Lasswell’s Model Of Communcation

Harold D. Lasswell (1902-1978) is known for his studies in the field of Politics. He is considered a pioneer in the application of Psychology principles to Politics, as well as in constructing a system of Politics based on theories of Natural Sciences.

Harold Dwight Lasswell was born in Donnellson, Illinois, on February 13, 1902. His father was a Presbyterian clergyman and his mother was a schoolteacher.

Due to his successes in school, Lasswell obtained a grant for studying sociology at the University of Chicago, where he graduated in 1922. In 1926, with only 24 years old, he received the title of doctor from the same institution. His dissertation on “Propaganda Technique in the World War” (1927) is considered a leading study on Communication Theories. During this period of his life, Lasswell was influenced by the pragmatism taught by John Dewey and George Herbert Mead, among others.

But he also studied at the universities of London, Geneva, Paris and Berlin – where he studied Sigmund Freud, whose theories were determinant for Lasswell’s psychological approach to Political Science.

The University of Chicago made Lasswell an assistant professor in 1927 and an associate one in 1932. He stayed there until 1938, when he transferred to the Washington School of Psychiatry. But the Second World War started and Lasswell became the director of War Communications Research at the Library of Congress. He also worked as a professor at the New School of Social Research in New York City and at Yale Law School.

Lasswell’s communication model.

Lasswell was especially concerned with mass communication and propaganda, so his model is orientated to the researches we need to develop in order to answer his questions:

  • Who – Control analysis
  • Says what – Content analysis
  • In which channel – Media analysis
  • To whom – Audience analysis
  • With what effect – Effect analysis

Who: the sender.

This component of communication has to be studied through the “Control Analysis”. This requires the researcher to investigate things such as which company owes certain TV channel or newspaper, the ideology of the different media it owes, etc.

What: the message.

Lasswell’s main preoccupation was the mass communication, so he was especially concerned with the messages present in the media. The “Content analysis” is usually related to representations of concrete persons and situations in the media, this is, with stereotypes. For example: how are women represented in television? If one common representation of women is the housewife that cleans the house and takes care of the children, we would have to compare the percentage of that kind of women in TV to the real or objective percentage by resorting to official statistics.

Channel: the media.

In simple terms, we can state that messages can be sent in channels corresponding to our five senses. Each sense, and therefore each channel, suits better in different cases. The “Media analysis” is aimed to study the choice of one medium among all the possibilities, which will depend on lots of factors such as the content of the message, the purpose of the message, the target public, etc.

Whom: the receiver.

The question of the audience is of vital importance in order to be successful in a concrete communicational situation. By the “Audience analysis” we will try to know every important thing about the target public of one message, from gender and age to social status and tastes.

Effect: the consequences.

Lasswell was especially concerned by the consequences of mass communication on the population, so one of his major contributions was the concept of “effect”. Through the “Effect analysis” we will try to know how certain message has affected its receivers.

Although Lasswell’s model was aimed to study mass communication, it is positively known for being suitable to different situations, including interpersonal communication.

Advantage of lasswell model:
  • It is Easy and Simple
  • It suits for almost all types of communication
  • The concept of effect
Disadvantage of lasswell model:
  • Feedback not mentioned
  • Noise not mentioned
  • Linear Model
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