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This theory was first proposed in 1970 by Philip J Tichenor, then Associate Professor of Journalism and mass Communication, George A. Donohue, Professor of Sociology and Clarice. N Olien,  Instructor in Sociology, all three researchers in the University of Minnesota. They defined the Knowledge Gap theory, “as the infusion of mass media information into a social system increases higher socioeconomic status segments tend to acquire this information faster than lower socioeconomic status population segments. Hence  the  gap in knowledge between the two tends to increase rather than decrease.”  In simple words , as the access to mass media increases those particular segments of population inevitable gain information faster and hence the wide gap increases with the lower economic status of the population. The world is yet to see the complete effect of the new technologies but as the globe turns out more technological and the expense rises, it more goes out of the league of the poor. As a result the knowledge gap also widens and the people of the higher economic class gain the benefits more. If the Information services are not made equal for the entire society, this gap of information will increase over the years.

Knowledge Gap Theory©[Rawpixel.com ]/Adobe Stock


In this theory knowledge is treated as any other commodity which is not distributed equally throughout the society and the people at the top of the ladder has more easy access to it. This theory was used in the presidential election and it is was seen that when a new idea invades in the society, the people of the higher strata understand it better and hence the gap expands. But, events such as debates, free talks may help to reduce this gap.

Few reasons have been stated of why this pattern of gap exist

1.    Communication Skills– As a person receives more education, his communication skill increases and hence gathering information becomes easier for him. Along with this reading, understanding mad memory skills also become better and thus he understands the issues of various spheres better.

2.    Stored information– Via classrooms, textbooks, discussions, educated person is exposed to much more topics than a less educated person and hence his awareness is more.

3.    Relevant Social Contact– A person with more education has more social integration. This helps him to counter various perspectives, diverse stories etc which makes his understanding of public issues better.

4.    Selective Exposure– An educated person knows well of how to use optimum use of a medium while on the other hand a person with no knowledge is unlikely to know it. Hence he will be less aware of the issues around the world and less interested and may not also know of how it may affect him.

5.    Media Target Markets– For every product, news or any commodity a certain segment is targeted and it is usually the higher strata of the society who is targeted and hence the lower strata remains unaware.

 Ways of Reducing the Gap

George A. Donohue and his other colleagues by the end of 1975 came up with three variables after a survey on local and national issues, which will help to reduce the gap and that failed this theory upto a certain extent.

  • Impact of local issues– It was seen that local issues that directly impacted the people had aroused more of social concern than national issues that did not have such a great impact and hence in these issues widened gap could be reduced.
  • Level of social conflict surrounding the issue– Until a communication breakdown, issues with more perceived conflict tends to grab more attention and weakening the knowledge gap hypothesis.
  • Homogeneity of the community– If it is a homogeneous community, the gap tends to be lesser than a wider heterogeneous community.
{ 23 comments… add one }
  • Richard Paler October 19, 2016, 12:34 am

    Good day!
    my name is Richard Paler, I am a Technology Communication student from Mindanao University Of Science and Technology (MUST) here in the Philippines. I have a question about the Knowledge Gap Theory. Can you explain or simplify assumption of your theory? And also what is the significance of the knowledge Gap theory?
    I am looking forward for your reply. Thank you and God bless!

  • Dalyop Joseph December 29, 2016, 8:55 pm

    Hullo, i like your article, i am a student of communication in University of Jos, Nigeria. Can you relate the knowledge gap assumption with diffusion theory….. Thanks

  • yasser ramzy May 30, 2017, 11:53 pm

    let me add more details :

    Core Assumptions and Statements:
    The knowledge gap can result in an increased gap between people of lower and higher socioeconomic status. The attempt to improve people’s life with information via the mass media might not always work the way this is planned. Mass media might have the effect of increasing the difference gap between members of social classes.
    Tichenor, Donohue and Olien presented five reasons for justifying the knowledge gap:
    1) People of high socioeconomic status have better communication skills, education, reading, comprehending and remembering information.
    2) People of higher socioeconomic status can store information more easily or remember the topic form background knowledge.
    3) People of higher socioeconomic status might have a more relevant social context.
    4) People of higher socioeconomic status are better in selective exposure, acceptance and retention.
    5) The nature of the mass media itself is that it is geared toward persons of higher socioeconomic status.

    Media presenting information should realize that people of higher socioeconomic status get their information in a different way than lower educated people. Furthermore, this hypothesis of the knowledge gap might help in understanding the increased gap between people of higher socioeconomic status and people of lower socioeconomic status. It can be used in various circumstances.
    The methods used in media researches concerned with knowledge gap are surveys of mass media and tests of knowledge.

  • mukhtar garba kobi June 17, 2017, 1:45 am

    i really apperciate you for this beneficial work, this theory was given to us as group assignment and through what i gained here it is of high recognition to me, Thanks and God bless

  • Lampard August 2, 2017, 12:14 am

    Hi, how can one apply the knowledge gap theory in the context of election sensitization programme. Thank you

  • jeremiah dizon October 6, 2017, 2:18 pm

    can i use knowledge gap theory in my research entitled “An analysis of financial literacy of the members of selected credit cooperative” thank you. i found your theory interesting and good. i like it

  • Lawrence Kisamba October 13, 2017, 2:39 pm

    what are some of the critics associated with this theory

  • Fatiha December 27, 2017, 1:35 am

    Can i use knowlege gap theory un my research entitled”the média coverage to health awerenss osques and thé formation of public atittud. Thann you.

  • nanahafsert July 19, 2018, 1:34 pm

    what are the criticisms of this theory

  • Wokeyim Okoi November 7, 2018, 8:09 pm

    Hello… I am a student of mass communication in Cross River University of Technology Calabar. How do I relate this theory to my research work “the percieved improvements in the aesthetics of Nollywood films from 90s till date” thank you. Looking forward to your response.

  • umer butt December 24, 2018, 11:30 am

    how we can compare this theory with current situation ……….
    please elaborate this with current period

  • Reuben Mutua February 21, 2019, 12:03 pm

    It’s very comprehensive.

  • Ali Haider May 7, 2019, 2:20 pm

    My name is ALI ,I am a student of Communication Studies of Punjab University Pakistan. Please Can you help me that whats the significance of this theory. how much it influence the number of people..?

  • Okeibi ethopia Damilola August 3, 2019, 1:26 pm

    I’m a student of mass communication, how can I relate thus theory to my project topic ” impact of commercialization on a news content”
    I really like your theory, looking forward to your response.

  • sani isah December 22, 2019, 7:21 pm

    wow great work , thank you sir your work has make my assignment easier than I expected.

  • Mary rose February 12, 2020, 9:53 am

    Good day!
    I am Mary Rose, a Communication management student from University of Science and technology of southern Philippines. I am glad to read such a wonderful article like this and i just want to gain more knowledge about this theory and I am also looking for some studies that talks about this . I am looking forward to communicate with you, for me to be able to understand more about this theory. Hoping for your response. Thank you.

  • K. N. Promise March 4, 2020, 11:36 pm

    I am a student of the department of Mass Communication, University of Benin, Benin city Nigeria.
    Please can you list out the basic assumption of this theory..

  • John April 23, 2020, 2:44 am

    It will require more information to be able to help or assist with answering your question. Your research question will be helpful.

  • zhenzhen He November 20, 2020, 8:01 am

    I am wondering about How to apply this theory in social media,like wechat?

  • favour okwudire January 3, 2021, 4:14 am

    my name is favour okwudire a student of mass communication Landmark University, Kwara, Nigeria. first off wonderful article, but can you list out criticism of this theory or criticize the theory please.

  • ishrat January 15, 2021, 3:07 pm

    how can i relate this knowledge gap with online education issues in pakistan during covid 19 because i through due to online education knowledge gap increase in pakistan

  • Sarah May 25, 2021, 2:27 pm

    The knowledge gap theory holds that with time, the information gap between the rich and poor will be eventually closed. True or false

  • Rhoda Muwowo November 6, 2023, 8:50 pm

    Thank you for the write up

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