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Functions of 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.

{ 33 comments… add one }
  • Gbemiro Esther May 6, 2016, 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, 2:35 am

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

  • Shahzaib Hassan July 7, 2016, 11:23 am

    Thanks for help.

  • Archa July 30, 2016, 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, 1:10 am

    This helped me a lot and so informative.

  • Judie November 11, 2016, 2:19 am

    The mass media do not exist in a vacuum

  • Judie November 11, 2016, 2:22 am

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

  • nati November 12, 2016, 12:32 am

    very good points.has answered my assignment very well

  • Yeshwanth Gollapalli December 22, 2016, 4:05 pm

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

  • chileshe Musonda March 6, 2017, 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, 4:02 pm

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

  • Montseng April 5, 2017, 2:19 am

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

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

    Thanks for updating me on my Reaserch Topic.

  • sajid maqbool May 8, 2017, 5:12 pm

    i wants to functions of mass media for individual

  • David Jena November 8, 2017, 8:00 pm

    straight to the point was assisted with my assignment

  • M. Farooq February 17, 2018, 8:44 pm

    This is so informative. Please include these functions of mass communication as well.
    1) Interpretation
    2) Linkage
    3) Transmission of Values/Socialization
    4) Entertainment

  • sunny April 1, 2018, 1:38 am

    This helps, thank you

  • Alhaji Musa Liman May 21, 2018, 5:01 am

    This is an excellent research which has further widen my horizon as a Nass Communication scholar

  • David wanami August 7, 2018, 12:26 pm

    Kudos! Big help

  • Bako August 14, 2018, 7:35 pm

    very explanatory … thanks

  • Elsie Maduko October 20, 2018, 3:03 am

    as I’m busy preparing for my exam……really helped thank,clear and accurate .

  • Nimra December 24, 2018, 8:05 pm

    This helped me a lot thanks a lot

  • Fanekiso Enhle March 24, 2019, 9:22 pm

    So profound

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  • Glory October 31, 2019, 5:18 pm

    Wow, this has brought solution to my problem

  • Yafa January 4, 2020, 2:48 pm

    Thx for these informative components could you please provide us with the exact date of laswell and Wright. Thx

  • Eric H. April 27, 2020, 10:04 am

    The information that is relayed through mass communication to the general public is fascinating.

  • Aqsa May 19, 2020, 2:10 am

    Help me in this question plz.

    The media play a vital role of interpreting events for us. However, sometimes this can prove to be dysfunctional. Explain how with examples.

  • Ossai Micheal May 23, 2020, 10:55 pm

    This is very good…
    plz what do they call some that is involved in mass communication

  • UDEME June 4, 2021, 10:29 am

    thanks for helping me with my assignment

  • Favour June 26, 2021, 7:02 pm

    Real nice , I love it!!

  • Sein Makanda December 8, 2021, 3:52 pm

    I really liked your explanation it’s simpler and undestandable

  • michaeladeola48@gmail.com May 31, 2022, 4:34 am


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