Spiral of Silence Theory

Elizabeth Noelle—Neumann’s Spiral of Silence theory analyses  and demonstrates how interpersonal communication and media operate  together in the development of public opinion.  Elizabeth Noelle-Neumann is a  German political scientist.  Through  this Spiral of Silence theory  Neumann indirectly explains the  Jews status during World War II  under  Nazi’s  control.  Adolf Hitler  dominated the whole society and  the minority Jews became silent  due to the fear of isolation or  separation.

This theory states that in elections certain views seem to get more  play than others. Sometimes people mute their opinions rather than talk  about them. It occurs when  individuals express when they perceive that their opinion is popular and  those who think otherwise remain quiet. This process occurs in a spiral,  so that one side of an issue ends up with much publicity and the other  side with little. This expression/non-expression rests on two premises.  The first is that people know which opinions are popular. The second  is that people adjust their expression of opinion to these perceptions.  Psychologists believe that this ‘Spiral of Silence’ is caused by fear of  isolation as the ‘Spiral of Silence’ is not just a matter of wanting to be  on winning side but is an attempt to avoid being isolated from one’s  social group. Threats of criticism are also powerful forces in silencing  individuals. This process affects public opinion but these are exceptions  as there are groups and individuals who do not fear isolation and express  their opinion irrespective of outcome.

Elizabeth Noelle—Neumann’s Spiral of Silence theory

For example, in a company the managing director decides to increase their working hour from 8 to 10 and send e-mail to all employees. Majority of them accept this time changes and few employees are not satisfied with his decision. But they cannot or ready to express their thought publicly, because of the following reasons; they may feel unsupported by the other employees, “Fear of isolation” like transfer, “Fear of Rejection” By rejecting their personal opinion from the public will help to avoid fight or they may try to save their job by suppressing or avoid personal statement in public.

The best way to study public opinion in regards to the spiral of silence theory is to look at the theory in two different categories: mass media and interpersonal communication. Mass media can very easily make someone feel that their contradictions to a major issue are not welcomed and thus be afraid to speak out. The vast amount of mass media that an individual deals with every day feeds largely the same information on issues and politics. Noelle-Nuemann states that most media is consonant and that even though there are different sources of news through the mass media, most of the news is very similar and makes most people form the same opinion on an issue.

Although public opinion is formed by both personal observation and  media utterings/exposure, individuals mix the two and confuse what is  learned through the media with what is learned through the interpersonal  channels. Neolle-Newmann has observed – “The longer one has studied  the question, the clearer it becomes that fathoming the effects of the mass  media is very hard. These effects do not come into being as a result of a  single stimulus; they are as a rule cumulative, following the principle that  water dripping constantly wears away stone. Further discussions among  people spread the media’s messages further, and before long no difference  can be perceived between the point of media perception and points far  removed from it. The media’s effects are predominantly unconscious;  people cannot provide an account of what has happened. Rather, they  mix their own direct perceptions and the perceptions filtered through the  eyes of the media into an indivisible whole that seems to derive from their  own thoughts and experiences”.

Therefore ‘Spiral of Silence’ is a phenomenon which involves  personal and media channels of communication. The media publicize  public opinion, making evident which opinions predominate. Whether  individuals express their opinions or not depending upon the predominant  points of view, the media, in turn attend to the expressed opinion, and the  spiral continues.

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