Spiral of science theory – Literature Review

Studies examining validity of the spiral of silence theory have had equivocal findings. A study by Moreno-Riano (2002) exemplifies this with its mixed results regarding various premises upon which the spiral of silence theory is based. In this study, the author examined “the relationship between one’s perception of the popularity of one’s position on Affirmative Action and one’s perception of the correctness of that position regarding that same issue” (p. 69). The study was guided express statement of hypotheses based on the advancements of the spiral of silence theory. Firstly, was the hypothesis that subjects exposed to a fictitious majority opinion were more likely to modify their individual opinion to conform to the majority’s opinion as opposed to the unexposed group. Secondly, the study hypothesized that respondents in the test group (one exposed to fictitious opinion of majority) were more likely to perceive their re-oriented opinion to be in conformity with current and future trends of majority’s perspective on the subject, than would be the unexposed group. Finally, the author hypothesized that subjects in the test group would be more willing to express their re-oriented perspective and feel more comfortable in doing so that the control-group subjects (p. 70).

The study establishes the basis for these hypotheses through a succinct review of relevant and current literature. Such literature for instance points to the development of the theory and unclear evidence on the validity of the theory. Through this review, the author establishes the need for the current study to test the theory via “innovative research approaches and testing methods” that involved manipulation of test variables such as climate of opinion (p. 69).

An experimental design with random assignment of subjects to the test and control groups was used in the study. The sample consisted of 407 university students, a sub-sample of the 1,600 numbers that had been drawn from the University Student Directory via a systematic random sampling criterion. The data collection tool was two questionnaires that guided the telephone interviews. The two questionnaires were developed from the three initial questionnaires following a pretest assay with 30 interviewees from a pool of 200 randomly selected students. The questionnaires differed only with respect to the manipulation of the climate opinion, by informing respondents in the experimental group of a majority opinion in favor of affirmative action. Questions included those gauging personal perspectives on affirmative action aspects, current and future opinion climate, assessment of respondent’s perception of their degree of freedom and the likelihood that respondent’s would not express their opinions in view of delicate social settings.

The results of the study were presented in a simple and clear format. The author used the t-test to assess whether there were significant differences between the test and control groups with respect to the hypotheses formulated. The interpretation of results was consistent with the hypotheses formulated. The study results support the first hypothesis that the claim of the majority opinion significantly affected individual’s public opinion. However, no support was rendered to the second hypothesis, the results indicating that an individual’s conformity to the perceived majority opinion may not necessarily influence ones perspective that the re-oriented perspective is one shared and eventually would be the predominant opinion in the population. Tentative support for hypothesis three was also found indicating that experimental group subjects would be more willing to express their opinion than those in the control group. Thus, the study’s overall effect was to offer support to the theory.

The study presents vital information regarding the validity of the spiral of silence theory. The study’s strength include its experimental design that allows the generalizability of results. The study also presents weaknesses such as survey “demand characteristics” that could have influenced the observed conformity, rather than the individuals perception of the majority perspective. Further, it highlights areas (e.g. use of better survey methods) where further research would clarify the study’s findings. A weakness in the study, however, is regards the reliability of the collection tool (questionnaire) used, for which tests of internal reliability and validity were lacking. Overall, the study’s findings provide insight into how spiral theory may explain public opinion formation and limitations of the theory. Find the continuation of literature review is continued here

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