To start with, it should be stated that propaganda is a powerful tool, which assists the authorities to produce the desired effect on human way of thinking. It is the juxtaposition of positive and negative emotions. It should be stated that propaganda may b studied from different perspectives, as it is a multitopical issue, which is connected to history, journalism, political science, and sociology. It resembles the persuasion, but the very distorted form.  Its major objective is achievement of satisfaction by the needs of both persuader and persuadee. The history has witnessed the frequent application of it. The practical examples include the Hitler’s application of propaganda during the WWII, and the Russians usage of it during the Cold War. In order to understand what features made this tool so effective, the application of propaganda in different temporal periods has to be conducted. 

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There exists a certain relation between the propaganda and persuasion, because both notions affect the viewpoint of the individuals. This similar feature does not make the concepts identical. He difference lies in the fact that propaganda is applied to manipulate people. Persuasion is the strategy, which is applied to construct authority, and propaganda presupposes the  exercise of power.  Persuasion is the tool, which is applied to make people take the necessary route, and propaganda is the means, which is applied to achieve certain benefit through the application of the misleading belief. It comes into action, when the individuals are under influence of extraneous variables.

History of World Propaganda

The first manifestations of propaganda appeared as early as in 7000 B.C. when in the epoch of Neolithic, men drew the pictures of application of weapon. These were the earliest expressions of propaganda, which has developed into the strong power with course of the tears. One of the most well-knows applications of propaganda happened during the World War II by Nazi. 

The historical origins of Nazi propaganda can be traced by turning backwards and investigating the Hitler’s Mein Kampf.  The most impressive passages of Mein Kampf, use the propagandist technique.  The application of this technique made the passages of this notorious work extremely effective. This technique was effective, as it was not based on the truthful facts, but emphasized hammering the ideas, which Hitler thought to be essential. Karthik Narayanaswami investigated their propagandist techniques and came to the conclusion that they managed to achieve such a groundbreaking success due to the fact that Hitler took into account the behavior strategies, and exploited the existing stereotypes and the sentiments of German in order to enrage them against the individuals, whom they disliked. These were the representatives of Jewish nationality, homosexuals, Gypsies, communists and political dissidents. Uniting the hatred and the Germans with his proposed terrific perspectives turned out to be the efficient tool of persuasion. 

Hitler understood that people needed the person to rule, and applied propaganda in order to create the messianistic image of himself. It assisted him to manipulate the masses of German. Hitler picked the unpleasant traits of the Jewish people and started popularizing them and it brought him success. He applied the negativity bias, which in inherent in human nature in order to achieve the desired effect. German propagandist apparatus managed to magnify his polemics. 

It should be assumed that the Nazi propaganda was routed not only against Jews, but also against Americans. Klaus Fisher confirms this idea in his work, and states that Hitler’s thoughts about the USA were occupied by envy of its wealth and power, and he started popularizing the accusations of Anglo-American plutocracy, Bolshevism, and the ties, which unite them with Jews. 

It should be stated that during the World War II, propaganda was applied not only in Germany, but in Soviet Union. In the mid 1920’s, the main newspapers of the country devoted a great space depicting the outside world. With the beginning of the war, Soviets started applying propaganda to masses. Propaganda dominated in the social life of people. Unlike Nazi, who accurately chose the techniques of propaganda, Bolsheviks did not care about it a lot. The main objective of the Soviet propaganda was teaching people, and they managed to it. They constantly enlightened the social masses and persuaded people to follow their goals. The goals ranged from pragmatic, to more significant, like mobilization.  During the war, the major task of the Soviet newspapers was to teach the masses and to organize them for the tasks’ resolution. Lumans emphasized that during the WWII particular attention has been paid to Sweden and Finland. These countries were the targets of propaganda. The Soviet government tried to do everything possible to state how negative the situation was there. The newspapers constantly depicted the inflation, famine, and collapse of these societies. The major objective for it was keeping the Unity. Europe was depicted as the heart of capitalist states, and constantly aspersed. 

Leads to Growth of Propaganda Definitions/Analysis

In order to understand the transformation of the meaning of the propaganda’s definitions, different explanations of the propaganda have to be applied. Researcher Curnalia in her article mentions that one of the fist definitions of this notion in the 20th century was the definition produced by Lasswell in 1927. According to him, propaganda is a kind a weapon, which is applied in order to destroy the morale of the opponent psychologically in order to promote the military effort. Baran and Davis have discussed the Laswell’s viewpoint in their work and stated that his vision of propaganda resembled the mix of behaviorism and Freudianism, marked by the pessimistic vision of the world. Moreover, they have noted that according to him the main power of propaganda lies not in the appeal or particular message, but in the vulnerability of human mind. Taking into account the past experience, it might be assumed that Laswell’s pessimistic viewpoint had a grain of truth.  

Doob in 1935 extended the initial definition and tied the psychology and sociology. According to him, the sociology resembled a gun and psychology was the ammunition. Tied together, this tool has become the measure of controlling individuals through the suggestions and actions. David Wilcox in his research emphasized the classification, which Doob had invented and incorporated it within the degree of negative moral judgment. He was the first to state that propaganda was one of the negative methods, which people applied in order to form certain opinion within the public. He also stated that propaganda is a particular tool, which assists certain authorities to alter the public views towards particular things.

With the course of tie the public attitude towards propaganda has changed. And in 1949 Hummel and Huntress stated that it is any form of persuading someone to a belief. It could be assumed that they strived to take maximally neutral and objective position, while defining the propaganda. In 1959, Lee tried to state that the issue of propaganda is tightly linked to the propaganda to the human emotive perception of the world. The individuals, who apply it in their daily life tend to put the emphasis on symbols and combination of words, which bring the connotative significance for the particular group of people. Researcher Scharmm, who was the veteran of Federal Government’s propaganda in 1955 added to the original definition of propaganda, the significance of media. He stated that propaganda is a method to convey biased data through the application of media. 

The essential place in defining propaganda was occupied by researcher Ellul in 1965. Ellul tried to persuade the audience that propaganda was a means of standardization of human thoughts and hardening of the stereotypes. Unlike others, who simply charged the propaganda, Ellul investigated it from the viewpoint of meaning, which it carried. Curnalia in the article states that the main thing, which differed the Ellul’s research from the investigations of other scientists was the method of decoding the propagandist messages. He was interested in the effect, which every message produced on the target audience.

The recent attempts to define the propaganda were done by Chomsky, and later by Jowett and O’Donnell.  The latter put an emphasis on three forms of propaganda, which included white, grey and black. According to them, there existed different forms of propaganda white stood for the truthful form, grey, for the partially deceitful, and black for the completely deceitful form of it. He also noted that propaganda was a way to manipulate the vision of the things of other individuals through the convincing arguments. D’Hooghe analyses their arguments in his work and states that according to Jowett and O’Donnell, propaganda was marked by the neutral meaning, which was marked by the particular shades, with certain individuals added to it. 

In general, the analysis have shown that since the first attempts to define the notion of propaganda nearly all the researches emphasized its effect on the cognitive abilities of people and its ability to persuade others. Nearly all of the scientists agreed that this method was applied to manipulate people, and that different strategies and tactics were applied. The main advantage of investigating different definitions is the fact that each of them reveals the public particular shades of meaning. It assists to analyze this concept from different angles and obtain the better understanding of its traits.

Theories Explaining Propaganda Today

In the her article, Rebecca Curnalia provides the readers not only with the definitions of the concept of propaganda, but also grounds her research on the theories of mass communication which have the groundbreaking effect on the explanation of the effects, produced by propaganda. The three key theories include agenda setting, framing theory and spiral of silence.

Agenda Setting

The first theory to be discussed is agenda setting, which were investigated by the McCombs and Shaw in 1972. In the course of their works they managed to match the key issues with the actual campaign.  They emphasized that agenda setting assists to explain the distention of propaganda. McCombs and Shaw emphasized that the propagandist message obtains its significance only after the advocating of the actions. Charles Larson also discusses this issue in his research and states that the primary objective of the agenda setting is that it tells the audience what to think in terms of public agenda. It reveals the people the desired patterns of behavior. In the original article “The agenda setting function of mass media” McCombs and Shaw tried to state that while the journalists or editors display certain piece of news, the audience starts being interested in it not because of the gist, but because of the importance to attach to the discussed issue. Megwa and Brenner partially agreed to the statements, earlier provided by McCombs and Show that emphasized the significance of interest groups for the agenda setting. In their article Megwa and Brenner emphasized the three states, which are significant for the agenda setting process, and these states included issue of creation, issue of expansion and issue of consumption. McCombs also emphases that salience is essential for building the cohesiveness of particular community. While investigating the issue of agenda setting, Wanta and Hu emphasized that media outlets influence human way of thinking, because people rely on the media, which they consider to be credible, and later preserve the viewpoint of the chosen source. Researcher Zhu in his article “Public issue priority formation: Media agenda-setting and social interaction” emphasized that people usually turn to media sources in those cases, when they lack experience on particular things. For instance, in case of war people turn to the mass media, because they lack data and try to search for the information there. It could be assumed that lack of data and faith into the credibility of media are the major factors, which make the propaganda so efficient.  In another investigation, Zhu and Boroson stated that agenda setting produced significant effects in case unobtrusive issue or in case of the obtrusive issues, which concern the well being of the individuals, these are inflation and unemployment. In case of these critical issues, readers try to find the ways towards their questions, mass media seems to be the best source for it. Unfortunately, the history shows, that people often fall into the propagandist trap.

Framing, Priming, and the Accessibility Heuristic

It should be stated that propaganda is often considered to be the method of framing, which is conducted through the application of the rhetorical techniques. Dietram Shaffele is one of the main researchers, who has dedicated his works to the investigation of the framing theory and its media effects. He has discussed his findings in the article “Framing as a Theory of Media Effects”, where he investigated the cognitive effects of framing theory. According to him, framing is the constituent of the agenda-setting process. His work investigated the metatheoretical perspective of the framing theory. Shaefelle perceived the theory of framing as the interactive model of construction. He also stated that frames should be perceived as schemes, created for the presentation and comprehension of particular pieces of news. Frames often applied for the propagandist purposes because they replicate and reinforce to the institutional issue frames.

Iyengar and Simon investigated the differences between the episodic versus thematic frames. According to them, the episodic frame is based largely on the representation of particular event, and the thematic frame discusses the general context of the issue.  The episodic frames have widely applied in the military sphere, because they assist to form the necessary perception of certain events, because of the concrete instances on specific events. Episodic frames help to use specific events in order to form the negative attitude of the audience. It is one of the propagandist techniques. For instances, in case of Jews and their persecution in Germany during the WWII. Nazi simply applied the negative traits of these people in order to form the negative attitude towards them. Silke Schmidt in this research emphasizes the importance of framing theory for the understanding of propaganda, because according to him this theory reveals the explanation of the origins of stereotypes, and this knowledge is necessary for grasping the structure and the origin of propaganda.

Spiral Silence

The Spiral of Silence is another theory, which is directly linked to the concept of propaganda. It has been applied by Noelle-Neumann, while they tried to explain the reasons of human expression of the political opinions. This theory is grounded on five hypotheses, which include:

  • a) development of perception concerning the majority opinion support;
  • b) desire to express certain viewpoint because of the perceived support;
  • c) desire to object the majority opinion
  • d) oppression of the conflicting opinion
  • e) silencing of majority, and conflicting minority, which change their places.

The most essential think, which the Noelle-Neumann has revealed concerned the fact that it was much easier for people to express the opinion of majority, because of the invisible psychological support, which they feel.  In general, he was partially right because for people, it is much easier to swim with the current, than to take measures to oppose it. This theory plays the vital role for understanding the effects of propaganda because it discusses the process by which one opinion becomes more dominant. This partially explains the propaganda’s distribution. As the dominant thought is spread among the masses, and majority believe it. The opposing group becomes the minority, and its effect becomes less evident to the audience. When the willingness to express the opinion becomes moderate, people simply start perceiving that information, which is available to them. Denis McQuail states that the power of the spiral of silence lies in its distribution of the hypothesis, based on fear of isolation. He emphasizes that this theory describes the third-party effect, when people start being afraid that certain problems might cause their separation from the society. This fear seems for them more essential than a desire to communicate the word of truth. Mass media plays the essential role, according to this theory. As it is the major source of information distribution.

Directions for Future Research

The future research of propaganda should be studies using the theories, which were discussed, and also the more recent theories, related to the field of cognitive psychology and communication. The content analysis could be applied, as they assist the individuals to determine the breadth of coverage of particular frames, which are commonly used in mass media.

There also exists a viewpoint that public-opinion polls could be applied to determine the opinion of the audience on certain things. The continuation of the investigations, based on the existing and well-known theories is also essential, because it may assist to reveal the new shades of meaning of propaganda and determine the new techniques of its application.


In conclusion, it has to be assumed that this research provided the deep and detailed analysis of the issue of propaganda. It managed to reveal its key traits, history of application, and the effects produced on the audience. This work improves the general understanding of the propaganda and assists to realize its significance.

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