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Last updated February 19, 2001


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Spiral of Silence Theory

Explanation of Theory:

The Spiral of Silence theory explains why people often feel the need to conceal their opinions/preference/views/etc. when they fall within the minority of a group.

Theorist: Elizabeth Noelle-Neumann

Date:  1984

Primary Article:

      Noelle-Neumann, E. (1984). The Spiral of Silence.  University of Chicago, Chicago.

Metatheoretical Assumptions:

Ontological Assumption:
In this sense, the theory is extremely scientific.  Spiral of Silence believes that there is fate- opinions are dependent on the  majority opinion of the group. 

Epistemological Assumption:
The theory is also quite scientific in the relationship between the research being done and the researcher.  What is researched is not dependent on the observer, there is one truth; an absolute if you will concerning the Spiral of Silence.  People are quiet with their opinions and that is that.

Axiological Assumption:
I feel that Spiral of Silence  is scientific in the values sense as well.  Research being done is value neutral and unbiased on the researchers' behalf since they would have no reason or means to skew the findings in any way.


The Spiral of Silence theory is a scientific theory that for the most part is quite sound in situations in which opinions are not of great consequence.  For example, if my opinion is a strong conviction and I am unwilling to bend in my beliefs then the theory may not apply to me to such an extent.  Also, if I am an opinion leader, (from the Diffusionof Innovations theory) that is I am the one voicing my opinion and affecting other people; then I also may not bend in my opinions either.

Ideas and Implications:

The Spiral of Silence is useful to apply in situations when trying to explain why people cover up or change their opinions when in a group setting especially when they think they are alone in their opinions.


An  example to help illustrate the Spiral of Silence theory is a person going out with a new group of people or on a date with someone you do not know very well.  When ordering pizza for this theory, I would conform to the mushroom lovers because I feel I am in the minority since I do not like mushrooms and i think everyone else does.  Therefore I do not want to be rejected or alone in my opinions. 

Relevant Research:

      Jeffres, L., Neuendorf, K.A., Atkin, D. (1999). "Spiral of Silence: expressing opinions when the climate of opinion is unambiguous."  Political Communication.

      Glynn, C.J, Hayes, A.F., Shanahan, J. (1997). "Perceived support for one's opinions and willingness to speak out: a meta analysis of survey studies on the 'Spiral of Silence.'" Public Opinion Quarterly.

       Oshagan, H. (1996). "Reference group influence on public expression." International Journal of Public Opinion Research.


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.  pp. 263-264

     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. pp. N/A

     Griffin, E. (1997). A first look at communication theory (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill. pp. 337, 375, 387-398, 476, 484, 496.

      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. pp. 342-343

      West, R., & Turner, L. H. (2000). Introducing communication theory: Analysis and application. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield. pp. 327, 333, 346-360.

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