Communication Models


A. What is a Model?
1. Mortensen: “In the broadest sense, a model is a systematic representation of an object or event in idealized and abstract form. Models are somewhat arbitrary by their nature. The act of abstracting eliminates certain details to focus on essential factors. . . . The key to the usefulness of a model is the degree to which it conforms–in point-by-point correspondence–to the underlying determinants of communicative behavior.”
2. “Communication models are merely pictures; they’re even distorting pictures, because they stop or freeze an essentially dynamic interactive or transactive process into a static picture.”
3. Models are metaphors. They allow us to see one thing in terms of another.
B. The Advantages of Models
1. They should allow us to ask questions.
Mortensen: “A good model is useful, then, in providing both general perspective and particular vantage points from which to ask questions and to interpret the raw stuff of observation. The more complex the subject matter—the more amorphous and elusive the natural boundaries—the greater are the potential rewards of model building.”
2. They should clarify complexity.
Models also clarify the structure of complex events. They do this, as Chapanis (1961) noted, by reducing complexity to simpler, more familiar terms. . . Thus, the aim of a model is not to ignore complexity or to explain it away, but rather to give it order and coherence.
3. They should lead us to new discoveries-most important, according to Mortensen.
At another level models have heuristic value; that is, they provide new ways to conceive of hypothetical ideas and relationships. This may well be their most important function. With the aid of a good model, suddenly we are jarred from conventional modes of thought. . . . Ideally, any model, even when studied casually, should offer new insights and culminate in what can only be described as an “Aha!” experience.

Classical Communication Models


1. Aristotle’s definition of rhetoric. Ehninger, Gronbeck and Monroe: One of the earliest definitions of communication came from the Greek philosopher-teacher Aristotle (384-322 B.C.).
a. “Rhetoric” is “the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion” (Rhetoric 1335b).
b. Aristotle’s speaker-centered model received perhaps its fullest development in the hands of Roman educator Quintilian (ca. 35-95 A.D.), whose Institutio Oratoria was filled with advice on the full training of a “good” speaker-statesman.

Early Linear Models
1. The Shannon-Weaver Mathematical Model, 1949
a. Background
i. Claude Shannon, an engineer for the Bell Telephone Company, designed the most influential of all early communication models. His goal was to formulate a theory to guide the efforts of engineers in finding the most efficient way of transmitting electrical signals from one location to another (Shannon and Weaver, 1949). Later Shannon introduced a mechanism in the receiver which corrected for differences between the transmitted and received signal; this monitoring or correcting mechanism was the forerunner of the now widely used concept of feedback (information which a communicator gains from others in response to his own verbal behavior).


b. Strengths
i. This model, or a variation on it, is the most common communication model used in low-level communication texts.
ii. Significant development. “Within a decade a host of other disciplines—many in the behavioral sciences—adapted it to countless interpersonal situations, often distorting it or making exaggerated claims for its use.”
iii. “Taken as an approximation of the process of human communication.”

The concepts of this model became staples in communication research
1.) Entropy-the measure of uncertainty in a system. “Uncertainty or entropy increases in exact proportion to the number of messages from which the source has to choose. In the simple matter of flipping a coin, entropy is low because the destination knows the probability of a coin’s turning up either heads or tails. In the case of a two-headed coin, there can be neither any freedom of choice nor any reduction in uncertainty so long as the destination knows exactly what the outcome must be. In other words, the value of a specific bit of information depends on the probability that it will occur. In general, the informative value of an item in a message decreases in exact proportion to the likelihood of its occurrence.”
2.) Redundancy-the degree to which information is not unique in the system. “Those items in a message that add no new information are redundant. Perfect redundancy is equal to total repetition and is found in pure form only in machines. In human beings, the very act of repetition changes, in some minute way, the meaning or the message and the larger social significance of the event. Zero redundancy creates sheer unpredictability, for there is no way of knowing what items in a sequence will come next. As a rule, no message can reach maximum efficiency unless it contains a balance between the unexpected and the predictable, between what the receiver must have underscored to acquire understanding and what can be deleted as extraneous.”
3.) Noise-the measure of information not related to the message. “Any additional signal that interferes with the reception of information is noise. In electrical apparatus noise comes only from within the system, whereas in human activity it may occur quite apart from the act of transmission and reception. Interference may result, for example, from background noise in the immediate surroundings, from noisy channels (a crackling microphone), from the organization and semantic aspects of the message (syntactical and semantical noise), or from psychological interference with encoding and decoding. Noise need not be considered a detriment unless it produces a significant interference with the reception of the message. Even when the disturbance is substantial, the strength of the signal or the rate of redundancy may be increased to restore efficiency.”
4.) Channel Capacity-the measure of the maximum amount of information a channel can carry. “The battle against uncertainty depends upon the number of alternative possibilities the message eliminates. Suppose you wanted to know where a given checker was located on a checkerboard. If you start by asking if it is located in the first black square at the extreme left of the second row from the top and find the answer to be no, sixty-three possibilities remain-a high level of uncertainty. On the other hand, if you first ask whether it falls on any square at the top half of the board, the alternative will be reduced by half regardless of the answer. By following the first strategy it could be necessary to ask up to sixty-three questions (inefficient indeed!); but by consistently halving the remaining possibilities, you will obtain the right answer in no more than six tries.”

2. Berlo’s S-M-C-R, 1960
a. Background
i. Ehninger, Gronbeck and Monroe: “The simplest and most influential message-centered model of our time came from David Berlo (Simplified from David K. Berlo, The Process of Communication (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1960)):”
ii. Essentially an adaptation of the Shannon-Weaver model.


The berlo’s model follows the smcr model this model is not specific to any particular communication.

Berlo’s model lives a number of factors under each of the elements :

Source: The source is were the message originates.

Communication skills – It is the individual’s skill to communicate (ability to read, write, speak, listen etc…)

Attitudes – The attitude towards the audience, subject and towards one self for e.g. for the student the attitude is to learn more and for teachers wants to help teach.

Knowledge- The knowledge about the subject one is going to communicate for e.g. whatever the teacher communicates in the class about the subject so having knowledge in what you are communicating.

Note: It is not talking about the general knowledge it is all about the knowledge of the subject, so it is the familiarity of what you are communicating.

Social system – The Social system includes the various aspects in society like values, beliefs, culture, religion and general understanding of society. It is were the communication takes place.

For e.g. class room differs from country to country like behaviors, how we communicate etc.

Note: We can communicate only to the extent that the social system allows, when we communicate take social system into account.

Culture: Culture of the particular society also comes under social system.

All to this model, only if you have the above in the proper or adequate proportion v can communicate.

Encoder: The sender of the message (message originates) is referred as encoder, so the source is encoding the message here.


Content – The beginning to the end of a message comprises its content for e.g. From beginning to end whatever the class teacher speaks in the class is the content of the message.

Elements – It includes various things like language, gestures, body language etc, so these are all the elements of the particular message. Content is accompanied by some elements.

Treatment – It refers to the packing of the message. The way in which the message is conveyed or the way in which the message is passed on or deliver it.

Note: When it is too much treatment also the communication will not happen properly.

Structure- The structure of the message how it is arranged, the way you structure the message into various parts.

Note: Message is the same but if the structure is not properly arranged then the message will not get to the receiver.

Code- The code of the message means how it is sent in what form it could be e.g. language, body language, gestures, music and even culture is a code. Through this you get/give the message or through which the communication takes place or being reached.

Note: Only when the code is proper, the message will be clear, improper use may lead to misinterpretation.

Channel- It is nothing but the five senses through this only we do. The following are the five senses which we use

Whatever communication we do it is there either of these channels.

Hearing: The use of ears to get the message for e.g. oral messages, interpersonal etc.

Seeing: Visual channels for e.g. TV can be seen and the message is delivered.

Touching: The sense of touch can be used as a channel to communicate for e.g. we touch and buy food, hugging etc.

Smelling: Smell also can be a channel to communicate for e.g. perfumes, food, charred smell communicates something is burning, we can find out about which food is being cooked etc.

Tasting : The tongue also can be used to decipher e.g. Food can be tasted and communication can happen.

Note: Despite not mentioning a medium we need to assume that as communication is taking place channels can be any of the 5 senses or combination.

Decoder : Who receives the message and decodes it is referred to as decoder.

Receiver: The receiver needs to have all the thinks like the source.

This model believes that for an effective communication to take place the source and the receiver needs to be in the same level, only if the source and receiver are on the same level communication will happen or take place properly. So source and receiver should be similar

For e.g. Communication skills on source side is good then the receiver should equally have good listening skills.

We cannot say the entire message passed doesn’t reaches the receiver has it is because the receiver may not good in listening, so only for the effective communication the source and the receiver to be in the same level.

Note: Self image differs from person to person, for communicating the person should consider the receiver. Keep the receiver in mind, speak accordingly and give them what they need.

Criticism of berlo’s smcr model of communication:

No feedback / don’t know about the effect
Does not mention barriers to communication
No room for noise
Complex model
It is a linear model of communication
Needs people to be on same level for communication to occur but not true in real life
Main drawback of the model is that the model omits the usage of sixth sense as a channel which is actually a gift to the human beings (thinking, understanding, analyzing etc).

3. Schramm’s Interactive Model, 1954
a. Background
Wilbur Schramm (1954) was one of the first to alter the mathematical model of Shannon and Weaver. He conceived of decoding and encoding as activities maintained simultaneously by sender and receiver; he also made provisions for a two-way interchange of messages. Notice also the inclusion of an “interpreter” as an abstract representation of the problem of meaning.
(From Wilbur Schramm, “How Communication Works,” in The Process and Effects of Communication, ed. Wilbur Schramm (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1954), pp. 3-26):


Non-linear Models
1. Dance’s Helical Spiral, 1967
a. Background
i. Depicts communication as a dynamic process. Mortensen: “The helix represents the way communication evolves in an individual from his birth to the existing moment.”
ii. Dance: “At any and all times, the helix gives geometrical testimony to the concept that communication while moving forward is at the same moment coming back upon itself and being affected by its past behavior, for the coming curve of the helix is fundamentally affected by the curve from which it emerges. Yet, even though slowly, the helix can gradually free itself from its lower-level distortions. The communication process, like the helix, is constantly moving forward and yet is always to some degree dependent upon the past, which informs the present and the future. The helical communication model offers a flexible communication process” [p. 296].


The helix implies that communication is continuous, unrepeatable, additive, and accumulative; that is, each phase of activity depends upon present forces at work as they are defined by all that has occurred before. All experience contributes to the shape of the unfolding moment; there is no break in the action, no fixed beginning, no pure redundancy, no closure. All communicative experience is the product of learned, nonrepeatable events which are defined in ways the organism develops to be self-consistent and socially meaningful. In short, the helix underscores the integrated aspects of all human communication as an evolving process that is always turned inward in ways that permit learning, growth, and discovery.