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History :

In mid 1930’s media scholars found the first theory on Media Effects and the Media Behaviors. During second world wars media plays a vital role in both United States and Germany to made influence in the people’s mind.

magic bullet or hypodermic needle theory of communication

Source: Aaron Amat/Adobe Stock

The Germany Hitler’s Nazi used film industry for Propaganda and they produced lots of movies about their achievements which made a great impact in Germans mind. Later the United States also used its own Hollywood and produced films like “Its Happened one night”, “It’s a wonderful life” and Mr. Smith goes to Washington” to portrait Germany as Evil force which also made impact in Americans Mind. Here media audience accepts the messages directly without any rejection.

Theory :

The media (magic gun) fired the message directly into audience head without their own knowledge. The message cause the instant reaction from the audience mind without any hesitation is called “Magic Bullet Theory”. The media (needle) injects the message into audience mind and it cause changes in audience behavior and psyche towards the message. Audience are passive and they can’t resist the media message is called “Hypodermic Needle Theory”.

Both theories are deals with impact of media messages in audience mind and how audience react towards the message without any hesitation.

Example :

In 1930, Newly formed mercury theater and Orson Wells join together and created a fake news bulletin about aliens invasion in american city called Grover’s Mill, New jersey. They broadcast this news bulletin in between the radio program called “The War of the Worlds”. The “Panic Broadcast” was reached merely 12 million American people and one million were seriously believed. Due to this broadcast the whole country was in chaos.

Study :

The magic bullet theory is based on assumption of human nature and it was not based on any empirical findings from research. Few media scholars do not accepting this model because it’s based on assumption rather than any scientific evidence.

In 1938, Lazarsfeld and Herta Herzog testified the hypodermic needle theory in a radio broadcast “The War of the Worlds” (a famous comic program) by insert a news bulletin which made a widespread reaction and panic among the American Mass audience. Through this investigation he found the media messages may affect or may not affect audience.

“People’s Choice” a study conducted by Lazarsfeld in 1940 about Franklin D. Roosevelt election campaign and the effects of media messages. Through this study Lazarsfeld disproved the Magic Bullet theory and added audience are more influential in interpersonal than a media messages.

{ 40 comments… add one }
  • John July 9, 2011, 11:51 am

    very nice 🙂

  • Dike July 23, 2011, 11:07 pm

    The magic theory had effect at the period under mention today,s audience believes in interpersonal relations to influence opinion or build attitude

  • Jeanne Mayeux August 5, 2011, 2:51 am

    Does anyone think that the divisive nature of our politicians are created by the media being sensationalistic with the opinionated rants conducted by their hired pundits? I do. I also believe this practice is tearing our society apart and making people angry over issues that are really just created by the 24 hours news channels. Things are never as bad as what the news media makes it out to be. I should know I worked for one of these channels.

  • Joyce Gwatidzo August 13, 2011, 3:52 pm

    I agree with Jeanne . Considering the marked diversity of individual’s backgrounds there is simply no way they can be lumped into one mass which interprets a message uniformly. Just like how someone shot in the head may die but another may live to tell the tale.Also the same injection does not have a fixed effect on every individual, some are healed and some are not whilst some even develop fatal reactions. So even metaphorically speaking the term hypordermic syringe still leaves room for different reactions to a message.

  • Sonya August 16, 2011, 12:57 am

    I also agree with Jeanne. If you know personally what occurred you know that the media tends to blow things out of proportion and then by the time that everyone adds their take on the matter, a blitz can occur with very little actually taking place.

  • Suthira Rajapaksha September 13, 2011, 10:17 am

    I am suthira Rajapaksha in Sri Lanka . I like to learn mass Communication and mass media. I have a MA degree of mass communication University of Kelaniya

  • machawe September 16, 2011, 1:12 am

    the ar4e many things that negetive effects through the media messages which means the are some massages that needs acritical eye befor they can be sent to people, so I think the censorship system must intrduced again.

  • moureen October 10, 2011, 5:30 pm

    people have no stregth ones the media pull their trigger they completely surrender by believing what is broadcasted

  • Gladys November 21, 2011 at 3.46 November 21, 2011, 6:20 pm

    A majority of mass media audiences take in messages just they way they stream in and tend to believe every bit of the message content. However, a part of the audience with analytical minds, thoroughly scrutinize the messages and draw conclusions from personal judgment.

  • manhar UP December 11, 2011, 10:15 pm

    i Agree to Jeanne. But one thing is left i think. Only the media is not changed. The Audience also have changed a lot. they want only the juicy news, and that is why people seem to subscribe more than one newspapers as they they wish to graze through different Channels.

  • Binod kumar pradhan December 12, 2011, 6:37 am

    I am binod kumar pradhan, pursuing my MA JMC course under Ravenshaw University , Cuttack, Odisha, India. I think it was good for media organisation since 1970. After 1970 the rise of electronic media had made it very meaningless theory but till now we can’t deny on its functioning because it work today as a anonymous theory.

  • Michael Tawiah March 28, 2012, 5:05 am

    The media plays on the emotions and intelligence of the audince because they leave no room for the audience to think.The message is imposed on the audience

  • Ibrahim Ismail May 1, 2012, 8:49 pm

    I rather see similarities with the magic bullet theory and the agena setting theory based on the fact that the media hits on issues of their interest or want audiences to believe and they tend to show some kind of passiveness in their absorbtion of information

  • vinitha January 16, 2013, 8:14 pm

    thums up! thank you

  • insah haki January 26, 2013, 9:01 pm


  • Lee March 18, 2013, 8:37 pm

    Hi, I`m a uni student. I`m Korean.
    I`m looking for more examples of the bullet theory for my assignment. So if some one knows it just help me out PLZ

  • alli ibukun mistura July 22, 2013, 10:33 pm

    what are the relevance of the academics needle theory in the current communication environment?

  • Fatima Salifu Amankwah March 13, 2014, 8:33 pm

    the media though helps us for information to reach us they are now putting pressure on us to listen to whatever they publish .IS THAT WHAT THE MEDIA IS TO THE MASS??????????LVU “THE PREACHER”

  • Umar January 13, 2015, 10:51 pm

    According to me media using it in way to gain their interest like this used earlier in world war or in Cold War .they trying to control the mind of common peoples those who belives what they listend.politicans also used in a way to get peoples vote by making promise to them.when media channel bombarded a message than after sometime people started to belive in that msg

  • sancho March 10, 2016, 5:25 pm

    it`s lovely & lively i like it, but it is better if u add critics and more examples.

  • Ehsanullah March 13, 2016, 7:40 am

    A situation which already created, media also play its role to influence a large group of audience.

  • Great Balti May 26, 2016, 3:28 pm

    These two theory of mass communication is very effective in third world because there are literacy rate is too low that`s why.

  • Ck October 25, 2016, 10:14 pm

    Do you have sources for the numbers of people that listened to the broadcast and how many panicked?

  • Sserwadda Charles November 18, 2016, 2:07 pm

    I have liked this theory coz it very applicable in illiterate societies where there z no argument of issues . Even the one for Argend setting

  • MASINA SHELTON February 17, 2017, 11:27 pm

    I need on my studies in regards to media studies;Theories of media

  • abbas April 21, 2017, 6:04 am

    kindly anyone tell me who gave this story?

  • Dhriti Agarwal October 13, 2017, 1:48 am

    Very well explained in a concise manner.

    Another example would be Radhe Maa.

  • PIERCE CHAGUMA October 23, 2018, 1:28 am

    The piece of work is quite helpful. I now have a clear picture of the theory.

  • Mariah June 21, 2019, 1:43 pm

    I would say Magic Bullet is not applicable to all the classes of public. Their is always a group who is not being effected by the information given by media.

  • Khaled Alyami January 15, 2020, 9:18 pm

    Very well-explained.

    Thank you

  • Moses Selay Conteh January 21, 2020, 5:46 pm

    Should we say that this theory is not applicable in this present era but it can be found in most media’s publication on important issues relating to it audience directly with a sure possible effects. Though not as before.

  • HALSON KAGURE April 18, 2020, 8:46 pm

    To the best of my knowledge this theory is no longer applicable, unlike in the past, people can now receive and filter fake news from actual news with diverse forms of communication channels

  • Emmanuel adu February 9, 2021, 9:33 pm

    I want to know if the theory is still relevant and how

  • Tami November 5, 2021, 6:28 pm

    I would say this theory is still applicable today. It has, however, evolved.
    Now I believe 2 (at least) opposing messages are introduced… a mainstream message And a counter message (which is also deception but comes across as “truth”).
    This way nobody really finds truth, they divided, but think they know truth.
    The only place I know of to really find Truth is, the Word of God.

  • Ashok Kumar Singh November 27, 2021, 5:05 pm

    There are instances of influence by media and also instances of people verifying the content disseminated by media. Maybe city people who have access to verify through search but rural area people still believe in the media content.

  • Md Azharul Islam February 8, 2022, 4:22 pm

    Very interesting theory. It is also very helpful to the students of Journalism

  • Tasleem Ahmad May 18, 2022, 4:48 pm

    Thank you for sharing this Theory.

  • Naomi October 11, 2022, 2:29 pm

    I like this this theory coz, media has a powerful impact to its audience, and it can manipulate the illiterates into believing what see or hear.

  • Ruth Naomy October 20, 2022, 3:19 pm

    Be friends

  • Christabel January 29, 2023, 2:42 pm

    Please the assumptions of the theory according to Baran and Davis

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