could change people’s views and mentality. It has the power to influence and change people beliefs, making them believe what they are told or shown. It is human mentality to go with the flow and just follow the crowd. We are easily convinced just because the majority rules. If we had to debate a topic and asked to choose an answer we tend to choose the group where there is a lot of support forgetting about the minority. The authors are just moving on from Neumann’s theory to explaining more into detail the role of the media on our opinions. Thought they may not have done any research on the theory, they have research more on the theory and explained it in simple terms.
Library Databases
Journal 1: The Spiral of Silence is broken
Jose Luis Barberia, Kel Pais Rel Pais. (March 5, 2009). The Spiral of Silence is broken. (1), (6).
This article was based on an experiment that was done in Taiwan which explored the relationships between inoculation and the spiral of silence theory. According to the writers they believed that inoculation strategies would be able to ease spiral of silence focusing on resistance to counter-attitudinal attack and willingness to speak out for fear of isolation. The study was based on random sampled citizens in Taiwan while he issue being Taiwan’s political future in relation the People’s Republic of China. The results concluded that Inoculation treatments enhanced people’s resistance to attitude change. The study seeks to integrate the theories of inoculation and the spiral of silence. The factors featured in the spiral of silence theory might have significant implications for inoculation studies.They also stated that Noelle-Neumann initiated some original assumptions of the theory which was individual, media system and societal. They explained that individuals are social beings are afraid of being isolated from their fellow human being. Secondly, in order to avoid being isolated or losing popularity, individuals constantly observe their environment to locate proper positions to enable them to perceive the distribution of opinions. Third is that the individuals are capable of distinguishing between static and fluid opinions. Fourth is the social environment where individual notice that their personal opinions are spreading and supported by others will voice their opinions confidently in public. In contrast, if they notice their opinions losing ground they will adopt a more reserved attitude when speaking out in public or even withdraw from the public discussion. This is the chain reaction for fear of isolation.
This journal goes deep into context and explains the theory deeper and focuses on the human behaviour based on the theory. It was an experiment that was done in Taiwan, exploring the relationships between Inoculation and the spiral of silence theory. It was stated that Inoculation could counter the spiral of silence theory. The study focused more on the human behaviour and explains why we tend to isolate ourselves and are afraid to speak out in public. It helps us understand why the theory affects the minority groups. It examined the potential influences of the individuals construct on opinion expression as a cultural-level and the willingness to express opinions differing across two cultures. The test also saw that the lack of efficacy negatively predicts a willingness to express opinions while the lack of self-assurance of one’s opinions negatively predicts a willingness to express opinions.
Journal 2: The Spiral of Silence and Public opinion on affirmative action
Patricia May, David Domke, Keith Stamm. (Spring, 2001). The Spiral of Silence and Public opinion on affirmative action. (78). (1)
This journal was a study done to explain the key variables involved in Elizabeth Noelle-Neumann’s Spiral of Silence Theory, which states that fearing isolation is what keeps the individuals from expressing their desired opinions because they are minority. The authors decided to carry out a test based on the theory but in the context of public discussion which was focused on affirmative action policies. They reviewed selected data from 217 randomly selected adults on October 1998 that indicated fear of isolation. It showed that fear of isolation indeed prevents one from publicly voicing perceived minority opinions. The willingness to speak out on a controversial ballot was predicted also by demographics, media use and the importance of the issue. In recent years, citizens have voted to repeal affirmative action laws and policies that have been enacted in the 1960’s and 1970’s; ensuring opportunity regards less of race and gender. It is believed that this trend caused more harm than good, while others disagreed arguing that affirmative action may be the best approach. There were a lot of public discussions about affirmative action. They believed that Neumann suggest that issues which are controversial tends to make people refrain from expressing their opinions if they believe that it will only be shared by minority. The study basically explores the factors contributing to people’s willingness to speak publicly on controversial topics, focusing on the concept of fear of isolation.
This journal is another research project investigating more on the theory. They researched it on the public opinions based on affirmative action’s. The theory suggests that isolation from the publicly stating our opinions may occur people believe that they are part of the minority group. The study does prove the theory to some extent where they based the study on public opinions which does have a lot to do with the theory because it is mainly in public that people are double minded on raising their opinions. People are also cautious when speaking on controversial topics and topics which may raise some concerns or opinions. The study was seen to be successful and so does to some extent prove the theory correct. Overall in this case I can say that the theory is correct and the study done was successful and did test the willingness of the public on the controversial ballot. The only downside would be that they used data from the past and merged it with their research, which means that it may be old or irrelevant with the present time.
Internet Sources
Source 1: Wikipedia
Wikipedia. (2009). Spiral of silence. Retrieved August 12, 2009, from
This web page explains Elizabeth Neumann’s theory is a theoretical way. It states that the theory is a political science and mass communication theory. The spiral of silence begins with the fear of retaliation or isolation and escalates from there. Mass media is seen to play a major role in determining what the dominant opinion is, since our observation is limited to a small percentage of the population. Neumann describes the spiral of silence as a dynamic process, where public opinion becomes a fact as mass media’s coverage of the majority opinion gets more publicity, and the minority becomes less likely to speak out. The theory is seen to only apply to moral or opinion issues, not issues that can be proven right or wrong using facts. People who are highly educated, or who have greater affluence or those who do not fear isolation will speak out regardless of public opinions which means the minority is a necessary factor of change while the compliant majority is a necessary factor of stability, with both being a product of evolution. Most research is focused on social issues such as smoking and the aftermath of September 11, 2001.
The concept of isolation has a variety of definitions, depending on the circumstances it is investigated in. It could be defined as social withdrawal which means less interaction. Researchers have defined isolation as low levels of peer acceptance or high levels of peer rejection. The features of the internet could not only bring about more people to deliberate by freeing people of the psychological barriers. They have also raised another point where the internet is also another form of expressing their views without fear of isolation because it can be anonymous and there is no human contact which means that the person’s identity could be protected. The internet has a lot of users because it liberates people from the social hierarchies and power relations that exists offline without any human contact.
Wikipedia is an online web-based encyclopaedia project supported by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation which provides us with any information that we may want. The only problem is that most of the information is posted on by the public, which means they may not be proven theoretically or have any evidence. Wikipedia looks at the theory in a theoretical perspective which explains the theory in detailed and clearer view which is closely connected with the Elizabeth theory. According to the author he/she also believes that mass media plays an important role in the theory and how it works. The concept of isolation is also explained deeper into context where it has varies definitions. It explains the social withdrawal which means less interaction and isolation. It looks at the internet as another medium that has a very huge impact on people. Since it can be accessed from home or anywhere and is gives us choices on what we want to do because it does not include human contact which makes it easier for the minority groups or any individual to express themselves and will not be isolated because it is anonymous.
About The Theorist
Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann is a German political scientist that was born on the 19th of December, 1916. Her most famous contribution is the model of the spiral of silence which is an explanation of how perceived public opinion can influence individual opinions or actions. She earned her Abitur in 1935 in Göttingen and then studied philosophy, history, journalism, and American studies at the Friedrich Wilhelm University, the Königsberg Albertina University, and the University of Missouri. She lived in the USA from 1937 to 1938 andiIn 1940 she received her PhD concentrating on public opinion research in the USA. Noelle-Neumann was also the president of the World Association for Public Opinion Research from 1978 to 1980 and worked as a guest professor at the University of Chicago from 1978 to 1991.
About The Theory
Spiral of Silence is an innovative theory of public opinion that developed by Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann. Noelle-Neumann follows the paths of past philosophers Locke, Hume, Rousseau, Goethe, and James Madison, in that she considers public opinion a physical force that controls people’s decisions. Noelle-Neumann blames the spiral of silence on fear of isolation. In other words, people who feel that they are in the minority may keep quiet because they fear ridicule from the majority.
The phrase “spiral of silence” refers to how people tend to stay silent when they feel that their views are in the minority. The model shows the increasing pressure which people are noticing to conceal their views when they think that they are in the minority. It is a political science and mass communication theory which begins with fear of reprisal or isolation, and escalates from there.
Spiral of Silence model
The model is based on three premises:
1. People have a sixth-sense, which allows them to know the prevailing public opinion, even without access to polls.
2. People have a fear of isolation and know what behaviours will increase their likelihood of being socially isolated.
3. People are silent to express their minority views, primarily out of fear of being isolated.
Source: http://www.cw.utwente.nl/theorieenoverzicht/Levels%20of%20theories/macro/spiral_of_silence.doc/
Elizabeth Neumann examines public opinion as a form of social control. She believes that Individuals instinctively notice the opinions of those around them and shape their behaviour according to what is acceptable. The closer a person believes the opinion held is similar to the prevailing public opinion, the more he/she is willing to openly disclose that opinion in public. If the public statement changes, the person will recognize that the opinions loses its popularity and the person will be less willing to express that opinion publicly.
In her model of opinion formation, Elizabeth Noelle-Neumann postulates a spiral of silence: to avoid isolation, people holding minority views either change their ideas to conform to the majority’s views or remain silent, thus increasing the impression of the majority view’s dominance. While providing a helpful integration of disparate ideas in public opinion formation, Noelle-Neumann’s framework has been questioned at a number of points. Is it reasonable to assume that since people fear isolation, most fear being in the minority? Her research suggests, in fact, that many people can oppose majority views as long as they have individual or group support and that interpersonal relationships have a greater impact on opinion formation than impersonal public opinion presented through the media. Recent studies have also offered an alternative to Noelle-Neumann’s view of people as simply reacting to their perception of public opinion, suggesting that instead, people use their own opinions to form their perceptions of public attitudes. Whether people’s behaviour resembles the reaction or projection model may depend on a number of conditions, including their familiarity with the issue. Further research is needed on the many factors influencing opinion formation
The Fear Of Isolation
This is the main force that drives the spiral of silence. People want to be identified as a winner and therefore conform to the majority’s beliefs. The last thing that people want is to be isolated from a group or society. There are some exceptions though, as there is a time to speak and a time to keep silent which is centred on public opinion. If our view is in favour we will speak out then when our views drop out of favour, we will most defiantly keep silent.
In 1973, Elizabeth Noelle- Neumann articulated one of the few integrated expositions of the mass communication effects and the process of public opinion. In general she was able to demonstrate that individuals can attempt to gauge majority opinion on an issue and that some individuals appear to be influenced by their perceptions of majority opinion on some issues. In doing so she was successful in clarifying and empirically testing hypothesis about a concept that has been only vaguely defined in public opinion. In this report I will be outlining Noelle-Neumann’s conceptualization of two key concepts, the climate of opinion and that spiral of silence of silence. The validity of basing the “fear of isolation” concept on social psychological literature on conformity is examined. Also the role of the media in conveying the majority opinion will be examined.
The Spiral Of Silence
According to Noelle- Neumann, individuals are constantly sensitive to the climate of opinion and assess the distribution and strength of the opinion for and against their own. The tendency of one to speak up and others to be silent leads to the spiralling process which increasingly establishes one opinion as the popular one. Neumann’s definition of public opinion is best expressed as the dominating opinion which compels compliance of attitude a behaviour in that it threatens the dissenting individuals with isolation. There are a few individuals that are known as “hardcores” who are willing to express their opinions without feeling compelled to conform. They will not be silent in the face of the public opinion. How do individuals know which opinions are acceptable to express in public without the fear of isolation? Neumann claims that by the use of a “quasi-statistical organ”, the individual assesses the opinion environment. The individual will the specifically use the climate of opinion. The media plays an important role through agenda-setting, according to certain persons and arguments relating the urgency or share of success for various opinions.
One of the main parts of the explanation to the spiral of silence is the role of mass media. Noelle-Neumann believes that with more people watching mass media, the more the minority will keep quite because they will think that they are even more of a minority that they actually are. She claims that this is so because it is becoming the only media outlet that people are using, along with the internet, so it is able to control exactly what people see or hear. The media know this and because of that, they use their powers to influence the public opinion as much as possible towards which ever beliefs they hold or want to put across. Noelle-Neumann claimed that in the early seventy’s, the media had powerful effects, particularly over opinion formation. She believed that it was deficient because it was conducted under laboratory conditions and not in the field. Mass media is everywhere and individuals can rarely escape accumulation of the same media message.
It was also found that in any circumstance a person with low self-esteem is less likely to speak out even if they agree with the majority opinion, simply because that is what their personality dictates. She also discovered that having diverse reporting has a powerful role in the mass media and the views of those watching it. Since the media is diverse, and it shares different view points on a subject, then people will be more willing to take different sides of an argument because they will not feel as alienated as before.
The elements of Noelle-Neumann’s ideas can also be found in several scholarly works including Floyd Allport (1978) who described the climate of opinion. John Locke (1961) describes Noelle-Neumann’s “hardcores” when he says “nor is there one of ten thousand who is stiff and insensible enough to bear up under the constant dislike and condemnation of his own club” W.Phillps Davison (1975) describes the public opinion process of conformity-induced silence occurs when an individual feels he/she is in the midst of a hostile majority. Thus the concept of the opinion climate and the spiral of silence are not new. Noelle-Neumann was able to articulate a thesis based on these concepts and generated data to support some of her contentions. When Noelle Neumann was forced to revise her theory to accommodate the other findings, the theory became much better. She added to her theory many other factors such as race, gender, age, environment, and social status. Now the theory claims that all of these things, in addition to whether one is in the majority of the opinion on a subject, will all matter whether a person speaks out.
Fear Of Isolation & Conformity
Since Pressure to conform is a major portion of Noelle-Neumann’s foundation for her arguments, Solomon Asch (1995) also did a study where he put one subject in the midst of seen confederates and asked each person to determine the shortest of three lines. Arch had seven confederates purposively select an incorrect line, and then examined the subject’s response in light of the clearly wrong response of the confederates. He found that one-fourth of the subjects were completely independent of any majority pressure. These people, who Noelle-Neumann would label “hardcores”, selected the correct lines despite pressure to conform and select the incorrect line. On the other hand, no subjects conformed on every trial the situation did not elicit total conformity from subjects. He found that in manipulating some independent variables, pressure to agree is highly specific. There is no single “type” of individual who agrees, nor does public conformity imply inner acceptance of judgment or opinion. In analyzing different groups of subjects, Asch found that although very few yielded nearly completely to majority influence, they didn’t think they had yielded at all. These people perceived the majority estimates as correct and didn’t feel as though they themselves had conformed. Most of the subjects, who agreed, however lacked the confidence in their estimates and felt a tendency to go along with the majority when in doubt. Others who confirmed knew they were right but did not want to appear different from the majority.
In a follow-up experiment, Asch found that if the subject had some support from some in the group, conformity to majority influence inclined substantially. Noelle-Neumann based her spiral of silence theory notion on face-to-face, small group situations that was described by Locke (1961), Allport (1937) and Asch (1951). In each of the cases the individual is isolated a midst a hostile majority and in direct contact with his antagonists.
Although most of the test that were done in the past did prove the theory, there were some circumstances that were overlooked, as to the ability to apply to universal situations.