Spiral of silence theory – Literature review (part 4)

Evaluating the cultural influence on the spiral of silence is a study by Huang (2005). The study examined the cross-cultural influences on opinion expression, focusing on the individualism-collectivism cultural construct. Through a review of literature, the author establishes the basis for various hypotheses that guide the study. The hypotheses are wide-ranging. Firstly, some concern the alignment of the cultures under evaluation (American and Taiwan) on the individualism-collectivism scale and, others the influence of culture (individualistic or collectivistic) on an individuals’ willingness to express ones opinion. Yet others guide the evaluation of effect of ones personality (idiocentric versus allocentric) on opinion expression and others guide assessment of the effect of motives on willingness to express opinion.

The methodology involved two surveys, one in the US and, a second, in Taiwan. The sample size in the US was 203, representing a response rate of 50.6 percent, whereas that in Taiwan was 412, a response rate of 47.9 percent (p. 329). The US sample was obtained from a random sampling of the Dane County, Wisconsin telephone directory. The Taiwan sample was obtain through systematic sampling of Taichung area, phone directory. The data collection tool was questionnaires that differed only with respect to issues selected for the study (for relevance to the said culture) and to local news media. Questions were worded to elicit equal psychological stimuli in the two cultures. Questionnaires included aspects of demographics, opinion incongruency (likert scale), individualism/collectivism measures and motives for inexpression of ones opinion (likert scale). Results of the study were presented in tabular, graphical and narrative formats.

The study results support various hypotheses the authors presented. Firstly, following the support for the hypothesis that Americans are more individualistic than Taiwanese, the study finds support for cross-cultural variations of expression of individual opinion. Unlike the expectations that Americans would express more an individual opinion that is inconsistent with majority opinion out of their individualistic orientation, the results do not support this hypothesis. The Taiwan sample however supported the hypothesis of failure to express individual opinion in case of conflict with that of the majority. At an individual level, personality did not predict willingness to speak out on an issue where individual perspective differed from that of the majority. Additionally, lack of support for fear of sanctions in curtailing expression of individual opinion in both samples highlights a lack of support for fear of isolation premise of the spiral of silence theory.

The study provides implications into how cultural differences may affect expression of opinion. The strength of the study is in its comprehensive analysis and presentation of results. Despite such comprehensive analysis, the study evaluates multiple issues (e.g. cultural and personality effects) that may be addressed better in independent studies. However, the through succinct discussion of the results, the study is able to establish support for the spiral of silence theory in collectivistic cultures while showing lack of such support in individualistic cultures. Thus, this study establishes the effect that cultural differences may have on the expression of opinion.

Another study evaluates the validity and application of spiral of silence theory by expounding the fear of isolation concept into trait, issue, and state components, as advised on distinct but comparable aspect of communication apprehension (CA) – the fear of communicating with other individuals. For such delineation, Neuwirth, Frederick, & Mayo (2007) through a review of literature on various aspects suggested to affect opinion expression formulate up to six hypotheses to guide the study.  These include one of negative association between CA components – trait, issue and state – and opinion expression, one linking perception of majority opinion to willingness to enter a discussion, and one envisaging a positive association between the strength of ones own opinion and expression of such opinion. Other hypothesis are based on the theory of planed behavior and are: that efficacy positively influences ones willingness to express ones opinion, that perceived behavioral control affects opinion expression in a positive manner, and that such a positive relationship with opinion expression also exists with regard to subjective norms.

The study setting was on the possible invasion of Iraq in 2002, in the period preceding US congressional elections. A random sample of residents of Cincinnati, OH; Eau Claire, WI; and Hattiesburg, MS was used for the telephone surveys upon which the analysis were conducted. The respondents were to be at least 18 years of age and have lived in the survey locality for at least 2 weeks. Out of a projected population of 2,341 eligible households, 1,126 residents participated, a response rate of 48.1 %. The data collection tool was a questionnaire that evaluated aspects such as opinion expression, CA and fear of isolation, own opinion and perceived majority opinion, with many measures being comprised of likert scale-oriented items. Statistical analyses included hierarchical multiple regression.

Overall, the study offered support for concepts advanced under fear of isolation and for different hypotheses, at least partial support. The results for instance reinforced the validity of delineation of trait, issue and state as independent constructs of the fear of isolation concept, factors based on theory of planned behavior also played a significant role in explaining opinion expression. Accordingly, the authors advise on the necessity to consider multidimensional approach in evaluating validity of the spiral of silence theory, specifically in relation to conformity resulting from the concept fear of isolation.

The study provides various implications for research on the subject of validity of spiral of silence theory. Core among these aspects is the suggestion that “not speaking out”, as envisaged in the theory, may not be synonymous with “speaking out” variables used to test the theory in most studies. For instance, the study argues that not speaking out may involve other conforming behaviors such as lying or neutral comments, which the variable  “speaking out” does not capture. By identifying the limitations of the study, such as cross-sectional nature of the study limiting generalizing of observations derived from the data, the authors suggest the need for further research that would better the assessment of validity of the spiral of silence theory. Find the conclusion here.

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