Diffusion of Information and Influence

Rogersí (1962) diffusion of innovation theory provides insight on how to communicate with large groups of people through interpersonal communication. While most of the research on diffusion has centers on the acceptance of new products or procedures, it applies equally well to the diffusion of new ideas and information.

Members of a society are constantly besieged with ideas and information from sources outside of their culture. This contact alone can result in some form of change. Societies are continually confronted by strangers either through face-to-face interaction or mass media.

According to Infante (1997) et al., the two-step flow theory of mass communication primarily dealt with the exchange of information between the media and audience. Going beyond that theory, Infante, et al., (1997) asserts that while opinion leaders can influence others through personal contact, additional intermediaries known as change agents and gatekeepers are included in the process of multi-step diffusion.

Change agents are the individuals who have the ability to persuade opinion leaders to adopt or reject an idea. Change agents often possess more status and education than opinion leaders and their followers. Another intermediary in the multi-step process is a gatekeeper. The gatekeeper controls the flow of information to individuals or groups of people. Opinion leaders generally share many of the same traits as the individuals they represent.

Diffusion of information and influence does not necessarily happen overnight. Rogers (1962) states that the purpose of diffusion theories is to accelerate the process associated with the acceptance of new ideas.

While mass-communication mediums take on integral roles in diffusion, the interpersonal networks are considered most important. Kinkaid (1979) states networks are more than simple messages passed from opinion leaders to followers. His research focuses on how individuals comprehend ideas and the extent to which messages are accepted and altered. This is dependent in large measure on the interaction not only from opinion leaders to followers, but among followers themselves. "Interaction is important, for diffusion appears to be a product of give and take rather than the simple transmission of information from one person to another" (Littlejohn, 1996, p. 336). The goal of this interaction is developing a communication strategy which will lead to a mutual understanding, or convergence (Kinkaid, 1971). The adoption or rejection of new ideas is a product of convergence, also known as the shared meaning.

Since the Arabic and American cultures are so different, finding a point of shared meaning is imperative. As mentioned before, American troops currently deployed to the Middle East will rarely come into contact with people of the host nations. However, understanding the reasons behind the rules under which they live while serving in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait will lesson their uncertainty, hence their anxiety and stress levels. This can be accomplished by applying diffusion of information and influence theory to the predeployment planning process. Next