Hypodermic Needle Theory

1920’s – 1940’s – Various Theorists

A linear communication theory which suggests that the media has a direct and powerful influence on audiences, like being injected with a hypodermic needle. This theory considers only one option. That the audience are passive and what they see they will act out or believe. The majority of Copy Cat murders that take place relate heavily to this theory. You could argue that when a Copy Cat murder takes places, the predator watches, hears or plays something and then goes and acts out the crime. Although many people still talk about the media in this way, this theory is disregarded as an out-dated way of thinking about media influence. Audiences are more active than this theory suggests.

The Hypodermic Needle Theory suggests that the media has a direct and powerful influence on audiences. It was developed in the 1920s and 1930s after researchers observed the effect of propaganda during World War I and incidents such as Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds broadcast. It became the dominant way of thinking about media influence during the subsequent decades. The Hypodermic Needle theory is a linear communication theory which suggests that a media message is injected directly into the brain of a passive, homogenous audience. This theory suggests that media texts are closed and audiences are influenced in the same way. The Hypodermic Needle Theory is no longer accepted by media theorists as a valid explanation of communication and media influence. Indeed, some dispute whether early media theorists gave the idea serious attention. In their book An Integrated Approach to Communication Theory and Research, Michael Salwen and Don Stacks write: “The hypodermic-needle model dominated until the 1940s. As discussed earlier, although there is some question whether such a model influenced scholarly research, anyone reading pre-World War II popular literature will see that it underlay much popular thinking about the mass media and their consequences.” Although the Hypodermic Needle Theory has been abandoned by most media theorists, it continues to influence mainstream discourse about the influence of the mass media. People believe that the mass media can have a powerful effect on people and parents continue to worry about the effect of television and violent video games


The Hypodermic Theory lives on today in tabloid news reports about 'copycat' crimes

Orson Welles - War Of The Worlds - Radio Broadcast 1938

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Scream Attackers Given 6 Years

Two schoolboys who brutally stabbed a 13-year-old friend and left him for dead after watching the horror film Scream have each been ordered to be detained for six years. Daniel Gill, 14, and Robert Fuller, 15, both of Harrogate, North Yorkshire, were found guilty of the attempted murder of Ashley Murray in August but were sentenced at Hull Crown Court in Friday.

The victim suffered 18 stab wounds and was left at an isolated beauty spot outside Harrogate.
He was found 40 hours later by a man out walking his dogs and despite suffering appalling injuries recovered enough to testify in court.
Judge Myerson told Fuller and Gill: "From the moment you set out that morning, the death of Ashley Murray was on your minds. When the two of you believed he was dead you tried to put his body in a bin liner."
After reading psychiatric reports the judge accepted they had behavioural difficulties which enabled convicted Harrogate drug dealer, Paul Aurens, at whose home they watched the film, to exercise undue influence over them.

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