Audience theories are the starting point of either developing or analysing a media text. Audience needs to be taken into consideration when producing a text; this is to understand how the target audience will behave to this particular text. This is because a media text has no meaning until it has been either subconsciously translated or meticulously analysed by the viewing audience.
Various media effects theories have been debated throughout out media and psychology research. This is down to no indisputable evidence to prove the relation between media texts and specific actions or behaviour. The most frequently covered areas are censorships, down to the belief that the younger the viewer the more impressionable.
The Hypodermic needle model:
In the 1920’s the hypodermic needle theory was put forward to suggest how audiences react to mass media. This theory suggests that the audience subconsciously digest information through the mass media, and it is believed to change or alter behaviour or thoughts to a certain aspect of either media or what ever the issue is that is being addressed. However this theory was proposed when mass media was in its very early stages, for example radio was less than two decades old. The first government use of this theory was during the First World War. Propaganda was used and mass distributed to enhance the audience demographics idea on the war. For example getting the general public to sign up for the army or getting the women to prepare the fields for crops.
Basically, the hypodermic needle model suggest that information from a media text passes into the mass conscious mind of an audience, so simply it transfers an idea into an audience without them even realising they are being effected. How the text is translated into an idea is down to the individual member. Also the way in which behaviour is affected is down to the audience member.
This theory is still used to blame media producers in times of panic or if a person makes an unusual or erratic action. Parents, politicians and pressure groups have used this theory as a way of attacking the media. It is used in a way to explain why certain groups of people act the way they do, for example gangs are believed to have been influenced by hip hop or rap music.
The hypodermic needle model quickly became outdated and to vague for media researchers to precisely dissect and create an explanation for the relationship between media text and audience. As mass media became increasingly popular and proved not to turn the human population into a society of mindless beings all believing what is viewed heard and consumed. Paul Lazarsfeld, Bernard Berelson, and Hazel Gaudet reviewed and analysed the voters' decision-making processes during a 1940 presidential election campaign and published their results in a paper called The People's Choice. They discovered that the audience doesn’t simply digest information and believe it; they in fact consume the information then weigh out its pros and cons and come to their own educated opinion about the text they are consuming. This advance in research deemed the mass media less successful, and caused the media producers to take into account social factors, as these play a huge part in interpreting a media text. This is sometimes referred to as the limited effects paradigm.
During the 1960’s, the first generation to grow up with television became adults. It was increasingly apparent to media theorists that audiences consumed media in different ways and for different reasons. Theorists discovered that an audience doesn’t sit and passively consume the media but indulges for different reasons and in different ways. In 1948 Lasswell proposed the idea that media texts had uses for individuals and society, these were: surveillance, correlation, entertainment and cultural transmission.
Researchers such as Blulmer and Katz increased this theory and published their own in 1974, stating that individuals could choose a text for any of the following purposes: Diversion – a form of escapism from everyday problems and routine, personal relationships – using the media for emotional and other interaction for example using a soap opera as a substitute for family life. Personal Identity – finding a similar character to you reflected in a text or learning behaviour or values in a text. Surveillance – Finding information which could provide useful in living for example weather reports or holiday bargains. Since this theory was proposed the list of uses has been expanded massively especially since the expansion of the new media and its constant development for example the internet, computer games etc…