Functions of Mass Communication

in Mass Communication

The 1940s and 1950s saw the beginnings of increased research into the functions of mass communications. Post the Second World War, there was widespread interest in trying to understand the impact of mass media messages on society.

Media Signpost Showing Internet Television Newspapers Magazines And Radio

Stuart Miles/dollar photo club


The focus on understanding the effects of mass communications, especially its social consequences and its impact on maintenance of social order gave rise to a theoretical framework called functionalism. Functionalism focusses on explaining slow, evolutionary change and not sudden changes. The limited capacity of functionalism to be used only in policy research, evaluation and planning has been criticized by many theorists. The focus of functionalism is on how mass communication serves society and fails to account for how humans interact with mass communication and construct meanings from messages. The focus on maintaining the existing social order and not allowing for any meaningful change has also being criticized.

Merton’s Contribution

According to Merton, the functions of mass communication can either be manifest or latent. Manifest functions are the readily observed and intended consequences of the media. Latent functions on the other hand refer to the impacts that are not as easy to be observed or those which are unintended.

Lasswell and Wright’s Functions of Mass Communication

1) Surveillance of the Environment: An important function of the media is to keep up a surveillance of all the happenings in the world and provide information to the human society. The media has the responsibility of providing news and cover a wide variety of issues that is of some service to the society. Media help maintain social order by providing instructions on what has to be done in times of crisis, thereby reducing confusion among the masses.

Example: In times of natural disasters, war, health scares, etc., it is the role of the media to create awareness by providing information on what is happening and of ways in which the disaster can be faced.

2) Correlation of parts of Society: This function relates to how the media’s selection of certain news and its interpretation affects how society understands and responds to it. People’s attitudes towards political issues, events, public policy, etc. are influenced to an extent by how the media frames and presents the issue in their discussions and presentations.

Example: The media’s reporting on the war in Vietnam played a role in changing the mindsets of Americans who started opposing sending soldiers to fight a losing war. Hitler used the media in his propaganda war against the Jews.

3) Cultural Transmission: This refers to the ability of the media to teach the various norms, rules and values that exist in a society and ensure its transfer from one generation to the next. Television programmes by and large reflects the society in which they are broadcast and promote the understanding of a society’s cultural heritage.  Children’s television programmes are designed to showcase good behaviors and moral standards which children can learn by watching.

Example:  Shows like Lassie, Full House, Seventh Heaven and the Brady Bunch promoted family values.

4) Entertainment: This popular function of the mass media refers to the ability of the media to help relax people and create a means of escape from the stress of everyday life. The entertainment function of mass media has both positive and negative effects. The low quality of content is often criticized but the other benefits like helping people experience new events, stimulating emotions and helping people pass their leisure time show how important this function is.

Example: Television offers opportunities for people to view events that they would otherwise not be able to participate in like the Oscars, Independence Day Rallies, the Olympics, etc.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Gbemiro Esther May 6, 2016 at 1:48 pm

This is a nice piece, its concise and precise, straight to the point, it really helped me.

Kumba sesay June 3, 2016 at 2:35 am

Thanks for helping me out in my research for mass media and it’s functions

Shahzaib Hassan July 7, 2016 at 11:23 am

Thanks for help.

Archa July 30, 2016 at 10:12 pm

Neat and accurate to the point.thank u for helping me with this for my assignment related to mass communication

Richard November 3, 2016 at 1:10 am

This helped me a lot and so informative.

Judie November 11, 2016 at 2:19 am

The mass media do not exist in a vacuum

Judie November 11, 2016 at 2:22 am

How do I answer the question about the mass media not existing in a vacuum

nati November 12, 2016 at 12:32 am

very good points.has answered my assignment very well

Yeshwanth Gollapalli December 22, 2016 at 4:05 pm

Thank you very much.I’d prefer this website than my text. Helpful.

chileshe Musonda March 6, 2017 at 4:14 pm

what is the importance of the surveillance function of the media?how would it affect communication if it had never existed?

Mohamed Simbi Koroma March 24, 2017 at 4:02 pm

Thanks for giving us such an opportunity to know about Mass Communication Theory and its functions.

Montseng April 5, 2017 at 2:19 am

Is there a difference between functions of mass communication and roles of mass communication?

ugo david onyedikachi April 9, 2017 at 12:49 am

Thanks for updating me on my Reaserch Topic.

sajid maqbool May 8, 2017 at 5:12 pm

i wants to functions of mass media for individual

David Jena November 8, 2017 at 8:00 pm

straight to the point was assisted with my assignment

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