Cultivation Theory Overview Page is up!

The cultivation theory overview page is up, this give a brief overview of what the theory posits and the associated ideas, up soon I’ll be adding theory criticisms as well.

You can read all about cultivation theory here.

Quiet Down, here’s Spiral of Silence

spiral of silence shhh

Nothing like a good 'shhhh' stock image.

Originally proposed by German political scientist Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann in 1974, Spiral of silence is the term meant to refer to the tendence of people to remain silent when they feel that their views are in opposition to the majority view on a subject. The theory posits that they remain silent for a few reasons:

  1. Fear of isolation when the group or public realizes that the individual has a divergent opinion from the status quo.
  2. Fear of reprisal or more extreme isolation, in the sense that voicing said opinion might lead to a negative consequence beyond that of mere isolation (loss of a job, status, etc.)

For this theory to be plausible it relies on the idea that in a given situation we all possess a sort of intuitive way of knowing what the prevailing opinion happens to be. The spiral is created or reinforced when someone in the perceived opinion majority speaks out confidently in support of the majority opinion, hence the minority begins to be more and more distanced from a place where they are comfortable to voice their opinion and begin to experience the aforementioned fears.

The spiral effect is experienced insomuch as this activates a downward spiral where fears continually build within the minority opinion holder, hence the minority opinion is never voiced. Since it’s appearing on this blog you could assume that the theory posits that the mass media has a effect on this process, if you’re assuming that… you’re right on. The media plays an important role in this process, especially in dictating or perceptually dictating the majority opinion.

The closer an individual feels their opinion resides to the held majority opinion the more likely they are to be willing to voice it in public discourse. A few other important tenets to mention: this theory relies heavily on the idea that the opinion must have a distinct moral component (i.e. abortion, legalization of _______ ), no one will experience the spiral of silence trying to talk out what toppings to get on their pizza with roommates.

The theory has some weaknesses or at least points of contention, two of the most notable are those of the vocal minority and the internet. The internet (a.k.a. interwebs, series of tubes – thanks, Al) seemingly levels the playing field, where a minority opinion won’t be felt by the individual as a minority opinion and might be voiced in that arena whereas the individual would have not been so vocal in in other place of public discourse.

There you have it… Spiral of Silence. Don’t spend it all in one place.


University of Twente lists some major pubs regarding the theory. So does Wikipedia, but no one cares. Here are Twente’s:

  1. Glynn, J.C., Hayes, F.A. & Shanahan, J. (1997). “Perceived support for ones opinions sand willingness to speak out: A meta-analysis of survey studies on the ‘spiral of silence’” Public Opinion Quarterly 61 (3):452-463.
  2. Glynn, J.C. & McLeod, J. (1984). “Public opinion du jour: An examination of the spiral of silence, “ Public Opinion Quarterly 48 (4):731-740.
  3. Noelle-Neumann, E. (1984). The Spiral of Silence: Public Opinion — Our social skin. Chicago: University of Chicago.
  4. Noelle-Neumann, E. (1991). The theory of public opinion: The concept of the Spiral of Silence. In J. A. Anderson (Ed.),Communication Yearbook 14, 256-287. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
  5. Simpson, C. (1996). “Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann’s ‘spiral of silence’ and the historical context of communication theory.” Journal of Communication 46 (3):149-173.
  6. Taylor, D.G. (1982). “Pluralistic ignorance and the spiral of silence: A formal analysis,” Public Opinion Quarterly 46(3):311-335.
  7. See also: Kennamer, J.D. (1990). “Self-serving biases in perceiving the opinions of others: Implications for the spiral of silence,” Communication Research 17 (3):393-404; Yassin Ahmed Lashin (1984). Testing the spiral of silence hypothesis: Toward an integrated theory of public opinion. Unpublished dissertation, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Tests for a Theory

The Mass Comm Muse

Your best companion for testing theories.

So how the hell do we know if the idea that just occurred to you over a frosty cold one at the bar is a theory? Simple. Ask someone smart. But on the off chance that I’m unavailable we can always go to Chafee & Berger and run it through the seven tests of a theory. Seven?? Yes, seven. Here we go…

According to the criteria for evaluating theories as lain out by Chafee & Berger  there are seven criteria against which a theory or model is testable. Theories, in general, tend to be simple, easily understood, and satisfy the criteria of theory; specifically: explanatory power, predictive power, parsimony, falsifiability, internal consistency, heuristic provacativeness, and organizing power.

The first criterion for a theory or model is that of explanatory power. To satisfy this standard the concept must “provide plausible explanations for the phenomena it was constructed to explain. Also considered here is the range of phenomena that the theory explains; the greater the range, the more powerful the theory.” So, a theory about your dog, not so much. Everyone’s dog, and you’re on to something.

The second criterion is that of predictive power, or the ability for the theory to suggest future events or outcomes, according to Chaffee and Berger “this criterion assesses theoretical adequacy by measuring the theory’s ability to predict future events” however they do add this caveat “It is, however, possible for theories to predict but not be able to provide plausible explanations.” In this way, based on a specific set of circumstances or event, a theory should be able to predict some possible outcome of a given situation.

Parsimony or simplicity is the third of the criteria that a theory must satisfy to be considered as valid. Within this standard there is certainly some breadth of how simple a theory must be, usually judged in relation to the complexity of the idea or interaction which it seeks to explain. In the case of all theory, “simple theories are preferred to more complex ones, assuming that both predict and explain equally well. The complexity of a theory is directly related to the complexity of the reality it seeks to explain.”

The fourth criterion of falsifiability, or the ability to be proven false is pretty self-explanatory. If you can’t figure that one out you have no place in higher education. Ha-ha. Only kidding. Or am I?

Internal consistency is needed if a theory or model is to fulfill the standard for evaluation of a theory. This tenet dictates that “the internal logic of a theory can be assessed independently of empirical tests. Theoretical propositions should be consistent with each other.” This idea conjectures that a theory or model must be logically consistent and should not contradict itself.

Heuristic provacativeness, the sixth criterion states simply that “good theories generate new hypothesis, which expand the range of potential knowledge.” Theories and models in this case, need to serve a function within the area they address. A theory which exists in a silo is for all intents and purposes a worthless theory. With the ability to be applied to a situation or question the value of another theory does a theory prove its worth.

The final test under the Chaffee & Berger criteria for evaluation is that of organizing power. This criterion states that “useful theories not only generate new knowledge, [but]…are able to organize extant knowledge.” Under this tenet a theory or model must be able to function as a framework for understanding and organizing already discovered knowledge.

So there you have it – the tests of a theory. Should you commit these memory? Probably. Unless your counting on me not going insane and deleting my blog late one night all the while screaming “McLuhan was right!!” with a crazy look in my eye. Only a slight chance that might happen… slight. -g.d.

Special thanks to Tyler Crane for his help in the post.

This article is based largely on : ChaffeeS. H., & Berger, C.R. (1987). What communication scientists do. In C. R. Berger, & S. H. Chaffee (Eds.), Handbook of Communication Science (pp. 99-122). Sage: Newbury Park, CA. Look it up for a much more in-depth discussion of the testable criteria of theories. A great read, albeit a little long winded, although can you blame them? How many Comm scholars can write succinctly? 😉

New Theory Overview: Technological Determinism

We’ve added a new theory overview to the theory overview page outlining the basics of Medium Theory (aka Technological Determinism) which was championed by Marshall McLuhan.

We’ll try to continue to add more and more theories as we have the time to do so, if anyone has any suggestions or theories they would like to see, let us know in the comments!

Special thanks to Ken Rosenberg for all his help on this one! Check it out here. -g.d.