Lasswell's model of communication

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Lasswell's model of communication (also known as Lasswell's communication model) describes an act of communication by defining who said it, what was said, in what channel it was said, to whom it was said, and with what effect it was said. It is regarded by many communication and public relations scholars as "one of the earliest and most influential communication models."[1]:109 The model was developed by American political scientist and communication theorist Harold Lasswell in 1948 while he was a professor at Yale Law School.[2] In his 1948 article "The Structure and Function of Communication in Society", Lasswell wrote:

[A] convenient way to describe an act of communication is to answer the following questions:

  • Who
  • Says What
  • In Which Channel
  • To Whom
  • With What Effect?[3]:37

Concept and usage[edit]

This verbal communication model has been referred to as "a linear and Uni-directional process",[1] "a one-way process",[1] an "action model",[1]:134 a media theory "classic",[4][5] "widely used segmentation of the communication process",[4] and "a simple, linear, and potentially hypodermic conceptualization of communication."[5]

The model organizes the "scientific study of the process of communication".[3] The main focus of the model is broken down by each element of communication: "'who' refers to the communicator who formulates the message; 'what' is the content of message; 'channel' indicates the medium of transmission; 'whom' describes either an individual recipient or the audience of mass communication; 'effect' is the outcome of the message..."[6] The movement of the message travels from the communicator to the audience. Although this model represents a one-way flow of communication, the "effect" also refers to feedback in public relations.[7] The model can be used in pedagogical settings to teach students major elements of a communication process and as a starting point for developing hypotheses.

Lasswell stated that the "Who" referred to "control analysis", the "Says What" referred to "content analysis", the "In Which Channel" referred to "media analysis", the "To Whom" referred to "audience analysis", and the "With What Effect" referred to "effect analysis".[3]

Question Element Analysis
Who? Communicator Control Analysis
Says What? Message Content Analysis
In Which Channel? Medium Media Analysis
To Whom? Audience Audience Analysis
With What Effect? Effect Effects Analysis

Developments and criticisms[edit]

"The Structure and Function of Communication in Society" was reprinted in 1949, 1960, 1966, and 1971.[2] However, the questions and the model did not change.

George Gerbner, the founder of the cultivation theory, expanded Lasswell's model in 1956 to focus "attention on perception and reaction by the perceiver and the consequences of the communication".[8] In 1958, Richard Braddock suggested that the model be expanded to consider two additional elements that Braddock argued it ignored: "for what purpose" and "under what circumstances".[9] Braddock's model is more applicable to cultivation theory.[1]:137 According to media scholar Michael Real: "subsequent attempts to add an 'entertainment' function and an 'advertising' function fail to capture Lasswell's intent but provide the largest 'use and gratification' cited by, for example, television viewers."[4]:244,5

In 1993, communication scholars Denis McQuail and Sven Windahl referred to Lasswell's model as "perhaps the most famous single phrase in communication research."[10] McQuail and Windahl also considered the model as a formula that would be transformed into a model once boxes were drawn around each element and arrows connected the elements.[10] In 1995, Stanley Baran and Dennis Davis recognized it a verbal model of the communication process.[11] In 2008, Greenberg and Salwen acknowledged that Lasswell's model of communication has been widely adopted, but expressed: "Although Lasswell's model draws attention to several key elements in the mass communication process, it does no more than describe general areas of study. It does not link elements together with any specificity, and there is no notion of an active process."[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Shoemaker, Pamela; Tankard Jr., J.; Lasorsa, D. (2004). How to Build Social Science Theories. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications. p. 120.
  2. ^ a b Muth, R.; Finley, M.; Muth, M. (1990). Harold D. Lasswell: An Annotated Bibliography. New Haven: New Haven Press. p. 19.
  3. ^ a b c Lasswell, Harold (1948). Bryson, L. (ed.). The Structure and Function of Communication in Society. The Communication of Ideas. New York: Institute for Religious and Social Studies. p. 117.
  4. ^ a b c Real, Michael R. (1980). "Media Theory: Contributions to an Understanding of American Mass Communications". American Quarterly. 32 (3): 240. doi:10.2307/2712449.
  5. ^ a b Lubkin, D. (2008). Park, D.; Pooley, J. (eds.). Remembering the Straw Man: the Travels and Adventures of Hypodermic. The History of Media and Communication Research: Contested Memories. New York: Peter Lang Publishing. p. 29.
  6. ^ Steinburg, Sheila (2007). An Introduction to Communication Studies. Cape Town: Juta & Co. p. 53.
  7. ^ Reddi, C. (2009). Effective Public Relations and Media Strategy. New Delhi: PHI Learning Private Limited. p. 42.
  8. ^ Berger, A. (1995). Essentials of Mass Communication Theory. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications. p. 14.
  9. ^ Braddock, Richard (1958). "An Extension of the "Lasswell Formula"". Journal of Communication. 8: 88–93. doi:10.1111/j.1460-2466.1958.tb01138.x.
  10. ^ a b McQuail, Denis; Windahl, Sven (1993). Communication models for the study of mass communications (2nd ed.). New York: Longman. pp. 13–15.
  11. ^ Baran, S.; Davis, D. (1995). Mass Communication Theory: Foundations, Ferment, and Future. Belmont: Wadsworth. pp. 251–253.
  12. ^ Greenberg, B. S.; Salwen, M. B. (2008). Salwen, M. B.; Stacks, D. W. (eds.). Mass communication theory and research: Concepts and models. In An integrated approach to communication theory and research. Mahwah: Erlbaum. pp. 61–74 [69].