Table of Contents

General Contexts

Intrapersonal Communication (Persuasion)

Interpersonal Communication

Small Group Communication

Organizational Communication

Intercultural Communication

Mass Communication

Applied Contexts

Health Communication

Instructional Communication

Honors Capstone Home Page

Last updated February 14, 2001


Click Here to Go Back to Health Context Page


Explanation of Theory:

The Activation Theory of Information Exposure states that an individual will seek to satisfy their need for stimulation and information when attending to a message, before they seek to fulfill their need for information alone.
Theorist: Lewis Donohew, Phillip Palmgreen, & J. Duncan 

Date:  1980

Primary Article:

     Donohew, L., Palmgreen, P., & Duncan, J. (1980).  An activation model of information exposure.  Communication Monographs, 47, 295-303.

Individual Interpretations:

Activation Theory of Information Exposure explains how individuals seek messages that fulfill their cognitive need for information as well as their need to be entertained. 

Metatheoretical Assumptions:

 Based on the metatheoretical assumptions, the Activation Theory of Information Exposure is a humanistic theory.  Epistemologically, the theory holds multiple truths because the need for information and stimulation differs for all individuals, so one cannot say that all people seek stimulation and information before simply information alone, because some people prefer information before stimulation.  Ontologically, the theory is based on free will because an individual must choose to attend to message that are both stimulating and informative rather than those that are just informative.  Although the preference for information or stimulation is probably pre-determined, the individual chooses which message to attend to.  Axiologically, the theory is value conscious because the individual may be aware of their values however they do not play a direct role in their decision to attend to a stimulating or informational message.


  According to Farrell's Criteria for a useful humanistic theory, Activation Theory of Information Exposure has many of the criteria.  The theory has analytic consistency because it is easy to see how the researchers may have been interested to know why certain people attend to more stimulating messages before they attend to informational messages.  The theory has intuitive credibility and heuristic value because it can be applied in health communication when developing messages or advertisements for health related campaigns, and it can also be used in the field of advertising for other fields, such as business, sports, or even finance.

Ideas and Implications:

This theory is very helpful to those in advertising and persuasion, as they develop messages for individuals, it is important for them to meet the cognitive and emotional needs of their audiences.


 Erin and Kris are teenagers that lead active lives and are faced with the normal peer pressures of any teen: drugs, sex, and alcohol. During their daily television viewing they watch many commercials and programs that are very entertaining.  Periodically there are commercials that deal with serious issues such as drugs, sex, and alcohol.  When the information is simply presented by someone talking at the viewers and presenting information, the teens change the channel. However, when the message has music or even an entertaining story line, they are more likely to watch the commercial and retain the information that is presented.  The activation theory of information exposure states that Erin and Kris retain that information because their need for stimulation and information has been fulfilled, rather than just their need for information.

Relevant Research:

      Christ, W., & Medoff, N.J. (1984).  Affective state and the selective exposure to and use of television.  Journal of Broadcasting, 28, 51-63.

      Finn, S.(1985b). Information-theoretic measures of reader enjoyment.  Written Communication, 2, 358-376.

      Zuckerman, M. (1988). Behavior and biology:  Research on sensation seeking and reactions to the media.  In L. Donohew, H. Sypher, & E. T. higgins (Eds.), Communication, social cognition, and affect (pp. 173-194).  Hillsdale, NJ:  Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Location in Eight (8) Primary Communication Theory Textbooks:

     Anderson, R., & Ross, V. (1998). Questions of communication: A practical introduction to theory (2nd ed.). New York: St. Martin's Press. N/A

     Cragan, J. F., & Shields, D.C. (1998). Understanding communication theory: The communicative forces for human action. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon. N/A

     Griffin, E. (2000). A first look at communication theory (4th ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill. N/A

     Griffin, E. (1997). A first look at communication theory (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill. N/A

      Infante, D. A., Rancer, A. S., & Womack, D. F. (1997). Building communication theory (3rd ed.). Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press. N/A

      Littlejohn, S. W. (1999). Theories of human communication (6th ed). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. N/A

      West, R., & Turner, L. H. (2000). Introducing communication theory: Analysis and application. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield. N/A 

       Wood, J. T. (1997). Communication theories in action: An introduction. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. N/A