In mass-communication effects research, the theory that rather than the mass media having direct and uniform effects on audiences, audience attention, interpretation, recall, and (cognitive, affective, and behavioural) responses to messages are influenced by the cognitive differences, subcultural identities, and social relationships of individuals. In 1938, a radio dramatization of The War of the Worlds included simulated news bulletins which caused a minor panic among listeners in the USA who tuned in part-way through the broadcast, leading them to believe that Martians were indeed landing on Earth. However, the American psychologist Hadley Cantril (1906–69) demonstrated that those who were not fooled drew both on textual knowledge to identify the genre as science fiction, and on social knowledge in checking for external evidence. See also limited effects theory; receiver selectivity.
Subjects: Media Studies.