Models of communication

Shannon and Weaver's model of communication
Communication major dimensions scheme
Communication code scheme
Linear Communication Model
Interactional Model of Communication
Berlo's Sender-Message-Channel-Receiver Model of Communication
Transactional Model of Communication

Models of communication are conceptual models used to explain the human communication process. The first major model for communication came in 1948 by Claude Elwood Shannon and published with an introduction by Warren Weaver for Bell Laboratories.[1] Following the basic concept, communication is the process of sending and receiving messages or transferring information from one part (sender) to another (receiver).[2]

Shannon and Weaver

The Shannon–Weaver model was designed to mirror the functioning of radio and telephone technologies. Their initial model consisted of three primary parts: sender, channel, and receiver. The sender was the part of a telephone a person spoke into, the channel was the telephone itself, and the receiver was the part of the phone where one could hear the other person. Shannon and Weaver also recognized that often there is static that interferes with one listening to a telephone conversation, which they deemed noise. The noise could also mean the absence of signal.[3]

In a simple model, often referred to as the transmission model or standard view of communication, information or content (e.g. a message in natural language) is sent in some form (as spoken language) from an emissor/ sender/ encoder to a destination/ receiver/ decoder. This common conception of communication views communication as a means of sending and receiving information. The strengths of this model are simplicity, generality, and quantifiability. Mathematicians Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver structured this model based on the following elements:

Shannon and Weaver argued that there were three levels of problems for communication within this concept

  1. The technical problem: how accurately can the message be transmitted?
  2. The semantic problem: how precisely is the meaning 'conveyed'?
  3. The effectiveness problem: how effectively does the received meaning affect behavior?

Daniel Chandler critiques the transmission model by stating:[4]


In 1960, David Berlo expanded Shannon and Weaver's 1949 linear model of communication and created the Sender-Message-Channel-Receiver (SMCR) Model of Communication.[5] The SMCR Model of Communication separated the model into clear parts and has been expanded upon by other scholars.


Communication is usually described along a few major dimensions: Message (what type of things are communicated), source / emissor / sender / encoder (by whom), form (in which form), channel (through which medium), destination / receiver / target / decoder (to whom), and Receiver. Wilbur Schramm (1954) also indicated that we should also examine the impact that a message has (both desired and undesired) on the target of the message.[6] Between parties, communication includes acts that confer knowledge and experiences, give advice and commands, and ask questions. These acts may take many forms, in one of the various manners of communication. The form depends on the abilities of the group communicating. Together, communication content and form make messages that are sent towards a destination. The target can be oneself, another person or being, another entity (such as a corporation or group of beings).

Communication can be seen as processes of information transmission governed by three levels of semiotic rules:

  1. Syntactic (formal properties of signs and symbols),
  2. Pragmatic (concerned with the relations between signs/expressions and their users) and
  3. Semantic (study of relationships between signs and symbols and what they represent).

Therefore, communication is social interaction where at least two interacting agents share a common set of signs and a common set of semiotic rules. This commonly held rule in some sense ignores autocommunication, including intrapersonal communication via diaries or self-talk, both secondary phenomena that followed the primary acquisition of communicative competences within social interactions.


In light of these weaknesses, Barnlund (1970) proposed a transactional model of communication.[7] The basic premise of the transactional model of communication is that individuals are simultaneously engaging in the sending and receiving of messages.

In a slightly more complex form, a sender and a receiver are linked reciprocally. This second attitude of communication, referred to as the constitutive model or constructionist view, focuses on how an individual communicates as the determining factor of the way the message will be interpreted. Communication is viewed as a conduit; a passage in which information travels from one individual to another and this information becomes separate from the communication itself. A particular instance of communication is called a speech act. The sender's personal filters and the receiver's personal filters may vary depending upon different regional traditions, cultures, or gender; which may alter the intended meaning of message contents. In the presence of "noise" on the transmission channel (air, in this case), reception and decoding of content may be faulty, and thus the speech act may not achieve the desired effect. One problem with this encode-transmit-receive-decode model is that the processes of encoding and decoding imply that the sender and receiver each possess something that functions as a code-book, and that these two code books are, at the very least, similar if not identical. Although something like code books is implied by the model, they are nowhere represented in the model, which creates many conceptual difficulties.

Theories of co-regulation describe communication as a creative and dynamic continuous process, rather than a discrete exchange of information. Canadian media scholar Harold Innis had the theory that people use different types of media to communicate and which one they choose to use will offer different possibilities for the shape and durability of society (Wark, McKenzie 1997). His famous example of this is using ancient Egypt and looking at the ways they built themselves out of media with very different properties stone and papyrus. Papyrus is what he called 'Space Binding'. it made possible the transmission of written orders across space, empires and enables the waging of distant military campaigns and colonial administration. The other is stone and 'Time Binding', through the construction of temples and the pyramids can sustain their authority generation to generation, through this media they can change and shape communication in their society (Wark, McKenzie 1997).

Psychology of communication

Bernard Luskin, UCLA, 1970, advanced computer assisted instruction and began to connect media and psychology into what is now the field of media psychology. In 1998, the American Association of Psychology, Media Psychology Division 46 Task Force report on psychology and new technologies combined media and communication as pictures, graphics and sound increasingly dominate modern communication. The Social Psychology of Communication is the first comprehensive introduction to social psychological perspectives on communication. This accessible guide provides an overview of key theoretical approaches from a variety of different disciplines (including cognitive, developmental and evolutionary psychology) as well as practical guidance on how to implement communication interventions in differing contexts.

Divided into three parts covering theoretical perspectives, special topics in communication and applied areas and practice, the book features:

This book is considered a resource for students, academics and practitioners in psychology and communication.

Constructionist model

There is an additional working definition of communication to consider that authors like Richard A. Lanham (2003) and as far back as Erving Goffman (1959) have highlighted. This is a progression from Lasswell's attempt to define human communication through to this century and revolutionized into the constructionist model. Constructionists believe that the process of communication is in itself the only messages that exist. The packaging can not be separated from the social and historical context from which it arose, therefore the substance to look at in communication theory is style for Richard Lanham and the performance of self for Erving Goffman.

Lanham chose to view communication as the rival to the over encompassing use of CBS model (which pursued to further the transmission model). CBS model argues that clarity, brevity, and sincerity are the only purpose to prose discourse, therefore communication. Lanham wrote: "If words matter too, if the whole range of human motive is seen as animating prose discourse, then rhetoric analysis leads us to the essential questions about prose style" (Lanham 10). This is saying that rhetoric and style are fundamentally important; they are not errors to what we actually intend to transmit. The process which we construct and deconstruct meaning deserves analysis.

Erving Goffman sees the performance of self as the most important frame to understand communication. Goffman wrote: "What does seem to be required of the individual is that he learn enough pieces of expression to be able to 'fill in' and manage, more or less, any part that he is likely to be given" (Goffman 73), highlighting the significance of expression.

The truth in both cases is the articulation of the message and the package as one. The construction of the message from social and historical context is the seed as is the pre-existing message is for the transmission model. Therefore, any look into communication theory should include the possibilities drafted by such great scholars as Richard A. Lanham and Goffman that style and performance is the whole process.

Communication stands so deeply rooted in human behaviors and the structures of society that scholars have difficulty thinking of it while excluding social or behavioral events. Because communication theory remains a relatively young field of inquiry and integrates itself with other disciplines such as philosophy, psychology, and sociology, one probably cannot yet expect a consensus conceptualization of communication across disciplines.

Communication Model Terms as provided by Rothwell (11-15):

Humans act toward people or things on the basis of the meanings they assign to those people or things. -"Language is the source of meaning". -Meaning arises out of the social interaction people have with each other.

-Meaning is not inherent in objects but it is negotiated through the use of language, hence the term symbolic interactionism. As human beings, we have the ability to name things. Symbols, including names, are arbitrary signs. By talking with others, we ascribe meaning to words and develop a universe of discourse A symbol is a stimulus that has a learned/shared meaning and a value for people Significant symbols can be nonverbal as well as linguistic.

-Negative responses can consequently reduce a person to nothing. -Our expectations evoke responses that confirm what we originally anticipated, resulting in a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The Relational Distances Model (Four Distances Model)

The Relational Distances Model (also defined "Four Distances Model") is rooted in semiotics semiotics and intercultural communication theory,[8] and comprises four main underlying factors explaining why communication effects can vary from extremes made of very effective communication patterns (communication in "state of flow", on the positive side) up to communication breakdowns, communication critical incidents , and unexpected outcomes, on the negative side.[9] The key concept of the model is that of “degrees of incommunicability”, a precursor of misunderstanding, disagreement, and conflict, but also of information sharing and emotional sharing possibility. The model frames the “communication moves” as a strategic act, pushing towards "relational distance" (such as ignoring each other’s presence, or lack of listening, poor interest, up to disgust) or "relationally closeness" (defined by a sense of relational interest, warmth, curiosity, pleasure of interaction). The main distances highlighted by the author, the Italian researcher Daniele Trevisani, are: 1 - Role Distance, 2 - Communication Codes Distance, 3 - Values and Ideology Distance, 4 - Referential Distance (differences in personal history). The four variables are also considered as a basic domain for leadership communication skills acquisition.[10] The theory is linked to modern Information Operations fields of research, a strategic area in which communication differences in cultural beliefs, norms, vulnerabilities, motivations, emotions, experiences, morals, education, mental health, identities, and ideologies, can alter and distort message perceptions, understanding and effects.[11]

Linear Model

It is a one way model to communicate with others. It consists of the sender encoding a message and channeling it to the receiver in the presence of noise. In this model there is no feedback which may allow for a continuous exchange of information. This form of communication is a one-way form of communication that does not involve any feedback or response, and noise. (F.N.S. Palma, 1993)

Interactive/convergence Model

It is two linear models stacked on top of each other. The sender channels a message to the receiver and the receiver then becomes the sender and channels a message to the original sender. This model has added feedback, indicating that communication is not a one way but a two way process. It also has "field of experience" which includes our cultural background, ethnicity geographic location, extent of travel, and general personal experiences accumulated over the course of your lifetime. Draw backs – there is feedback but it is not simultaneous.

An Interactive Model of Communication.
The Interactive Model.

Communication Theory Framework

It is helpful to examine communication theory through one of the following viewpoints

Inspection of a particular theory on this level will provide a framework on the nature of communication as seen within the confines of that theory.

Theories can also be studied and organized according to the ontological, epistemological, and axiological framework imposed by the theorist.


Ontology essentially poses the question of what, exactly, the theorist is examining. One must consider the very nature of reality. The answer usually falls in one of three realms depending on whether the theorist sees the phenomena through the lens of a realist, nominalist, or social constructionist. Realist perspective views the world objectively, believing that there is a world outside of our own experience and cognitions. Nominalists see the world subjectively, claiming that everything outside of one's cognitions is simply names and labels. Social constructionists straddle the fence between objective and subjective reality, claiming that reality is what we create together.


Epistemology is an examination of how the theorist studies the chosen phenomena. In studying epistemology, particularly from a positivist perspective, objective knowledge is said to be the result of a systematic look at the causal relationships of phenomena. This knowledge is usually attained through use of the scientific method. Scholars often think that empirical evidence collected in an objective manner is most likely to reflect truth in the findings. Theories of this ilk are usually created to predict a phenomenon. Subjective theory holds that understanding is based on situated knowledge, typically found using interpretative methodology such as ethnography and also interviews. Subjective theories are typically developed to explain or understand phenomena in the social world.


Axiology is concerned with how values inform research and theory development.[13] Most communication theory is guided by one of three axiological approaches. The first approach recognizes that values will influence theorists' interests but suggests that those values must be set aside once actual research begins. Outside replication of research findings is particularly important in this approach to prevent individual researchers' values from contaminating their findings and interpretations.[14] The second approach rejects the idea that values can be eliminated from any stage of theory development. Within this approach, theorists do not try to divorce their values from inquiry. Instead, they remain mindful of their values so that they understand how those values contextualize, influence or skew their findings.[15] The third approach not only rejects the idea that values can be separated from research and theory, but rejects the idea that they should be separated. This approach is often adopted by critical theorists who believe that the role of communication theory is to identify oppression and produce social change. In this axiological approach, theorists embrace their values and work to reproduce those values in their research and theory development.[16]

Mapping the theoretical landscape

A discipline gets defined in large part by its theoretical structure. Communication studies often borrow theories from other social sciences. This theoretical variation makes it difficult to come to terms with the field as a whole. That said, some common taxonomies exist that serve to divide up the range of communication research. Two common mappings involve contexts and assumptions.


Many authors and researchers divide communication by what they sometimes called "contexts" or "levels", but which more often represent institutional histories. The study of communication in the US, while occurring within departments of psychology, sociology, linguistics, and anthropology (among others), generally developed from schools of rhetoric and from schools of journalism. While many of these have become "departments of communication", they often retain their historical roots, adhering largely to theories from speech communication in the former case, and from mass media in the latter. The great divide between speech communication and mass communication becomes complicated by a number of smaller sub-areas of communication research, including intercultural and international communication, small group communication, communication technology, policy and legal studies of communication, telecommunication, and work done under a variety of other labels. Some of these departments take a largely social-scientific perspective, others tend more heavily toward the humanities, and still others gear themselves more toward production and professional preparation.

These "levels" of communication provide some way of grouping communication theories, but inevitably, some theories and concepts leak from one area to another, or fail to find a home at all.

The Constitutive Metamodel

Another way of dividing up the communication field emphasizes the assumptions that undergird particular theories, models, and approaches. Robert T. Craig suggests that the field of communication as a whole can be understood as several different traditions who have a specific view on communication. By showing the similarities and differences between these traditions, Craig argues that the different traditions will be able to engage each other in dialogue rather than ignore each other.[17] Craig proposes seven different traditions which are:

  1. Rhetorical: views communication as the practical art of discourse.[18]
  2. Semiotic: views communication as the mediation by signs.[19]
  3. Phenomenological: communication is the experience of dialogue with others.[20]
  4. Cybernetic: communication is the flow of information.[21]
  5. Socio-psychological: communication is the interaction of individuals.[22]
  6. Socio-cultural: communication is the production and reproduction of the social order.[23]
  7. Critical: communication is the process in which all assumptions can be challenged.[24]

Craig finds each of these clearly defined against the others, and remaining cohesive approaches to describing communicative behavior. As a taxonomic aid, these labels help to organize theory by its assumptions, and help researchers to understand why some theories may seem incommensurable.

While communication theorists very commonly use these two approaches, theorists decentralize the place of language and machines as communicative technologies. The idea (as argued by Vygotsky) of communication as the primary tool of a species defined by its tools remains on the outskirts of communication theory. It finds some representation in the Toronto School of communication theory (alternatively sometimes called medium theory) as represented by the work of Innis, McLuhan, and others. It seems that the ways in which individuals and groups use the technologies of communication — and in some cases are used by them — remain central to what communication researchers do. The ideas that surround this, and in particular the place of persuasion, remain constants across both the "traditions" and "levels" of communication theory.

Some realms of communication and their theories


  1. Shannon, C. E., & Weaver, W. (1949). The mathematical theory of communication. Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press
  2. Crag, Robert T. (1999). Communication Theory as a Field. International Communication Association.
  3. Chandler, Daniel (1994). The Transmission Model of Communication. University of Western Australia. Retrieved 11.06.2011. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  4. Berlo, D. K. (1960). The process of communication. New York, New York: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.
  5. Schramm, W. (1954). How communication works. In W. Schramm (Ed.), The process and effects of communication (pp. 3-26). Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press.
  6. Barnlund, D. C. (2008). A transactional model of communication. In. C. D. Mortensen (Eds.), Communication theory (2nd ed., pp47-57). New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction.
  7. Daniele Trevisani (1992), “A Semiotic Models Approach to the Analysis of International/Intercultural Communication”, in Proceedings of the 9th International and Intercultural Communication Conference, University of Miami, 19–21 May
  8. Stene, Trine Marie; Trevisani, Daniele; Danielsen, Brit-Eli (Dec 16, 2015). "Preparing for the unexpected.". European Space Agency (ESA) Moon 2020-2030 Conference Proceedings. doi:10.13140/RG.2.1.4260.9529.
  9. Trevisani, Daniele (2016). Communication for Leadership: Coaching Leadership Skills (2 ed.). Ferrara: Medialab Research. p. 21. ISBN 978-1-329-59007-6.
  10. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S. Army (2012). Information Operations. Joint Publication 3-13. Joint Doctrine Support Division, 116 Lake View Parkway, Suffolk, VA.
  11. Littlejohn, S.W. and Foss, K.A. (2008). Theories of human communication, 9th edition. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.
  12. Miller, Katherine (2005). Communication Theories: Perspectives, Processes, and Contexts 2nd Edition. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill Higher Education. ISBN 0-07-293794-7.
  13. Miller (2005). p. 30. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  14. Miller (2005). pp. 30–31. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  15. Miller (2005). p. 31. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  16. Craig, Robert T. (May 1999). "Communication Theory as a Field" (PDF). Communication Theory. Blackwell Publishing Ltd.; International Communication Association. 9 (2): 119–161. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2885.1999.tb00355. Retrieved Jan 8, 2011. External link in |journal= (help)
  17. Craig 1999, pp. 135-136.
  18. Craig 1999, pp. 136-138.
  19. Craig 1999, pp. 138-140.
  20. Craig 1999, pp. 141-142.
  21. Craig 1999, pp. 142-144.
  22. Craig 1999, pp. 144-146.
  23. Craig 1999, pp. 146-149.
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