What is it, you ask?
The Spiral of Silence Theory says that if a group of
people are discussing a controversial topic the
person with a conflicting opinion will feel pressure
to not speak. This leads to the minority opinion
becoming less and less supported because people
are unwilling to face social isolation to support
that view. The last sentence is where the spiral part
of the theory comes from.
Who uses it?
Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann developed the theory in Germany
in 1974. Germany was divided into East and West and many
topics in that time would have created Spirals of Silence
because of the controversial political activity.
This theory is very multifaceted in that the theory is studied in
interpersonal as well as mass communication and public
opinion. Whether you are speaking to a small group of friends
or addressing the entire student body of Clemson if you hold
the minority opinion, you choose your words carefully.
Who uses it? (cont.)
An article from a management journal studied this theory
because the Spiral of Silence affects office relationships
Public opinion research involves this theory because the
majority opinion that you may or may not hold is the
public opinion. You decide public opinion by what the
common belief of the group you are in is.
Now, what to do with that
First, think back to the last time you were in an
awkward discussion and you kept quiet. Was it
because your opinion was not the group consensus?
Then you, my friend, have been part of the Spiral
of Silence. This theory is important because we
participate in it whether we know it or not. It
influences our behavior in certain settings and around
certain groups of people.
One criticism is that the theory does not take into account
the hardcore individuals who stand by their opinions no
matter what the group climate may be.
The fear of isolation is the only reason given for why
people are afraid to express their opinion. Some researchers
think that other reasons are also possible but not tested yet.
A third criticism involves the concept of public opinion.
Researchers are trying figure out how people determine
public opinion and how preconceived expectations affect
The Spiral Concept
The spiral in the name of the theory comes from the amount of
people who hold the particular minority belief. Every time
someone refuses to speak their opinion the less is known about it
and the less it is heard from. Over time popularity for that opinion
is non existent because everyone believes, due to the power of
public opinion, that no one else does either.
You have successfully learned the basics of The
Spiral of Silence Theory!
Remember to speak your mind and don’t let the
Spiral control your conversation!