Lasswell’s Chain of Communication

Theorist Harold Lasswell created the chain of communication theory in 1948. This theory analyzes the way people communicate. Lasswell’s chain of communication was considered a “pioneering theoretical model of media effects” (Laughey, 2007, p.08). Lasswell focused on the five different types of analysis: control, content, media, audience, and effect (Laughey, 2007, p.09). These analyses have their separate functions: the control analysis says and ask who, the content analysis asks and says what, the media analysis asks and says in which channel, the audience analysis asks and says to whom and lastly, the effect analysis asks and says with what effect (Laughey, 2007, p. 09). Although Lasswell created the entire five process analysis, his most important ideas stemmed from the effects analysis (Laughey, 2007).

It has been said that most theories in the discipline of communication and media studies can fit into one or more of the five analysis processes (Laughey, 2007). The chain of communication both supposes total conductance of the message that doesn’t transmit without obstacles and is a great way of introducing not only theories of media effects but all media theory (Laughey, 2007). Lastly, in an ideal world, Lasswell describes an effective relay of communication as one of total conductance between the sender and the receiver (Laughey, 2007, p.09). In this scenario, there is perfect communication without any misinterpretations between the sender and receiver.

Lasswell believes the way to achieve harmony in the chain of communication is to serve three special functions in any human society: the surveillance of the environment, correspondence with the parts of society in responding to the environment, and the transmission of the social heritage from one generation to the next (Laughey, 2007, p.09). In the surveillance of the environment, human societies are typically dealt with by nation-states, and assigned surveillance roles to: diplomats, armies, and spies (Laughey, 2007, p.09). In correspondence with parts of the society, and with response to the environment, specialists like: politicians, press officers, and journalists communicate through mass media devices (Laughey, 2007). Lastly, in the transmission of the social heritage from generation to generation, the responsibility falls on teachers and lectures (Laughey, 2007).

Lasswell defines any form of communication, whether face to face or mediated, as segmented into the previously mentioned five processes and their separate methods of analysis (Laughey, 2007). According to this definition, propaganda is a form of communication. Propaganda is information with a biased or misleading nature, that serves to help or harm a person, group, or institution through the spread of rumors. Propaganda from the point of view of the chain of communication is transmitted with total conductance which, again, means that nothing compromises the full understanding of the message. According to Lasswell, any form of communication along with propaganda is assumed to travel in a straight-line. This would mean that messages only go in a forward direction from the sender to the receiver with an identifiable effect (Laughey, 2007).

In the chain of communication, a materialized real-world example is violence in television (Laughey, 2007). This example goes together with two of the five methods of analysis. It goes with the audience analysis and the effect analysis (Laughey, 2007). It goes with the audience analysis because it checks that the information communicated is


The Walking Dead – TV Violence

at the appropriate level for the audience watching. The audience analysis asks to whom is the audience? In this case, violence in television is not appropriate for the audience of children. One big reason for this is that kids at a young age are highly impressionable to their surrounds. Therefore, movies and television shows have warnings and a rating system. These two things are for parents to be aware on the television show or movie. The other analysis is the effect analysis, in this it shows possible reasons and outcomes that have to do with a certain problem or situation. The effect analysis asks with what effect? In this example the problem is violence in television. This is a real-world example that has stirred debate over the recent years because of guns violence in America whether that be schools, churches, malls etc., In these regards, the mass media has argued that violent movies effects these incidents of gun violence in a negative way. As this has become a debate there is no official right or wrong answer but rather studies that have come out in favor of both sides of the argument. For the term communication, a Loure3materialized real-world example are the social network sites Facebook, and Twitter. These two sites have become the main source for most people, where they can communicate with other people, and receive information such as the global news, current events, entertainment, sports, etc. In the present-day, it is all about easy access to obtaining, and communicating information as quickly as possible, whether nonsense information or important information. It is all right at our finger tips.

In Lasswell’s theory, he wrote a lot about an ideal world. Parts of his theory were not very realistic for the world around him because the reality of the world of communication is that it is much more complicated and not ideal. Lasswell based his chain of communication theory on his idea of power as a main point in all aspects of life. Power is the ability to direct or influence the behavior of others or through events. Another idea Lasswell had was total conductance. Total conductance is a way of going against miscommunication. These two ideas connected as they both affect something specific in a good way. This is evident in the definition of Lasswell’s chain of communication. Lasswell makes the argument that the structure of human-like animal communication serves a vital function that helps to maintain order and well-being among the communicators (Laughey, 2007, p.09). When it comes to roles amongst communicators humans naturally take up specific roles as leaders, followers, and watch-keepers that carry certain expectations in-terms of behavior and action (Laughey, 2007, p.09). Lasswell’s end goal in this theory was to analyze the way people communicate. He created a theory that can be applied to many other theories in the discipline of communication and media studies.


Laughey, D. (2007). Lasswell’s chain of communication and propaganda technique. Key themes in media theory (pp. 08-12). New York City, NY: Open University Press.

Bajracharya, S. (2018, February 15). Lasswell’s Communication Model. Retrieved May 11, 2018, from

Image Attribution: “Twitter” By P. Elliott. (CC: 2.0) “The Walking Dead” By RK*Pictures (CC:2.0)  

Written by Louie Galdos, 2018



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