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When the information is passed from the producer to the audience, it can change its original meaning. Often an audience understands something in a different way to its original purpose. This is caused by many factors. In essence, audience can understand something differently from the original purposes due to many environmental, producer or audience factors that interplay between the timer something is said and when it is comprehended in the mind of the audience. This study evaluates different ways in which an audience understands a something in a different way from its original meaning. The study combines scholarly data analysis, and interview with students taking mass and communication course at the university to get the required data. After the data analysis, the research found out that the audience factors such as beliefs, values, perception of the message produce, attitude toward given message, and other psychological factors affects the way in which the something is understood. The study recommends that it is vital to understand the audience before initiating communication in order to ensure that when the information reaches am audience it is understood in a way that is similar to the original purpose.
1.1 Background to the Study
According to Eiser (2010) the aim of passing information from one person to another is either to convey a particular information, express one’s need or want, conform to a given social convention, or to establish social relationships. In order for any form of communication to succeed, it is vital that the receiver of the message attributes similar meaning to the communicated message as desired by the sender. However, not all communications are successful or perfect. Often the intended meaning is lost when the message faces different barriers along the passage between the receiver and the sender. In the communication process message pass through different stages in which the barriers can arise (Caputo et al., 2003). Using an effective communication method and channel acts as a fulcrum around which the success of a communication process hinges.
In many cases, communication or passing of information is followed by the action or change of a given behaviour. This means that of the receiver of the information gets a different message rather than the intended message, the intended and behaviour or action will not take place. For example, in military, when the commander tells the army officers that having a helmet has minimal usefulness in protecting one’s head, the army officers will tend to consider this information as discrediting the use of helmets and this therefore they will tend not to use it (McConnell, 2013). When the information given is not interpreted the way it is intended then the end result will be different from the intended one. This causes friction between the sender and the receiver of the information or between the speaker and the audience.
Shewan, Moes and Bristley (2012) asserted that communication is a psycho-semantic process, which shows that the success of a communication process is mainly determined by the communication factors that are social psychological linguistic in nature. Communication barriers can affect and act upon any communication process’ elements. Mainly lack of reference frame between the sender and receiver of the information acts as the main cause of communication breakdown in given situations. The communication reference frame refers to the context in which the passing of information takes place (Chenand Zhang, 2009). When the sender and the receiver have a well-defined communication context, they will be able to understand, comprehend and interpretation the information in a similar manner, with regard to its meaning and interpretation.
In an effective communication, it is paramount to use language, cues, and a communication approach that matches the purpose and fits the intended audience. This sounds so simple, yet when communicating with a given group of the audience the audience can be alienated and get lost in translation despite the best intention of the communicator (Chenand Zhang, 2009). The communicator says one thing, but the audience hears a different thing, which leads to frustration, misunderstanding, and friction. Poets, novelist, writers, and other kinds of speakers often use a language that is captivating to arrest and capture the interests of the audience in such a way that they are able to transmit their minds and reasoning into the audience (Cleary, 2013). However, due to different communication, the environment, and audiences’ factors, the audience understands the communicated message in a different way as compared to its original purpose.
One of the good example of wrong understanding and interpretation of the intended meaning is in one of the stanzas in a renowned poet Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” (Frost, 1993). In this poem, the itinerant describes making a choice between two paths in through woods. The first three stanzas of the poem describe how the paths are the same by stating they are “just as fair” and “equally lay” (Frost, 1993). However, in the last stanza the author claims ironically that he will look back someday. He claims that choosing a “one less travelled” path “made the difference” (Frost, 1993). This statement is usually misinterpreted by the audience to mean the evidence for the freethinking payoff as opposed to following the crowd. However, the poet intended to comment about finding meaning from an arbitrary decision.
Communication is usually more than just giving the information. Effective communication seeks to understand the intention and emotion behind given information (McConnell, 2013). In all aspects, communication involves two-way information sharing, where the speaker, or writer can be able to pass the information to the audience and the audience can be able to understand it in the intended form (Frost, 1993). Giving the information to the audience, normally, it is not only how the message is conveyed such that it is understood and received by the audience in the intended way, but it also involves understanding and listening to understand the audiences’ needs. Passing the information brings the interplay of more factors than just the words used. It combines personal audience factors, communication environment, choice of words, and the setting in which the information is passed (Shewan, MoesandBristley, 2012).
In many situations, the audience understands a different message rather than the intended one due to various reasons. Some of the reasons that can make audience to misinterpreted verbal communication include, negative body language, lack of focus, use of slangs, audiences’ poor prejudgement, use of wrong examples, and the communication setting (Arvai and III, 2013). When a person uses negative body language, the audience get lost and get a different meaning from the intended one. Usually, people tend to understand more from the body language rather than the words used (Shewan, Moes and Bristley, 2012). When the communicator does not have focus or the communication does not have a final objective, the audience will try to create meanings by themselves. Using of slangs can mislead the audience because a slang word can have more than two meanings to different people.
The audience can make a poor prejudgement of the person, or written material. This will inhibit them from getting the intended message in the intended way. For example, when a person considers a certain financial institution to be offering exploitative interest rates, when reading a magazine for the benefit of these financial institutions to the consumers, he will tend to see the information as the exploitative avenues used to take advantage of customers (Shewan, Moes and Bristley, 2012). In other case, when a shabbily dressed motivational speaker is paid to address people and encourages them to take advantage of very opportunity that they have in order to excel, the audience will not believe his message (Moes, 2012). Instead, they will understand this information to mean that this person is using them as an opportunity to build his name and improve financially.
Barriers to an effective communication, which hinders the intended message from being understood and interpreted as originally intended can be classified into three major categories that is, barriers that are sender oriented, barriers that are receiver oriented, and barriers that are channel oriented (Bocus, 2008). Sender oriented communication barriers that can lead to a wrong interpretation of the message include the use of vague words, poor illustration skills, in-audibility, wrong facial expression and poor description for the written piece. Barriers that are related to the channel used for communication involve the presence of the noise, long distance between the sender and the receiver, and wrong choice of the communication medium (Burtis and Turman, 2006). Finally, the receiver’s oriented factors include prejudgment, personal reasoning, personal perception about the sender, the level of literacy and the expectation of the receiver. These factors can lead to misunderstanding between the sender and the receiver, which results to the receivers understanding three messages in a way that was not intended.
It is essential for the audience to get the information in the intended way. This results in the order in an organisation or a meeting. Understanding between the speaker and the audience is paramount for the communicated message to be relevant (Fielding, 2005). If the intended message is not passed effectively to the audience the message, loses its importance and it can end up doing more damage at the expense of the intended benefit (Samovar, Porter and McDaniel, 2010). This means that having the ability to overcome the communication barriers, which can lead to misunderstanding between the sender and the receiver of the information, is very important (Cope, 2015). However, in many cases, the misunderstanding is beyond the control of the speaker, and he can continue to speak without realising that the audience are not flowing together with him.
This study endeavours to evaluate the way in which audience understands something in a different way to its original purpose. In order to achieve this objective, the study commences by evaluation of the theoretical framework. The theoretical framework put the study within the available theoretical framework, which is essential in developing the hypothesis. The statement of the problem is then presented followed by the objectives. Statement of the problem aims at presenting the knowledge gap that exist within the current literature, and which this study seeks to fill. Literature review evaluates the available scholarly literature on the subject. This part evaluates the secondary information, which forms the foundation for this study. The methodology section presents the method that will be used in the study to collect and analyse the data. After presenting the results, the study gives a discussion of the results before ending by giving the summary of the main ideas of the whole study. The ensuing part evaluates the theoretical framework.
1.2 Theoretical Framework
There are many models and theories that try to explain the relationship between the audience and the message. According to Anderson (2011) the active audience theory, the audience not only receive information passively, but they are also involved actively and often unconscious in creating sense of the message within their social and personal context. The way in which the message is decoded is highly influenced by such factors as values, beliefs, family background, education, interests, culture, and experiences. This theory argues that the meaning of a message is interpreted by the audience using their current context and, therefore, they are more likely to get a slightly different understanding compared to the intended one (Baldwin, Perry and Moffitt, 2004). The interpretation of a message is affected by the interplay between the audience psychological situation, social context, and the manner in which the message is delivered. When one of these factors is changed, it will bring change to the meaning of the message as understood by the audience.
Similarly, the decoding and encoding model empowers the audience and considers them to play an active role in decoding a given message. The model considers the audience interpretation of the message to be affected by their social context, where the audience are capable of altering the message through collective action (Cobley, 2011). People decode, message by extracting the meaning in simple terms that they are able to understand. Often people can decode the body language based the level of emotions that they have. Usually, decoding a message entails understanding what one knows based on the communicated message, and a person can interpret the message differently than the original message. For example, the advertisements bear multiple meanings layers, which can be decoded in different ways giving different messages to different people.
The uses and gratification media theory asserts that people which form the audience, choose a particular media or message which they believe will satisfy their needs and allow them to enhance their knowledge, social interaction, relaxation, escape or diversion. The theory assumes that the audience have power over the media consumptions where they play an active role in its interpretation (Goldie and Pinch, 2013). This theory argues that different people seek to gain differently from a given set of information. For example, there are people who buy a newspaper to read about current issues in politics, economy, business, or lifestyle while there are those who buy to read particular advertisements. For a person who reads newspaper for current affairs, they will perceive the advertisement messages as a way of company trying to get more customers, while the person who is interested in the advertisement will see the same advertisement as a way of the company to create more awareness and information to its customers (McPhail, 2011).
According to Canseco (2010) every message is encoded by its producer to contain some meanings that are related to the cultural and social background of its creator. However, when the audience decodes the same message, then the originally intended meaning can change. He further argues that the response of the audience to a given text involves three main perspectives. The perspectives mainly involve the positioning of the audience by the text or message as well as its subsequent response. The three main perspectives according to Fourie (2001) are resistant or oppositional, negotiated and dominant or preferred perspective. In the resistant perspective, the audience finds themselves conflicting with the message due to their personal experiences and beliefs. For example, when audience watches a narrative drama, which features woman having an affair sympathetically, will create resistance from the audience or person who has a culture that is against adultery.
The negotiated perspective holds in the case where the audience negotiates among and within themselves about the message in order to accept the manner in which it has been presented to them. In this context, the audience agrees with some element of the message while they disagree with others. In order for the audience to get them most out of their view, they may be required to adjust their point of view (Miller, 2002). On the other hand, the dominant perspective holds where the audience understands and interprets the message in a very close way in which the message creator or producer intended. This is usually the case when the cultural and social experience of the reader has a close relation to that of the producer leaving very little for the audience to challenge (Shewan, Moes and Bristley, 2012). As such, Hall views audience interpretation and understanding of a message as guided by the perspective that they will have about the message and how the producer has positioned them.
Martin (2004) developed a message reception theory where he argued that when the message is constructed by the producer, it is usually encoding with a given meaning that they wish to pass to the audience. In some cases, the intended audience will decode the message correctly while in other cases they will fail to either understand the message correctly or reject it. In line with this Hall categorised the audience into, oppositional, negotiated, and preferred. The appositional audience recesses the dominant meaning in a message but rejects it due to political, cultural, or ideological reason. This is the case where the audience can reject a particular political speech to their political affiliation. The negotiated audience rejects, refines, or accepts some elements of the message based on the views that they held previously (Shewan, Moes and Bristley, 2012). In this case, the audience neither agree nor disagrees with the given message. Finally, the preferred audience decodes and understands the message in the manner in which the producer of the message intended.
The multistep flow model posits that the opinion of most people is shaped by that of the opinion leader (Monge and Contractor, 2003). The models argue that the acceptability and understanding of a given message in the media will depend on the way in which the opinion leader interprets it or want the people to interpret. When the producer of the message intends to pass a message that is not accepted by the opinion leader, the audience will not understand or get the intended message. Instead, they will tend to believe and understand what the opinion leader considers to be true. The theory argues that the opinion leader has a personal influence on the audience, and the audience interprets the message based on the ideological or philosophical view of their identified opinion leader. The presence of the opinion leader in between the producer of the message and its receiver affects the understanding way of the intended message (McPhail, 2011). However, different studies have disqualified this model arguing that the opinion leader is part of the audience, and the message reaches the audience at the same time in which it reaches the opinion leader. As such, the interpretation of the message will first have to be based on the special and psychological context of the audience before the interpretation is affected by the opinion of the opinion leader.
The cultivation theory argues that when the audience are constantly and repeatedly subjected to a particular message, their values and attitudes will be affected. For example, when the audience is continually exposed to a given advertisement, they will tend to appreciate the message that it contains (McPhail, 2011). This in turn will affect their future interpretation about the same message. The repeated exposure to the same message affects the beliefs, culture, and moral values that the audience might have and thus affects the way in which they perceive a particular kind of information. For example, when the audience are continually subjected to the message that contains positive information about smoking, they will tend to appreciate smoking as a good behaviour regardless of their personal values that consider the same behaviour as unacceptable.
The cultivation theory posits that the way in which the audience interprets the message depends on the extent to which they have been exposed to the same message in the past. If the audience are familiar with the message been communicated, they will take little time to process it and they will have a high chances of understanding and accepting in the way in which the producer of the message intended (Shewan, Moes and Bristley, 2012). On the other hand, if the audience do not have past experience and exposure to the message, they will be more likely to take more time in interpreting and understanding the message and they have a high chance of having a diverse meaning compared to the originally intended meaning. This theory is complemented by the consistency theory. The consistency theory asserts that audience have a consistency in their judgements and beliefs unless subjected to a repeated message that persuades them to believe otherwise (Miller, 2002). The theory further posits that the misunderstanding between the producer of the message and the audience arises when dissension is created by the information’s level of inconsistency with the audience’ judgements, beliefs and actions.
The consistency theory bears the same argument with the cognitive dissonance theory. The cognitive dissonance theory holds that dissonance experience (or the incompatible actions and beliefs) is usually aversive (Miller, 2002). People are more likely and motivated to avoid dissonance. Because people will always be avoiding dissonance experience, they will tend to avoid any view that oppose what they belief. On addition to this in order to avoid the dissonance feeling, the audience will oppose any view or message that oppose their opinion, belief or does not match their actions. They will instead seek reassurance after coming up with a challenging decision. In order for a message to be understood in the way in which it was intended there must be co-created meaning through attainment of coordination and coherence. Usually, the coherence is said to occur when the message is passed, and the coordination occurs when the story is lived. According to Ruddock (2001), individuals usually interpret the message within a large volume of information that they have gathered through the life. They prioritise and interpret the information mainly depending on the kind of information that they have stored in their memory.
The spiral of silence theory that was forwarded by Noelle-Neumann argues that the producer of the information or the media gives the opinions, which are mainstream. The audience adjusts their opinions depending on their perceptions in order to avoid being isolated. If the audience agrees with the information and consider the information to be worth, it will influence their thinking and reasoning (Shewan, Moes and Bristley, 2012). On the contrary, if they develop a wrong attitude toward the information and they do not consider it as worthy they will develop a negative attitude toward the information. The attitude developed then will affect how the audience understands the message and the level of deviation between the intended way of understanding the message and the way adopted by the audience.
According to Shewan, Moes, and Bristley, (2012) the meaning theory, the message moulds a certain kind of meaning depending on the framework. The message argues certain concepts and presents them in a given framework. The framework guides the way in which the audience will interpret the message. When the message producer uses a framework that does not commensurate the intended content, there will be understanding break down between the producer of the information and the audience. For example, a given media uses the brutality of the people on police to pass the message on the need for protecting the human rights, the audience will tend to sympathise with the assailant (people attacking the police) rather than the victim (police). In this case, the audience will tend to interpret the message as indicating that the police are among the people who violate the human rights. As such, the theory recommends the use of a correct communication framework in order the audience to understand the message in a way that closer the intended one.
According to Arvai (2013) the standpoint theory, individuals in the society are situated in particular standpoints. This means that individuals occupy different levels and places in the social hierarchy. For this reason, they view circumstances and social situation from a specific vantage point. The theory further argues that each vantage point offers a partial society understanding. The people that occupy the lower social rungs understand the whole society. The theory argues that people often consider issues, information, and situations according to the level and rung that they occupy in the social. A certain rung shapes the way in which a person thinks and perceives things (Shewan, Moes and Bristley, 2012). This means that when communicating to people who occupy a given social rung, they will interpret and understaff the information from a certain viewpoint.
Communication theories help to elaborate on why and how the audience perceive the message in a more divergent way in comparison to the intended message by the producer of the information (Shewan, Moes and Bristley, 2012). The theories revolve a central theme that the interpretation of the message by the audience hinges on many factors. Each factor affects a certain degree to which the message will be interpreted in a certain way. For this reason in order for the producer of the information to ensure that the information is interpreted and understood in the original way, they must seek to understand the audience factors that include psychological make up, cultural factors and personal values as well; as the social context (Cleary, 2013). Understanding of these factors will help to present the message in a framework, way, and manner that is acceptable to the audience. In brief, most of the communication theories consider the audience as active, which means they are actively involved in the process of decoding a certain message.
1.3 Problem Statement
The audiences are the people that listen when a person is speaking mainly when one is issuing a speech, performing or running a meeting. The objective of writing or presenting certain information is for the audience to get the message in the way in which it is intended. However, this is not usually the case. In most cases, the audience cases the audience understand the communicated information in a different way. According to a research accrued out by Ruddock (2007), more than 50% of the audience at any given time will tend to misinterpret, misunderstand, and misquote the producer of the information. The research further found out that, the causes of divergence between the audience and the producer of the information could be due to the audience’s factors, producers or from the transmission channel. However, much of the poor understanding of the message is caused by audience’s factors that include values, beliefs, and attitudes toward the message and its producer.
There exists little research on why the audience interprets the information in a different way from the intended one. Most of the literature and research that exist concentrate much on assessing the communication barriers. This leaves a knowledge gap as to all the factors that can contribute to the different interpretation and understanding of the audience. For this reason, this study seeks to evaluate and assess the way in which an audience understands something in a different way to its original purpose. This study is carried out from the philosophical viewpoint that an audience understands something in a way that is in line with his/her expectations. Beliefs and personal factors as opposed to the way in which the producer of the information want them to understand. In to meet its objectives, the study will seek to answer the question: How does an audience understands something in a different way to its original purpose?
The study will seek to meet the following objectives:
- Establish how an audience understands something in a different way to its original purpose
- Determine factors that lead to different understanding of something by an audience
- Evaluate the ways in which audience understanding can be improved in order to enhance communication
- Offer recommendations on communication approaches that ensure optimal audience understanding
- Evaluate scholarly literature that is relevant to the subject matter of the study
2.0 LITERATURE REVIEW
The review of literature deliberates on various scholarly books and scholarly journals that have been authored in the light of the study topic. The literature review identifies various gaps, tensions and contradictions that have emerged from previous studies that are closely related to the study topic on how the audience understands something in a different manner from the intended purpose. The literature review also tries to define key terms on the study topic to enhance conceptualisation of material facts in the research.
2.1 The Audience
The most basic factor in any form of communication is to first understand the audience. Yoo (2011) defines an audience as a group of people who are intended to receive a virtual text. On the other hand, the person from whom the message is originating from is referred to as the composer and is involved in composing visual text for a specific audience. The author further indicates that the composition of a particular text or message determines the reception by the audience. Groß, Heusinkveld and Clark (2015) defines audience as a person or people who take part in an event in an active or passive manner. Active participation implies contributing to the message and interacting with the composer through asking questions or providing feedback. On the other hand, passive participation involves mere attention to the message through either listening or watching without providing any reaction. The message tends to vary for every audience even without any meaningful alteration to the original message. The audience decodes the message differently based on the conceptualisation hence the same message may be intercepted differently by the target audience based on their angle of understanding (Thackeray, Neiger, and Keller, 2012). From the definitions, it is visible that an audience can be a group or an individual to whom a particular message is intended.
The audience however visible may not only comprise of the targeted group for the communication, Boettger, Friess and Carliner (2014) postulates that there exists a third party audience which comprise of people who are not the primary target for the message. This is where the message goes outside the immediate or the intended audience. These are groups who have less concern with the message composition and get to know about it unintentionally or intentionally through aspects such as eavesdropping. This has got various implications since the message might be interpreted differently from its intended purpose. In other words, third party audience is referred to as secondary audience and is likely to lead to message misconception. The debate on the audience brings about the idea of proxemics (space and distance) (Mentis et al, 2012). The audience is always located within a defined area with the sender of the message. The idea of proxemics in communication was brought in by Edward T. Hall (1966) where he specified four space sectors. The first zone is referred the intimate space which stretches from 18 inches to physical body touch. No intruder may be allowed at this distance. The next space sector is the personal distance usually eighteen inches to four feet and is suitable for friend and discussion of personal matters. The third sector is the social distance usually maintained at casual level by friends and other acquaintances and rages between four to twelve feet. Finally, there is the public space which ranges from twelve feet to infinity. The message may be misinterpreted when it is received by unintended person or group especially when it is not meant for public domain.
2.2 The Audience and Communication Process
In a study Fischhoff (2013) indicated that effective communication is enhanced by understanding what the audience wants and expects as well as adapting the message to that audience. Communication is the most intricate process of human practices and the audience is the central focal point in the communication process. Communication and interpretation of the message symbols is constant and unending. The study indicated that the communication process guides what the audience understand. From the study, it is visible that the audience may conceptualise the message differently from what the facilitator intended based on some external factors. According to Loosen and Schmidt (2012), factors such as tonal variation, posture, speech rate, the dress code among other physical factors influence the perceptions of the audience and determine how they understand the message. Other factors that influence how the message is understood by the audience include the age, culture of the audience, gender, past experience as well as the level of intelligence among other individual factors. It is hence observable that the factors that determines how the message is understood by the audience do not emerge with the communicators only but also with the audience.
Locker and Kienzler (2012) in a study cited that the communication process is a general yet very complex process based on how original meaning can be tapped by the audience. The author indicated that there is need for the sender and the audience construct the meaning for that communication. It is only when both the sender and the receiver have got uniform definition of the communication symbols used will the intended objective be achieved. Therefore, there eminent need for parties in the communication process to agree on the meaning and connotation of symbols they are using. Veil, Buehner and Palenchar (2011) highlighted the choice of words as a major factor which determines how the audience understands the meaning in a verbal communication. Where the communicator does not have adequate conceptualisation of the language, he or she may result to using words which conveys a different message from what he intends. It is therefore advisable for verbal communication facilitators to use a language that they are really conversant with to avoid misconceptions of the original meaning.
In a study about audience misconception of the message Drunen, Boomgaarden and Vliegenthart (2012) cited channel and information overload as the main factors in the communication process that lead to misapprehension in understanding the original purpose of the message. Channel overload takes place where the communication channel cannot hold all the messages that are being relied. On the other hand, information overload transpires when messages transmitted are beyond the human reception capacity. This mostly occurs when the information is generated technologically such as the computer network output where large amount of data is produced. This may lead to selective decoding of the message where important details may not receive any attention. In the study, the authors indicated that overload may lead to inappropriate decoding of the message. It is important for the sender to transmit information in channels and volumes that the receiver is likely to pay attention to. In a study about factors influencing miscommunication McQuail (2013) identified the process of communication as the major aspect. The study indicated that effective communication is facilitated by identifying with the audience in the right manner and choosing the most appropriate communication symbols.
2.3 Psychographic Characteristics of the Audience
Previous studies indicated that psychographic characteristics influence the manner in which the audience understand the original message. Mitsis and Foley (2012) defines psychographics as the study of personal values, personal traits, personal opinions and interests as well as lifestyles. According to Deegan et al (2015) better understanding of the audience’s psychographics allows the sender to structure the information in a manner that is likely to appeal the receiver and maximise the level of understanding. In a business setting for example, the organization aligns the needs of its customers to its products in order to appease them and increase their likelihood to buy. This shows that designing a message in a manner that is likely to attract the attention of the receiver is likely to ensure successful delivery and comprehension of the message. The audience’s attitude towards the message significantly affects the meaning of that message. It is therefore important for the sender to structure the desired message such that it aligns with psychographics of the receiver.
Fischhoff (2013) classifies different the types of people according to different psychographics. The author suggests that for an introvert, the sender should try to deliver the message in written format since introverts prefer thinking and reasoning before they speak. If for instance speech communication is used with introverts, misunderstandings are likely to arise leading to misconception of the message. For an introvert, the communicator should try using an informal setting to convey the message. Introverts tend to think and reason very fast hence they tend to talk than write. This hence means that a message might be misconceived by an introvert when sent in a formal setting. Some people are so sensitive and their approach to a message is different from the rest. Where the audience is composed of such people, there is need for the speaker to present their message while reasoning each part chronologically while ensuring that all the facts related to the message are correct. Failure to follow this strategy is likely to lead to misconception of the message by the audience.
2.4 Theories Explaining Audience Miscomprehension of the Original Message
Researchers have reviewed various theories that try to explain cognitive and physiological factors that determine the effectiveness of communication between or among different parties. Cage (2010) in their study postulated that conveyance and reception of message is guided by a set of circumstances that can be explained theoretically. The researchers identified that the nature of relationship of the audience and the communicator as well as the environmental setting within which the communication is taking place influence the conceptualisation of the information being relayed.
2.4.1 Symbolic Interactionism
The theory of symbolic interactionism uses an integrated chronological approach in deriving the manner in which people rely upon some information and how they respond to such information. The theory underlies sociological framework theories which tend to analyse the manner in which people interact. The theory postulates that individual act based on the meaning that they derive after interpreting a message (Snow, 2001). Symbolic interaction gives one a chance to study the response of different people on an identical message and assessment and interpretation of this difference. The theory was derived from Max Weber’s postulation that people act in connection to their interpretation of what the world around them means. The theory analyses the means through which people impose meaning on objects, behaviours and occurrences subjectively in the society. Subjective connotations are given pre-eminence since it is held that individuals behave in a certain way based on what they believe without consideration of whether what they believe in is the objective truth (Aldiabat and Navenec, 2011).
Dionysiou and Tsoukas (2013) in a study used the symbolic interactionism theory to assess the extent to which people misconceive a message based on their own intrinsic connotations of relevant facts. The study through symbolic interaction theory established that the present beliefs of individuals tend to influence their interpretation of meaning from messages conveyed to them. It was identified that there is a high possibility of message misinterpretation where such message was conveyed to an audience that has different beliefs from what the message intends. Blumer (2011) indicates that the society tends to be socially organised through the human interaction of facts and events. The varied interpretations of meaning arguably lead to creation of the social bond. It is basic for people to misinterpret a message even where it is expressly indicated with words and symbols. The author gives an example of the youths indulging in cigarette smoking even where it is indicated on the packed that smoking is harmful to one’s health. The symbolic connotation of smoking basically overrides the real facts concerning the effects of smoking.
The misconception of the message based on social constructs of race and gender can be analysed in the light of symbolic interactionism. Without any biological base, race and gender are social builds that operated based on what we assume to be the truth about others given their physical looks. People normally use the constructs of race and gender to assist in deciding the people who we are going to interact with as well as helping us in determining the meaning of a person’s words. Critics argue that symbolic interactionism tends to overlook the fundamental level of interpreting social interaction. This means that symbolic interactionism may miss focus on wider society issues since it tends to focus more on the individuals rather than the society. The symbolic approach also receives criticism from for connecting the social influence of the society to the interactions of the individuals. The symbolic interaction theory may fail to realize the influence created by institutions in the society in shaping the response of individuals of that society towards certain issues (Cohen, 2013). Greene and Kropf (2011) in a study indicated that institutions tend to shape the perception of the people hence they may misconceive a message owing to these perceptions. The researchers gave an example of the media campaign against smoking which portrays smoking as a negative vice. If for instance a company promoter willing to increase cigarette sales talks about the good of the product the audience is likely to misunderstand the promotional message.
The audience tends to derive meaning from the message from how the sender or the communicator presents themselves. Self presentation guides the audience interpretation of the message. How we present ourselves acts a symbol of communication and guides how others understand the meaning of the message. Every person is equipped with a set of unique characteristics which shapes the manner which people handle themselves in the presence of others (Tedeschi, 2013). The theory of symbolic interactionism argues that the audience may not be keen on the message but on the manner which the message is conveyed as well as the symbols that accompany the message. This means that the audience may fail to realize the true meaning of the message but instead perceive the message guided by the manner of presentation as well as the person presenting the message. It is therefore common for the audience to misunderstand the message not because it was insufficient but rather because it was accompanied by symbols which the audience interpreted differently hence diverging from the objected meaning (Link et al, 2015).
The sociological paradigm of dramaturgical approach identifies that human behaviour guides the interpretation of the message by the audience. Through this approach, the theory of symbolic interaction holds that the communicators may shape the meaning of the message based on how they act when presenting it to the audience. Through this approach Livingstone (2013) observed that every message can be interpreted in a different way based on how it is presented. It is therefore clear that the audience may misinterpret a message where the communicator presents it in a misleading manner or where the communicator does not shape his or her role in the message with the objective of the message. The dramaturgical perspective implies that a person’s identity is not constant and free of the psychological form but rather it is reshaped when one interacts with others. This is compared to taking part in a play where a person takes up different roles in different plays and successfully manages to impress the audience. Nilsson et al (2012) cited non-verbal communication as the main element which influences the manner in which a message is interpreted by the audience. The author argues that a person can shape his or her own behaviour before the audience to guide the impression on them and consequently shape their perception of the message.
The Blumerian approach to symbolic interactionism also provides an insight on why the audience tends to misconceive the original meaning of the message (Manning, 2013). The approach contains three propositions which indicate how people derive meaning from the message. In the first proposition, the Blumerian approach suggests that people tend to interpret the message based on the meanings that they have accorded to those people involved in communicating the message and the context of the message. Where the meanings accorded to the communicators and the message do not match with the desired objective of the message, that particular audience is likely to misunderstand the message (Benzies and Allen, 2001). The second perspective involves the language in which the message is presented. Different languages are accompanied by different sets of symbols which are interpreted differently by the audience. This means that the preferred language for communicating a certain message have an effect on the conceptualisation of the message by the audience (LaRossa and Reitzes, 1993). The third perspective is more audience centred rather than the communicator. This involves the thoughts of the audience towards the message. It is possible for the audience to fail to understand the original meaning of the message based on their thoughts towards that message. It is hence visible that people tend to misunderstand the message based on accompanying symbols of the message (Bretherton, 2014).
2.4.2 Post Structuralism Theory
The theory of post structuralism explains a means of accepting the world through examination of relationships between human beings and the language. Post structuralism argues that words and the concepts used in communication changes meaning after a period of time. The theory signifies that the world is dynamically shifting from some of the meanings inferred on some concepts previously. This hence means that the audience may misconceive a message where the sender uses a set of language that has been outdated by the current world (Dews, 2007). Storey (2006) indicates that post structuralism theory is based on the concept of perspective. This is where each person arguably occupies a distinctive position in regard to the environment he or she is living in. Our identity as well as our view for the world is guided by a mix of forces than persuade us to interpret situations based on how our thinking has been shaped by specific experiences. This means that people may not interpret a message in an identical manner. While some may decipher the true meaning of the message some may interpret it differently altering the original purpose.
Post structuralism theory disputes the idea that literary text or words have a single meaning, purpose, or else a singular existence. The theory argues that the meaning of the message held by the author is secondary to the meaning that is derived by the audience (Blakemore, 2014). This hence means that the original purpose of the message is of secondary nature to the audience and they may not realise it based on their different interpretations (Hanssen, 2014). Every reader, listener or observer creates his or her own original purpose of the message based on their own understanding. The original purpose of the message is only realized where the set of circumstances that shape the perception of the audience favours the meaning of the message. It is assumed by the theory that the meaning of text shifts after a period of time hence when a similar message is communicated to the same audience after a period of time it is likely to be interpreted differently (Panizza and Miorelli, 2013).
Hansen (2011) in his study used the theory of post structuralism to investigate on the evolution of the contemporary language and the consequent change in linguistic and textual meaning. The researchers established without doubt that words change and language change meaning after a considerable duration of time. For example, the word “web” before the internet age was used to refer to spider comb webs. However after the inception and popularisation of the internet, the word ‘web’ is used in reference to website pages or basically the internet. A communicator can therefore be misunderstood if he or she uses such words whose meaning have evolved while trying to mean something that is contrary to what the audience thinks. It is important for the communicator to analyse the context of the message as well as the wordings used in that message to ensure that it corresponds to the current meaning that is commonly derived by the prospective audience. Through this, the speaker is most likely to avoid textual and linguistic discourse caused by obsolete language and wordings (Lehmann, 2013).
The audience holds the communicator as the basic object of inquiry in post structuralism approach. This disarticulation is usually referred to as decentering of the communicator all though much of the effect is absorbed by the message itself (Brah and Phoenix, 2013). This is where the audience tends to derive meaning of the message from the manner in which the communicator presents it to them. Through this approach, the audience also tend to derive the meaning of the message from the cultural norms of the communicator or norms which closely relate to the message. The theory closely relates with the concept of human logic hence shows potential of a person to misinterpret the message based on his or her own reasoning. People have different reasoning hence there is a possibility of some people among the audience to misunderstand the purpose of the message due to wrong reasoning (Jensen