Diffusion of Innovation Theory
Diffusion research examines how ideas are spread among groups of people. Diffusion goes beyond the two-step flow theory, centering on the conditions that increase or decrease the likelihood that an innovation, a new idea, product or practice, will be adopted by members of a given culture. In multi-step diffusion, the opinion leader still exerts a large influence on the behavior of individuals, called adopters, but there are also other intermediaries between the media and the audience's decision-making. One intermediary is the change agent, someone who encourages an opinion leader to adopt or reject an innovation (Infante, Rancer, & Womack, 1997).
Innovations are not adopted by all individuals in a social system at the same time. Instead, they tend to adopt in a time sequence, and can be classified into adopter categories based upon how long it takes for them to begin using the new idea. Practically speaking, it's very useful for a change agent to be able to identify which category certain individuals belong to, since the short-term goal of most change agents is to facilitate the adoption of an innovation. Adoption of a new idea is caused by human interaction through interpersonal networks. If the initial adopter of an innovation discusses it with two members of a given social system, and these two become adopters who pass the innovation along to two peers, and so on, the resulting distribution follows a binomial expansion. Expect adopter distributions to follow a bell-shaped curve over time (Rogers, 1971).
Adopter distributions closely approach normality. The above figure shows the normal frequency distributions divided into five categories: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority and laggards. Innovators are the first 2.5 percent of a group to adopt a new idea. The next 13.5 percent to adopt an innovation are labeled early adopters. The next 34 percent of the adopters are called the early majority. The 34 percent of the group to the right of the mean are the late majority, and the last 16 percent are considered laggards (Rogers, 1971).
The above method of classifying adopters is not symmetrical, nor is it necessary for it to be so. There are three categories to the left of the mean and only two to the right. While it is possible to break the laggard group into early and late laggards, research shows this single group to be fairly homogenous. While innovators and early adopters could be combined, research shows these two groups as having distinctly different characteristics. The categories are 1) exhaustive, in that they include all units of study, 2) mutually exclusive, excluding from any other category a unit of study already appearing in a category, and 3) derived from one classificatory principle. This method of adopter categorization is presently the most widely used in diffusion research (Rogers, 1971).
Early adopters tend to be integrated into the local social system more than innovators. The early adopters are considered to be localites, versus the cosmopolite innovators. People in the early adopter category seem to have the greatest degree of opinion leadership in most social systems. They provide advice and information sought by other adopters about an innovation. Change agents will seek out early adopters to help speed the diffusion process. The early adopter is usually respected by his or her peers and has a reputation for successful and discrete use of new ideas (Rogers, 1971).
Members of the early majority category will adopt new ideas just before the average member of a social system. They interact frequently with peers, but are not often found holding leadership positions. As the link between very early adopters and people late to adopt, early majority adopters play an important part in the diffusion process. Their innovation-decision time is relatively longer than innovators and early adopters, since they deliberate some time before completely adopting a new idea. Seldom leading, early majority adopters willingly follow in adopting innovations (Rogers, 1971).
The late majority are a skeptical group, adopting new ideas just after the average member of a social system. Their adoption may be borne out of economic necessity and in response to increasing social pressure. They are cautious about innovations, and are reluctant to adopt until most others in their social system do so first. An innovation must definitely have the weight of system norms behind it to convince the late majority. While they may be persuaded about the utility of an innovation, there must be strong pressure from peers to adopt (Rogers, 1971).
Laggards are traditionalists and the last to adopt an innovation. Possessing almost no opinion leadership, laggards are localite to the point of being isolates compared to the other adopter categories. They are fixated on the past, and all decisions must be made in terms of previous generations. Individual laggards mainly interact with other traditionalists. An innovation finally adopted by a laggard may already be rendered obsolete by more recent ideas already in use by innovators. Laggards are likely to be suspicious not only of innovations, but of innovators and change agents as well (Rogers, 1971).
Uses and Gratification
Uses and gratification is more a concept of research than a self-contained theory. Even contributors in this field of research find problems with the scope of the research and call uses and gratification an umbrella concept in which several theories reside (Infante et al. 1997). Researchers in this field argue that scholars have tried to do too much and should limit the scope and take a cultural-empirical approach to how people choose from the abundance of cultural products available.
Critics claim the theory pays too much attention to the individual and does not look at the social context and the role the media plays in that social context. Rubin (1985), as cited in Littlejohn (1996), suggests that audience motive research based on uses and gratification research has been too compartmentalized within certain cultures and demographic groups, leading to the assumption this has thwarted synthesis and integration of research results, which are two key ingredients in theory building.
The uses and gratification theory is a basic extension of the definition of an attitude, which is a non-linear cluster of beliefs, evaluations, and perceptions. These beliefs, evaluations, and perceptions give individuals latitude over how they employ media in their lives; in other words, how individuals filter, interpret, and convey to others the information received from a medium. Basically, a personís attitude toward a segment of the media is determined by beliefs about and evaluations of the media. A key to this research is that the consumer, or audience member, is the focal point instead of the message. The research views the members of an audience as actively utilizing media contents, rather than being passively acted upon by the media, according to Katz, Blumer, and Gurevitch (1971) as cited in Littlejohn (1996). When audience members, not the media, are the action takers, the variations taken from the messages received are the intervening variables.
A core assumption of uses and gratification research is the assumption that individual needs are satisfied by audience members actively seeking out the mass media (Infante et al., 1997). Rubin (1983), as cited in Littlejohn (1996), designed a study to explore adult viewersí motivations, behaviors, attitudes and patterns of interaction to see if behavioral and attitudinal consequences of the viewer could be predicted. In 1984, the researcher identified two types of television viewers. The first type is the habitual viewer who watches television for a diversion, has a high regard for the medium, and is a frequent user The second type is the non-habitual viewer who is selective, likes a particular program or type of programs and uses the medium primarily for information. The non-habitual viewer is more goal oriented when watching television and does not necessarily feel that television is important. Rubin (1983) argues that habitual viewers use the medium as a companion and that non-habitual viewers are more actively involved in the viewing experience (Littlejohn, 1996).
In Fishbeinís theory development, attitudes are different from beliefs in that they are evaluative and are correlated with beliefs and predispose a person to behave a certain way toward the attitude object. The two beliefs about marijuana mentioned above would change dramatically if more serious drugs and crime were evaluated as bad. Also cited in Littlejohn is Philip Palmgreen, an early uses and gratification researcher, who claims that gratifications are sought in terms of a personís beliefs about what a medium can provide and that personís evaluation of the mediumís content (Littlejohn, 1996).