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Spiral of Silence

Thomas Petersen

Subject Communication Reception and Effects » Public Opinion
Sociology » Social Psychology

Key-Topics decision making

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405131995.2008.x


Developed by German survey and communication researcher →  Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann in the 1960s and 1970s, the spiral of silence theory describes collective opinion formation and societal decision-making in situations where the issue being debated or decided upon is controversial and morally loaded (→  Public Opinion ; Conflict as Media Content ; Social Conflict and Communication ). The theory is one of the most frequently cited and debated to emerge from the field of communication studies during the latter half of the twentieth century. In the literature in the field, the spiral of silence theory is often reduced to a single premise, i.e., that people who feel their opinion is held by the minority tend to fall silent in public. Although this is a perfectly accurate description of one key aspect of the theory, it is in fact just one element of a far more comprehensive theory of how public opinion functions. This theory rests on the notion that there is such a thing as a “ social nature of humans ,” which causes people to fear social isolation and thus substantially influences their actions in public. The term “ public opinion” then refers to opinions or behavior that can be displayed or expressed in public without running the risk of social isolation or, in some cases, that even must be displayed to avoid the danger of isolation. The term → “ Public ” is here interpreted in ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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