The knowledge gap findings are somewhat reassuring; they imply that all segments of community will become informed when:

theories of communication  MEDIA SYSTEM DEPENDENCY THEORY

(a) The relevancy of that knowledge has been increased by an escalating social conflict and (b) increased news coverage from either local or outside sources provides better access to information, closing the knowledge gap should increase the likelihood that a solution will be negotiated based on the best information available, these findings also indicate that news media can help close these gaps, as systems, communities appear to be capable of adapting the roles played by parts (population segments) so that the system as a whole changes it stability to adapt to the environment.

But these optimistic conclusions were tempered by other findings. The researchers also found evidence that within the larger social system, the smaller, rural communities were dominated by large urban centers. Most conflicts were not resolved through local negotiations. Rather, solutions were imposed by outside elites who found ways to control local negotiations and direct them toward conclusion favored by urban elites.

And in their more recent research, the team found that outside media, most notably major urban newspapers have ‘pulled back’ from their long-standing mission of serving a regional or statewide audience. This might be making it harder for less knowledgeable people in small communities to get access to the information they need to effectively address conflicts in their communities. So the knowledge gap research demonstrates the potential for using systems for using systems theory to guide and interpret empirical research.


The researchers demonstrated that knowledge gaps decreased when conflicts escalated, this should have facilitated informed, democratic, and decision-making at local levels. But this didn’t happen because elite’s from the larger social system intervene. These findings imply that social conflict might be functional within smaller social system because it can improve the flow and use of information. But the escalation of conflict also motivates elites form the larger social system to intervene, and they ultimately control the conflict by imposing a solution.

Media System Dependency Theory

In its simplest terms, media system dependency theory assumes that the more a person depends on having his or her needs gratified by media use, the more important will be the role that media play in the person’s life and therefore the more influence those media will have on that person.

From a macroscopic, societal perspective, if more and more people become dependent on media, then the overall influence of media will rise and media’s role in society will become more central, thus, there should be a direct relationship between the amount of overall dependency and the degree of media influence or centrality at any given pointing time.

Melvin DeFleur and Sandra Ball-Rokeach have provided a fuller explanation in several assertions in 1975.

First, the “basis of media influence lays in the relationship between the larger social system, the media’s role in that system, and audience relationships to the media.” Effects occur, not because all-powerful media or omnipotent sources will that occurrence, but because the media operate in a given way in a given social system to meet given audience wants and needs.

Second, “the degree of audience dependence on media information is the key variable in understanding when and why media messages alter audience beliefs, feelings, or behavior.” the ultimate occurrence and shape of media effects rests with the audience members and is related to how necessary a given medium or media message is to them, the uses people make of media determine their influence.

Third, in our industrial society, we are becoming increasingly dependent on the media:

  1. to understand the social world
  2. to act meaningfully and effectively in society
  3. for fantasy and escape

As our world becomes more complex we not only need the media to a greater degree to help us make sense, to help us understand what our best responses might, be and to help us relax and cope, but also we ultimately come to know that world largely through those media . Note the emphasis on sense making in this assertion. As we use media to make sense of the social world, we permit media to shape our expectations.

Finally, fourth, “the greater the need and consequently the stronger the dependency…the greater the likelihood” that the media and their messages will have an effect. Not everyone will be equally influenced by media. Those who have greater needs and thus greater dependency on media will be most influenced.

These assertions can be illustrated by an example in involving use during a crisis situation. Think of your own media use the last time you found your self in a natural crisis, in other words, in a time of change or conflict (earthquake, tornado, hurricane or serious rain or tsunami). You probably spent more time watching television news than you did watching comedy shows. But what if electricity fails, the number and centrality of television information delivery functions instantly would be reduced to a level below than of your radio. And as the crisis deepens your dependence would increase. And so also might your attentiveness and willingness to respond as directed by that medium and its messages.

DeFleur and Ball-Rokeach developed a model to show how the media dependency process works for individual audience members in relation to media. the model tries to show a logical connection between overt media content and the motives for attention. Here media user chooses a particular content based on a pr-existing dependency (need)

A non-selective, casual member of the audience may be caught up and have

  • either motives activated or
  • may leave the process

At step two the more intense the need or dependency experienced, the more cognitive arousal (attention) and affective arousal (liking and disliking) the greater the arousal, the greater involvement in information processing. The greater the involvement, there after the probability of cognitive, affective and behavioral effects from the media.

This model relates only to effects from particular media contents on individuals.

  1. It avoids the claim of media effects as having all or none. it says that any given effect is dependent on a more or less unique set of circumstances which hold in a given situation
  2. It directs attention to structural conditions historical circumstances rather than individual variables.
  3. It takes into account that effects on audience may also lead to effects on the social system and other media system itself.

So media dependency theory assumes that individuals in modern society become increasingly dependent upon mass media as a source of news and information. The level of dependency relationship and the strength of the media effects hinge on the stability or instability of the society and the degree of societal importance placed upon mass media as an information source. Relationships and interactions among media, society and audience are demonstrated, along with media effects. News in time of crisis serves as a good example of dependency theory in action.

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