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Stimulus–Response Model

Frank Esser

Subject Communication Reception and Effects » Media Effects Theories

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405131995.2008.x


The stimulus–response model is associated with the assumption that the mass media has powerful effects. Also referred to as the “hypodermic needle theory,” “transmission belt theory,” or “magic bullet theory,” it can be considered one of the first general conceptions describing mass media effects (→  Media Effects, History of ). Lowery and DeFleur (1995) summarized the basic assumptions behind the stimulus–response or hypodermic needle theory as follows: (1) people in a mass society lead socially isolated lives, exerting very limited social control over each other because they have diverse origins and do not share a unifying set of norms, values, and beliefs; (2) similar to higher animals, human beings are endowed at birth with a uniform set of instincts that guide their ways of responding to the world around them; (3) because people's actions are not influenced by social ties and are guided by uniform instincts, individuals attend to events (such as media messages) in similar ways; and (4) people's inherited human nature and their isolated social condition lead them to receive and interpret media messages in a uniform way. In this model, media messages are seen as “symbolic bullets,” striking every eye and ear, resulting in effects on thought and behavior that are direct, immediate, uniform, and therefore powerful. According to the generally accepted history of media effects ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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