on 10 January 2009
The spiral of silence is based on the model of public opinion as social control. The spiral of silence holds that social systems form consensus by threatening individuals with social isolation. Individuals scan their environment for present and future distributions of public opinion in order to see which have social approval and which lead to isolation. In other words, public opinion is nothing more than safe responses to controversial issues that are expressed in order to protect oneself from social rejection.
Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann's spiral of silence theory in essence posits that an individual's willingness to express his or her opinion is a function of how he or she perceives public opinion. The spiral of silence theory is very influential in that it has produced as much research and probably more controversy than any other recent theory in the communication and public opinion fields. Furthermore, most of those that support the theory and those that are critical of it agree that the theory is important because it is one of the first to link public opinion to the social context in which opinion evolves and because it presents an interdisciplinary approach for understanding public opinion dynamics.