Lasswell’s model: the elements of communication

Laswell’s model is a construction which allowed to study mass communication, As well as its components and effects in different audiences. Initially, the model was intended to be offered as a tool for classifying studies in mass communication, as well as for analyzing the variables that determine the transmission of a message. However, this model has generated a number of very useful concepts for analyzing communication acts in general, beyond mass communication.

In this article we will see what the Laswell model is, How it was born and what are some of its main elements.

    Lasswell’s model: what is communication?

    In the 1940s, the American sociologist Harold Lasswell developed a model that made it possible to understand the communication process in an innovative way for the first half of the twentieth century.

    Generally speaking, he has analyzed the channels through which communication occurs, and he realizes that the transmission of any message goes through different devices, such as they are immersed in a plural society with multiple audiences.

    In addition, he points out that although mass communication goes unidirectional on most channels; the public can also play an active role in the processThis implies that it is possible to close communication cycles that seem to be one-sided.

    When Lasswell studied the messages exchanged in the various communication channels, he asked himself “who, said what, on which channel, to whom and with what effect?”, “Who gets what and how?”.

      Beginnings and context

      Although he did not patent or claim it as a seat, the model obtained its patronym after being popularized in 1948 following the publication of an article titled “The Structure and Function of Communication in Society “. For the same reason, it is often thought that this text founded the model. In fact, Laswell he is considered one of the fathers of political psychology and, among other things, he helped consolidate studies on mass communication as well as its dissemination.

      However, the posts that came before are the ones that really laid the groundwork. There are also various opinions on who or who developed this model. For example, some authors attribute it to John Marshall; other authors attribute it to both Lasswell and Marshall.

      In any case, and both theoretically and methodologically, this model has had a significant impact on different disciplines: communication studies, political science, communication, law, philosophy, psychology, economics, anthropology. More precisely, it was possible to consolidate the objective of research in mass communication, which is to determine who and with what intentions said what, to whom and with what effects.

      The elements and process of communication

      One of the contextual elements around which this model is becoming popular is the intention to communication imbalances between civil society and government. This could be possible through another channel which would not only serve to inform unilaterally, but would be useful for establishing communication reciprocally.

      But what were the available communication channels? Impressions, cinema, television, radio. In short, channels that establish one-sided communication, with which it was not closed cycles. The idea arises that it is possible to promote a new one: academic research; which could serve as a communication medium or platform for society.

      During World War II, Laswell participated in a communications project in which he was tasked with studying Hitler’s speeches in relation to his audience. This study was carried out by correcting it verbal and non-verbal communication elements, Following the line of questions of what, who, how and with what effect.

      For the first time, the public took an active role in the analysis of the communication process: through their studies, the spoken word began to be seen not as a monologue, but as an act where those who listen they also produce an effect on the speech itself.

      According to Lasswell, mass communication aims not only to faithfully and objectively convey a fact, but goes further. Among its objectives are:

      • Report on the latest global and local events.
      • Interpret these events using a certain ideology.
      • Impact on the interpretation of the spectator world.

      Communication components and levels of analysis

      In the field of mass communication, it is common for phenomena to be analyzed from a series of questions that refer to different levels of analysis with communication components for one; and that they followed precisely from Laswell’s model. Moreover, from these, Laswell proposed that each communication process has different elements: sender, content, channel, receiver, effect.

      1. Content analysis (what?)

      Content analysis is the communicative component of the content or message. It is the communication stimuli that come from the person sending this message.

      2. Control analysis (who?)

      The level of control analysis corresponds to the communicative component “who?”. In other words, it is the sender: the person who generates a message or a communication stimulus, and who expects a response from the receiver.

      3. Support analysis (how?)

      The communicative component “how?” can be analyzed from the medium or channel through which the message is transmitted. It’s how content gets from sender to recipient.

      4. Audience analysis (to whom?)

      The audience analysis dimension makes it possible to answer the question of who is the receiver; that is, the person who should receive the message from the sender. This question and dimension of analysis is fundamental in mass communication studies, because the message and the channel depend to a large extent on how the receiver is.

      5. Effects analysis (for what?)

      In the analysis of the effects or results of communication is studied by means of the question why ?. It is a question of analyzing whether the objectives of conveying a certain message have been achieved or not; and if not, the effect that this transmission created is studied. For Lasswell, all communication has an effect, whether it was initially planned or not, And this is what determines the structure of mass communication.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Rodríguez, A. (2018) Lasswell model: what it consists of, elements, advantages and disadvantages. Accessed July 24, 2018.Available at
      • Sapienza, Z., Iyer, N. and Veenstra, A. (2015). Reading Lasswell’s Communication Model in Reverse: Three Academic Misconceptions. Mass Communication and Society, 18: 5, 559-622.
      • Narula, U. (2006). Communication models. Atlantic: India.

      Leave a Comment