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COMM THEORY: On Seminal Theories. John A. Cagle, Ph.D. Communication California State University, Fresno. Harold D. Lasswell (1948). Who Says What in Which Channel to Whom with What Effect?. Franklin Fearing (1953).

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COMM THEORY: On Seminal Theories

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comm theory on seminal theories

COMM THEORY:On Seminal Theories

John A. Cagle, Ph.D.


California State University, Fresno

harold d lasswell 1948
Harold D. Lasswell (1948)

Who Says What in Which Channel to Whom with What Effect?

franklin fearing 1953
Franklin Fearing (1953)

Communication behavior is a specific form of molar behavior which occurs in a situation or field possessing specified properties, the parts of which are in interdependent relationship with each other. A theory of such behavior is concerned with forces, psychological, social, and physical, which determine the course of this behavior and its outcomes in relation to the culture in which it occurs.


Such a theory should formulate hypothetical constructs and present a terminology with appropriate definitions in the following four interrelated areas:

(a) the forces which determine the effects of communication, that is, constructs regarding individuals designated interpreters;

(b) the forces which determine the production of communications, that is, constructs about communicators;

(c) the nature of communications content considered as a stimulus field;

(d) the characteristics of the situation or field in which communication occurs.

information theory

Information Theory

Claude Shannon

shannon weaver 1947
Shannon & Weaver (1947)

Norbert Weiner’s Cybernetics added the notion of feedback to this communication model.

information theory7
Information Theory
  • In a perfect communication system, the sender and receiver have identical knowledge of the code.
  • All possible messages are known in advance.
  • The source makes a choice to send a message from the set of possible messages.
  • The receiver needs to know what choice the sender made.
information is not content
Information is not content
  • A message has information if it reduces the uncertainty about what choice the sender made.
  • If the choice is already known to the receiver, the message is redundant.
  • Information is not content in information theory.

Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is that the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a total mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.Amzanig huh?

information is not meaning
Information is not meaning
  • Information is different from the content and meaning of messages.
  • Information is not the interpretation of information.
  • Peter Drucker wrote of the difference between informating and communicating in an organization.
  • Entropy is randomness, chaos, the lack of organization and predictability.
  • Entropy is uncertainty.
  • Information reduces entropy in a communication system.
  • Entropy is variable in most situations.
measurement of information
Measurement of Information
  • The smallest unit of information is a bit
  • Eight bits = one byte
  • Four bytes = one word
  • These terms are still at the core of computer science
    • E.g., 32-bit word processors in the CPU
measurement of information15
Measurement of Information
  • I = - log2 piis the formula for measuring the information value of each message sent against the probability of that message in the field of all the messages that could be sent.
measurement of information16
Measurement of Information
  • H = - ∑ pi log2 piis the formula for measuring the amount of information of all the messages that could be sent in a communication system.
  • Signal: we make choices about which signal to send (sounds, letters, etc.)
  • Semantics: we make choices in a given situation about which meaning to send.
    • Lexical choice
    • Meaning
  • Pragmatics: we make choices in a given situation about which behaviors to enact.

Communication behavior is a specific form of molar behavior _____1_____ occurs in a situation or field possessing specified properties, ____2_____ parts of which are in interdependent relationship with each _____3_____. A theory of such behavior is concerned with forces, _____4_____, social, and physical, which determine the course of this _____5_____ and its outcomes in relation to the culture in _____6_____ it occurs.

samuel becker 1968
Samuel Becker (1968)

We construct messages which "are, in effect, overlayed to form the large and complex communication environment or 'mosaic' in which each of us exists. This mosaic consists of an immense number of fragments or bits of information on an immense number of topics. . . . These bits are scattered over time and space and modes of communication. Each individual must grasp from this mosaic those bits which serve his needs, must group them into message sets which are relevant for him at any given time, and within each message set must organize the bits and close the gaps between them in order to arrive at a coherent picture of the world to which he can respond."

leah vande berg on becker 1999
Leah Vande Berg on Becker (1999)

One of the most visionary aspects of Becker’s essay was his call for communication scholars to reconceptualize how we think of messages. . . . Becker’s call for message-audience centered critical studies of differences among audience members moved far beyond the “active audience” notion. . . . In fact, Becker’s mosaic model of the fragmented processes entailed in receiving information and creating meanings, and his assertion that critical scholars should concentrate on differences among segments of audiences, prefigured the subsequent development of audience-centered critical media studies.


Ring a-round the roses,

A pocket full of posies,

_____1_____! Ashes!

We all fall down!

Three blind mice,

See how they run!

They all _____2_____ after a farmer's wife,

Who cut off their tails _____3_____ a carving knife.

Did you ever see such a ____4______ in your life,

As three blind mice?


Brian está en el aeropuerto de Barajas en Madrid. _____1_____ y otros estudiantes del grupo esperan la llegada del _____2_____ para ir a Leób. Deben esperar una hora. ¿Qué ____3______ hacer?

1 Alice

2 vuelo

3 deciden

fritz heider 1946
Fritz Heider (1946)

Balance Theory

People try to maintain a certain type of consistency between their opinions of other people and their opinions of what those other people say.

Imbalance produces a psychological stress that must be resolved.







theodore newcomb 1953
Theodore Newcomb (1953)

Communication among humans performs the essential function of enabling two or more individuals to maintain simultaneous orientation toward one another as communicators and toward objects of communication.

The term “orientation” is used as equivalent to “attitude” in its more inclusive sense of referring to both cathectic and cognitive tendencies.







“I have cooked adelicious casserolefor our dinner.”

“Crap—I hatetuna casserole.”




“I love you, Eve”





“I love you, John”

watzlawick beavin and jackson 1967
Watzlawick, Beavin, and Jackson (1967)

Their theory is based on a systems paradigm.

Their book, Pragmatics of Human Communication, posited five axioms of communication.

watzlawick beavin and jackson 1967 five axioms of communication
Watzlawick, Beavin, and Jackson (1967)Five Axioms of Communication
  • 1. One cannot not communicate.
  • 2. Every communication has a content and a relationship aspect such that the latter defines the former and is therefore metacommunication.
  • 3. Every communication sequence is defined by the way the interactants punctuate communication events.
  • 4. Interpersonal contacts are digital and analogic.
  • 5. Communication relationships are either symmetrical or complementary.
del hymes 1966
Del Hymes (1966)

1. What are the communicative events, and their components, in a community?

2. What are the relationships among them?

3. What capabilities and states do they have, in general, and in particular events?

4. How do they work?


The concept of a message is taken as implying the sharing (real or imputed) of a code (or codes) in terms of which a message is intelligible to participants, minimally an addressor and addressee, in an event constituted by transmission of the message, and characterized by a channel, a setting or context, a definite form or shape in the message, and a topic or comment.

hymes builds upon jakobson s model of communicative functions 1960
Hymes builds upon Jakobson’s Model of Communicative Functions (1960)

Type Oriented Function Example towards

emotive addresser expressing It’s bloody feelings or pissing down attitudes again!

referential context imparting It’s raining. information

conative addressee influencing Wait here till it behaviour stops raining!


jakobson s model continued
Jakobson’s Model continued

Type Oriented Function Example towards

phatic contact establishing or Nasty weather maintaining again, isn’t it? social relationships

metalingual code referring to the This is the nature of the weather interaction forecast.

poetic message foregrounding It droppeth as textual features the gentle rain from heaven.





Hymes adds contextual and metacommunicative functions to Jakobson

frank e x dance 1970
Frank E. X. Dance (1970)

His study identified 15 distinct conceptual components in the various definitions. His analysis identified three points of "critical conceptual differentiation" which form the basic dimensions along which the various definitions differ: (1) Level of observation. E.g., restricted as in a definition pertaining to radio communication, very broad as in Stevens's definition of communication as a discriminatory response of a organism to a stimulus. (2) Intentionality. (3) Normative judgment. Implicit judgment as to success or value of the behavior.

conceptual components of communication


Interaction/relationship/ social process

Reduction of uncertainty


Transfer/transmission/ interchange



Channel/carrier/means/ route

Replicating memories

Discriminative response/ behavior-modifying-response





Conceptual Components of Communication
bowers and bradac axioms 1984
Bowers and Bradac Axioms (1984)

A number of competing sets of axioms undergird contemporary communication research and theory.

1a Communication is the transmission and reception of information.

1b Communication is the generation of meaning.

2a Communication is individual behavior.

2b Communication is the relationship among behaviors of interacting individuals.

3a Human communication is unique.

3b Human communication is a form of animal communication.


4a Communication is processual.

4b Communication is static.

5a Communication is contextualized.

5b Communication is noncontextualized.

6a Human beings cannot not communicate.

6b Human beings can not communicate.

7a Communication is a ubiquitous and powerful force in society.

7b Communication is one among many forces in society, and a relatively weak one.


Definitional Issues

Intentionality: to what degree, if any, does intention play in communication?

Symbolic behaviors: what behavior is symbolic?

Rhetorical theory and communication theory