Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann (1916 – 2010)

Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann, the German political scientist contributes the famous model called “Spiral of Silence”. In 1947 Neumann and her husband found “Public Opinion Organization” in German and also she was a President of “World Association for Public Opinion Research” in 1978 to 1980. Through this Spiral of Silence theory Neumann indirectly explains the Jews status during World War II under Nazi’s control. Here, Adolf Hitler dominated the whole society and the minority Jews became silent due to the fear of isolation or separation.

Theory:

The one view dominated the public scene and others disappeared from the public awareness as it adherents became silent. In other words, the people fear of separation or isolation those around them, they tend to keep their attitudes to themselves when they think they are in the minority.  This process is called “Spiral of Silence”.

Example:

In a company, the managing director decides to increase their working hour from 8 to 10 and send e-mail to all employees. Majority of them accept this time changes and few employees are not satisfied with his decision. But they cannot or ready to express their thought publicly.

Because

1.    They may feel unsupported by the other employees.

2.   “Fear of isolation” like transfer

3.   “Fear of Rejection” By rejecting their personal opinion from the public will help to avoid fight.

4.    They may try to save their job by suppressing or avoid personal statement in public.

They frame work based on few assumptions:

1.    Spiral of silence theory describe as a dynamic process, the predication about public opinion in mass media which gives more coverage for the majorities in the society and gives very less coverage for minorities.

2.    In this social environment, People have fear of rejection to express their opinion or views and they known well what behaviors will make a better likelihood. It’s called “fear of Isolation”.

3.     Being the part of Minority. People loss their confidence and silent or mute to express their views because of the fear of isolation or they feel alone or unsupported.

4.    Sometimes the minorities withdraw their expressed opinion from public debates to secure themselves from the majority.

5.    Maximum numbers get more vocal space in the society and lesser number become less vocal space or become silent.

Advantages and Disadvantages:

1.    Spiral of Silence theory has both micro level and macro level explanatory process.

2.    It works well during the public campaign, Senate and Parliament.

3.    Spiral of silence theory – which helps to raise question about considering the role and responsibility of media in the society.

4.    The theory which is not considering the other explanation of silencing. In some cases the person may feel the majority’s ideas or opinion is much better than his own view.

5.    It portrait overly negative view of media influence the average people.

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

michael September 25, 2011 at 8:59 pm

it is now ironic that this thoery has been turned upon its head by the new Hitler known as Political Correctness. It is now the majority that are silenced are caught within the spiral silence

moureen October 10, 2011 at 5:38 pm

what circumstances force someone in the minority side to speak up?

Rob December 22, 2011 at 10:04 pm

Today I don’t know if this theory holds up. I think that it is actually the majority that is silenced. After the terrible events on 9/11 we as a people have been forced to believe that the people in government (the minority) know what is best for us. The American people are afraid to speak out because they will be labeled anti American or traitors. (Social Isolation) Which is a real concern now with the passage of the National Homeland Defense Act. Which gives the government the right to arrest any U.S. citizen with out due process and hold them indefinitely if they are suspected of “Domestic Terrorism”. What I think will cause the majority to speak up is finally coming to the realization that when people have as much power as the people in political office do they are bound to use it for there own interest.

Victoria Loveland January 5, 2012 at 10:37 am

Thank you for sharing this and all the excellent comments here. In discovering the spiral of silence, I have decided to stand up for Ron Paul in a community that is largely pro-Romney. I am not sure what will happen, but I refuse to go out silently.

ZAHOOR JATT March 28, 2012 at 10:41 am

NICE BUT NOW TIME HAS BEEN CHANGE
MINORITY HAS ALSO EQUAL POWER SEE JEWS THEY ARE IN MINORITY BUT WHOLE WORLD NOW THEY ARE NOT SILENT

Marriam Saeed March 31, 2012 at 10:15 pm

I think this theory not work when minority has power of media.

Marriam Saeed March 31, 2012 at 10:17 pm

I think this theory not work when minority has power of media specially they are opinion leader.

Abid zafar April 1, 2012 at 12:30 pm

JUTT SB,
You are right at his opinion but the time when spiral of silence model was intrduced or founded , at that time yhe jews were in minority……….
thanks

Eric Gaka April 18, 2012 at 10:11 am

I also think theory is working upside down. the majority have entrusted the minority to represent them. what is happening is the minority are creating fear and tension to the majority so as to get support from the majority.

Feroz May 7, 2012 at 3:24 pm

During 1900 – 1950 jews were consider as minority in all over the world. In german also they are minority but the settled very well and they were not shows any interest towards the poor german and nation. Again and again minority jews can able hold the top position. Germans are became refuges in their own country and poverty kills many. Hitler take this issue as a propaganda and killed jews.

That’s why the theory works upside down. Conflict between poor and rich rather than majority and minority.

Farouq Gilani May 8, 2012 at 1:07 pm

this theory is useful in developing countries. and appreciable work it is also helpful in these days and can decrease the disparity

Farouq Gilani May 8, 2012 at 1:10 pm

thanks

Muhammad Waqas June 1, 2012 at 7:38 pm

i think this theory is useful in these days in under develop contreis and it is a good work to break the spiral of silence
thaks

aly abich June 12, 2012 at 5:55 pm

am realy supporting Elizebath in this theory.if at all you have any opinion or idea which you think after giving it out will leave you to look like afool please keep it for yourself because you willbe isolated and get thorough embarasement in the public.but if you think that you are in line with majority please dear go ahead .

hndrk br June 14, 2012 at 9:18 pm

yes, in the developing country, you’ll find many aspects to become majority and minority samples, such as ideology/religion, in Asia, especially south east asia, the majority and minority become a problem..
And this theory has explained it, thanks..

CH Hodgkins September 23, 2012 at 8:05 pm

Actually, if you read the theory, it isn’t based on actual minority or majority, it is based on perceived minority.

“In other words, the people fear of separation or isolation those around them, they tend to keep their attitudes to themselves when they think they are in the minority. “

FURAHA DADU November 22, 2012 at 4:38 pm

Thanks to Elisabeth Noelle Neumann for her efforts to come up with the Spiral of silence theory because it is indeed true in as far as public opinion formation is concerned. I think it is important to understand that it is true that human beings fear isolation and will do what it takes to make sure that they gain acceptance and not neglected since we are not solitary animals and that is why St. Augustin said thayt man is by nature a social animal.
According to this theory public opinion formation is based on the majority’s perspective about a paricular issue of public interest and thus the minority do not have a stake in the so called public opinion. But when does one feels part of the minority? Is this perceived minority of actual minority? According to this theory onee forms his opinion on a particular issue based on the dominant or salient opinion about the same issue in the view not to be isolated from the majority for thinking that they are holding a lonely opinion. This is said to be possible because the human being has the capacity to estimate how many people around them hold a particular opinion through what is said to be man’s sixth sense called Quas-statistical sense
However this is a perception about the distribution of opinion and not the actual opinion climate and therefore i think that this is only a perceived minority but not actual minority and I therefore think that public opinion is very misleading and is not tnot to be trusted.This is because those that form their opinions based on the perceived majority’s opinion only adjust their actual opinion to match with that of the perceived majority for fear of isolation accruing from the perception that they hold a lonely opinion but this does not change their actual or real opinion about the issue in question! gfrom gf r mthe .i-

raza December 24, 2012 at 12:55 pm

agree in psychological terms

Prakash Ghimire February 13, 2013 at 5:26 pm

Very useful document

Alorgbe Bernice March 24, 2013 at 1:09 pm

I do think that the spiral of silence theory is gradually dying out as a communication theory. This is due to how media is practised currently in the world thanks to the technological determininsm theory which allows for active participation from all sides of people. For instance, i wouldnt share my views on a particular theory like this if not for advancement in technology and the view that it’s a free platform where one may chose to accept or reject my view. Current media practise does not give ear to who is a perceived majority or perceived minority…everyone is heard esp through feedback

mathew kimanthi August 26, 2013 at 8:16 pm

owing to the world of today nobody will keep quiet due to fear of issolation but its better to die and leave the other generation in peace.

Achuth December 1, 2013 at 9:46 am

this model will not work while minority people have the media in society. they will express their views by their own media.

waste February 5, 2014 at 5:24 pm

Wonderful post however I was wanting to know if you could write
a litte more on this topic? I’d bbe very grateful if you could elaborate a little
bit further. Thanks!

Estherlla Sekyi April 3, 2014 at 8:43 pm

I think this theory is still working because the majority seems to be still suppressing the
views of the minority.

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