Audience Responses in Media: Hypodermic needle theory

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Audience Responses in Media:
Hypodermic needle theory:

The driver for this theory is that media products have a direct, powerful and immediate effect on their audiences by consistently ‘injecting’ them with messages for a desired response; the needle representing a direct flow of information that is accepted passively by the receiver’s, with an immediate reaction. The concept that the audience will be exposed to a needle of information indicates a danger in the effects of mass media, implying that the audience are incapable of resisting what they are exposed to; the audience are depicted as a deer in the headlights.

This theory was not based on research but on human nature assumptions in the 1930’s, meaning that it had no scientific support. A famous example of how the hypodermic needle theory was supported was with the broadcast of ‘The War of the Worlds’ in 1938 which caused widespread panic as people believed that an alien invasion was taking place; the broadcast was a series of dramatized news bulletins but people consistently missed the alert that these broadcasts were fictional.
Uses and Gratification theory:

This theory is based on the reasons why and how people seek out specific media to satisfy wants and needs; as opposed to looking at what media does to people, this theory looks at what people do with media in a positive manner. The theory bases itself on the concept that audiences are not solely passive, but play and active role in interpreting the media presented to them.

The theory was created by Harold D. Laswell in1948, and suggested that media served certain function for people in society, these functions being:

  • Entertainment: Media is used recreationally for relaxation purposes.

  • Surveillance: Media is used in order to keep an eye on what’s happening.

  • Correlation: A connection and correlation between different societies.

  • Cultural transmission: Media is a platform of transmission between different cultures and generations.

The theory was further adapted by Katz and Bulmer in the 1970’s who stated that the issue with this theory is the competition with media and other sources of satisfaction, they further categorised several needs for media consumption, which are:

  • Affective needs: To seek pleasure and satisfy emotional needs, for example, watching horror movies to be scared.

  • Social integrative needs: To integrate with friends and family, normally in the form of social media; for example, a father would use Facebook to try and connect with their long lost child.

  • Tension release needs: To seek catharsis in order to provide release for certain built up emotions, for example, watching an upsetting documentary in order to cry.

  • Cognitive needs: For requiring information and knowledge and creating understanding of issues and concepts; and example of this would be watching an animal documentary to gain a better understanding of a species.

  • Personal integrative needs: Using media to reassure status, this need is based on self-esteem and acquire a greater credibility; people will do this through watching adverts to buy certain products for a lifestyle change.

  • Criticism: Difference in interpretation in media content, the analysis of merits and faults of what is being portrayed to the audience.

Reception study:

Audience reception originated from communications study in the 1980’s and 90’s; adopting a cultural perspective; this theory concerns active choices and uses of media by audiences. Qualitative methods of research are used to gather feedback from audiences as a means of supporting the original theory (which was co-founded by Stuart Hall and others in 1973) that an audience does not passively accept a product. Hall referenced his work to culture, stating that a person is both a producer and consumer of culture; culture isn’t something to just be studied, in the eyes of Hall, but is a "critical site of social action and intervention, where power relations are both established and potentially unsettled".

Cultural background is seen to be the influential force behind how someone would interpret the text within media, basic acceptance of text comes with an audience with a shared cultural background meaning that they digest the text in similar manners; the theory is that the less culture shared with the producer that the consumer will have greater difficulty interpreting the intended codes within the text.
Stuart Hall also adapted a theory of encoding and decoding media text which indicated that the text can generate three different reactions, these reactions include:

  • Preferred reading: A response to a product the way the producer intended.

  • Oppositional reading: A full disagreement with the product’s intended message.

  • Negotiated meaning: When a consumer only partly agrees with the product.

Hall stated that "a message must be perceived as meaningful discourse and be meaningfully de-coded before it has an effect, a use, or satisfies a need" indicating that an audience must have an independent reaction to what they decode in the text before the text can relay any form of message.

Passive or Active Consumption:

Effects debate:

Effects of exposure to explicit sexual or violent content:

Some people believe that when people view mature content in media they will replicate that behaviour in real life, mainly focusing on the negative effects that may be created. Studies suggest that exposure to certain visuals is enough to influence someone to do the same, and example of this in action is from 1995 where a couple killed a man and paralysed a woman due to watching the film ‘Natural Born Killers’, this same film has been directly linked to eight murders thus proving the influence media can have on the minds of people.

Effects of advertising:

Advertising plays a major role in society; companies will spend millions a year on having their products advertised in order to encourage more sales and this is due to the focus on the benefits of these products, but what are the negatives?

Advertising has caused some controversy in the world of body image and has become a researched topic. Advertising focuses on physical attractiveness as a sense of appeal and in the world of clothing, cosmetics, weight and many more it can be seen as a necessity to look a certain way but it has been found in research by James Gentry (among others) that this can impact on self-esteem, making people aim for unattainable goals.
A recent example of an outrage on advertisement would be the ‘thigh gap’ controversy on “Urban Outfitters” clothing website. An image showing a thigh gap was deemed “Irresponsible and harmful” and the retail store was ordered to remove it as “the image was representative of the people who might wear Urban Outfitters’ clothing, and as being something to aspire to.” (A quote from the ASA) which meant it was negatively influential.
Health concerns:

It is estimated that young people spend an average of 7 hours daily using media, meaning it contributes significantly to their daily lives; it is clear to see how influential media can be when exposed to on such a grand scale. People may look at the glamorisation of drugs, sex and violence and be lured into a false sense of security in thinking that it’s realistic without being aware of the consequences and in recent years a correlation has been found with media use and obesity increase over the world; the influence of adverts may contribute to this also, with constant exposure to appetising food on the TV.

A film was made in 2004 where Morgan Spurlock embarked on a month of eating solely McDonalds; this documentary was released showing the effects on the increase of eating and decrease of exercise, which may be to blame on the excessive use of media in recent years.
Censorship debates:
Censorship is something used in order to protect certain people from being exposed to things that are considered unsuitable; censorship varies from country to country as different places hold different beliefs.
The fact that beliefs are different worldwide hiders the debate on internet censorship as the internet is a broad place and can be accessed by all so stipulations in one area will affect others, this snowball affect limits personal freedoms everywhere. The main aim for censorship is to protect children and vulnerable adults and when censors are put in place in the real world, it doesn’t stop them from being bypassed online in the privacy of homes.


A negotiated response is a response from an audience that output their own thoughts and opinions on what they’re receiving; people who show a negotiated response will often accept the preferred reading but interpret it based on their own knowledge and experiences. If a chain smoker watches an advertisement warning them about the health effects of smoking they may reflect on what the message is but suit it to their lifestyle by cutting down and only smoking on occasions.

An example of a negotiated response from myself would be my love for the horror genre, I enjoy this genre and get a thrill from the suspense and visuals, however, I don’t enjoy when ‘jump scares’ occur meaning I’ll often not watch a horror film if it relies heavily on these scares; this response was gathered from my experience and knowledge of what jump scares are and how I interpret them, which is negatively.

A preferred response is when someone understands the message in the text and accepts it willingly, for example, when an awareness campaign is shown about alcohol and alcoholic reader may accept the message and quit drinking.

An example of a preferred response of media products would be when teen films cast handsome and often unattainable lead actors that will leave the desired audience with unrealistic expectations on how everyday people may look and act, this can be seen in the film ‘Bad Neighbour’ where Zac Efron portrays the typical college student.

When the response is oppositional it means that the reader understands the preferred reading but chooses to willingly oppose the message, often followed by their personal, alternative view; an example of this would be a documentary expressing the negative effects of marijuana, some viewers may strongly believe that this drug doesn’t affect people negatively but in fact has medical and sensory enhancing purposes as they have experienced this themselves with a positive outcome.


This form of media response reflects how people participate willingly and interact with the media they consume. Social media has played a great part in influencing participatory responses from an audience as many programmes encourage that people ‘Tweet’ them or follow them on Facebook; people are also encouraged to turn to the internet for items such as blogs, wiki’s, forums and other interactive mediums.

The rise in interactive media comes as many people now carry phones, use laptops and have constant access to the internet, where they can view and respond to the things they watch. Dan Gillmor stated in his book ‘We the Media’ that “We could all write, not just read, in ways never before possible. For the first time in history, at least in the developed world, anyone with a computer and Internet connection could own a press.” This states that anyone was capable of participating in media as they could write what they wanted and voice their opinions in a new, unchallenged way meaning that the public are powerful to respond to what they see.
An example of a programme which encourages participation is “Britain’s Got Talent”, a show where people can submit a vote to eliminate people from the competition or to make them win.

Culture is an essential part of everyday life and this portray into media as a way for us to understand what we’re seeing. Everyone must have a degree of cultural competence within a media text in order to interpret what they’re exposed to; for example, a person would be able to understand the language a text is written in as a basic form of cultural competence.

Responding to culture doesn’t always have to be in the form of language but can be in the signs and symbols on-screen, for example, if someone was to see a bunny they might automatically relate it to Easter when in reality it is just an animal, this is a more advanced level of cultural competency as the audience is interpreting what they see as a widely accepted icon, understood in any language.
Fan Culture:

Fan culture is a response from an audience resulting in the creation of media from existing products. The use of the internet has enabled communities to form where fans will create things such as alternative plots, additional stories and even romances between characters from their favourite media product.

One of the most recent cases of fan culture would be the ’50 Shades of Grey’ franchise which originated as a fan made story for the ‘Twilight saga.’ Sites such as enable people to collaboratively read and write spin-offs of any pre-existing product (like ‘Twilight’) thus proving that fan culture is powerfully active in media.
Wikipedia, 2015, “The War of the Worlds (Radio drama)”,
Wikipedia, 2015, “Hypodermic needle model”,
University of Twente, 2010, “Hypodermic needle theory”,
Mymediaproject: 2015, “Uses and gratification theory”,
Jay G. Bulmer, 1975, “The uses of mass communications: Current perspectives on gratifications research”
Wikipedia, 2014, “Uses and Gratification Theory”,
Slideshare, 2011, “Uses and Gratification Theory”,
Wikipedia, 2015, “Stuart Hall (cultural theorist)”,
Wikipedia, 2015, “Audience Reception”,
Paul Baker, 2011, “Key Terms in Discourse Analysis”
Joe Nicholas, 1998, “Advanced Studies in Media”
SlideShare, 2014, “Types of audience response”,
Dan Gillmor, 2004, “We the Media”
Business Insider, 2015, “‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ started out as ‘Twilight’ fan fiction before becoming an international phenomenon”,
The Guardian, 2002, “Natural Born Copycats”,
Wikipedia, 2015, “Effects of Advertising on Teen Body Image”,
BuzzFeed, 2015, “This Urban Outfitters Photo Has Been Banned For Its “Harmful” Thigh-Gap”,
Chad Hawthorne, 1997, “Censorship on the Internet and in Education”,
Pediactrics, 2013, “Health Effects of Media on Children and Adolescents”,

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