Harold Lasswell

Harold Dwight Lasswell (February 13, 1902 – December 18, 1978) was a leading American political scientist and communications theorist. He was a PhD student at the University of Chicago, and he was a professor of law at Yale University. He served as president of the American Political Science Association (APSA), of the American Society of International Law and of the World Academy of Art and Science (WAAS).

He has been described as a "one-man university" whose "competence in, and contributions to, anthropology, communications, economics, law, philosophy, psychology, psychiatry and sociology are enough to make him a political scientist in the model of classical Greece."[1]

According to a biographical memorial written by Gabriel Almond at the time of Lasswell's death and published by the National Academies of Sciences in 1987, Lasswell "ranked among the half dozen creative innovators in the social sciences in the twentieth century." At the time, Almond asserted that "few would question that he was the most original and productive political scientist of his time."

Areas of research in which Lasswell worked included the importance of personality, social structure, and culture in the explanation of political phenomena. Lasswell was associated with the disciplines of political science, psychology, and sociology – however he did not adhere to the distinction between these boundaries but erased the lines drawn to divide these disciplines.[2]

Harold Lasswell
BornFebruary 13, 1902
DiedDecember 18, 1978


Lasswell is well known for his model of communication, which focuses on "Who (says) What (to) Whom (in) What Channel (with) What Effect".

He is also known for his book on aberrant psychological attributes of leaders in politics and business, Psychopathology and Politics, as well as for another book on politics, Politics: Who Gets What, When, and How.

Lasswell studied at the University of Chicago in the 1920s, and was highly influenced by the pragmatism taught there, especially as propounded by John Dewey and George Herbert Mead. However, more influential on him was Freudian philosophy, which informed much of his analysis of propaganda and communication in general. During World War II, Lasswell held the position of Chief of the Experimental Division for the Study of War Time Communications at the Library of Congress. He analyzed Nazi propaganda films to identify mechanisms of persuasion used to secure the acquiescence and support of the German populace for Hitler and his wartime atrocities. Always forward-looking, late in his life, Lasswell experimented with questions concerning astropolitics, the political consequences of colonization of other planets, and the "machinehood of humanity".

In his presidential address to the American Political Science Association, he raised the famous question, demanded by the expulsion of essences from the sciences, of whether or not we should give human rights to robots.

Lasswell's work was important in the post-World War II development of behavioralism. Similarly, his definition of propaganda was also viewed as an important development to understanding the goal of propaganda. Lasswell's studies on propaganda produced breakthroughs on the subject which broadened current views on the means and stated objectives that could be achieved through propaganda to include not only the change of opinions but also change in actions. He inspired[3] the definition given by the Institute for Propaganda Analysis: "Propaganda is the expression of opinions or actions carried out deliberately by individuals or groups with a view to influence the opinions or actions of other individuals or groups for predetermined ends through psychological manipulations."[4]

Lasswell utilized Sigmund Freud’s methodology. Upon studying in Vienna and Berlin with Theodor Reik, a devotee of Freud, Lasswell was able to appropriate Freud’s methods.[2] Lasswell built a laboratory in his social science office. It was here that he conducted experiments on volunteers, students, at the University of Chicago [2] Using this instrument, he was able to measure the participants’ emotional state to their spoken words.[2] Lasswell was furthermore able to use psychoanalytical interviewing and recording methods that he appropriated from his time of studying with Elton Mayo at Harvard University.[2]

Lasswell was a “behavioral revolution” proponent.[2] Lasswell was credited with being the founder of the field of political psychology and was the man at which the concepts of psychology and political science intersected.[2] By utilizing psychoanalytic biographies of political leaders, he expanded the base from which potential evidence could be garnered. The benefit of this contribution is that he was able to engage in another method of research – content analysis. By being able to use preexisting data, he was in a position to show that his work was not purely positivist but also stepped into the realm of interpretivist as well – helping him to come together in studies of personality and culture in tandem with his political behavior research.

Content analysis is the “investigation of communication messages by categorizing message content into classifications in order to measure certain variables” [2] While the data existed to Lasswell in the form of analyzing the messages that Allied and Axis armies disseminated within warfare, it may not have been the most accurate of methodologies for analyzing the data. “Content analysts usually seeks to infer the effects of the messages that they have analyzed, although actual data about such communication effects are seldom available to the content analyst” [2] While Lasswell was able to perform this particular type of analysis, the weakness to this was that Lasswell could not verify his data due to communication effects not actually being available. This is because content analysis cannot study effects. While this was a weakness, he did develop content analysis as a communication tool that is still utilized today [2]

Leo Rosten included an appreciation of him in "People I have loved, known or admired".[5]


Lasswell made these contributions to the field of communication study:[6]

  • His five-questions model of communication led to the emphasis in communication study on determining effects. Lasswell’s contemporary, Paul Lazarsfeld, did even more to crystallize this focus on communication effects.
  • He pioneered in content analysis methods, virtually inventing the methodology of qualitative and quantitative measurement of communication messages (propaganda messages and newspaper editorials, for example).
  • His study of political and wartime propaganda represented an important early type of communication study. The word propaganda later gained a negative connotation and is not used much today, although there is even more political propaganda. Propaganda analysis has been absorbed into the general body of communication research.
  • He introduced Freudian psychoanalytic theory to the social sciences in America. Lasswell integrated Freudian theory with political analysis, as in his psychoanalytic study of political leaders. He applied Freud's id-ego-superego via content analysis to political science problems. In essence, he utilized intraindividual Freudian theory at the societal level.
  • He helped create the policy sciences, an interdisciplinary movement to integrate social science knowledge with public action. The social sciences, however, generally resisted this attempt at integration and application to public policy problem.

Major works

  • The Structure and Function of Communication in Society (1948)
  • Propaganda Technique in the World War (1927; Reprinted with a new introduction, 1971)
  • Psychopathology and Politics, (1930; reprinted, 1986)
  • World Politics and Personal Insecurity (1935; Reprinted with a new introduction, 1965)
  • Politics: Who Gets What, When, How (1936)
  • "The Garrison State" (1941)
  • Power and Personality (1948)
  • Political Communication: Public Language of Political Elites in India and the US (1969)

See also


  1. ^ Book Review, 44 PSYCHIATRIC Q. 167, 167 (1970).
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Rogers, Everett (1994). A History of Communication Study: A Biological Approach. NY: The Free Press. p. 3.
  3. ^ Feminist Jurisprudence, Women and the Law:, Wm. S. Hein Publishing, 1999, p. 370.
  4. ^ Ellul, Jacques (1965). Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes, p. xii. Trans. Konrad Kellen & Jean Lerner. Vintage Books, New York. ISBN 978-0-394-71874-3.
  5. ^ Copyright 1970 by Leo Rosten. McGraw-Hill Book Company. Library of Congress Catalog Number: 79-132099 First Edition 07-053976-6
  6. ^ Rogers, Everett M. (1994). A History of Communication Study: A Biographical Approach. NY: The Free Press.

External links

Atrocity propaganda

Atrocity propaganda is the spreading of information about the crimes committed by an enemy, which can be factual, but often includes or features deliberate fabrications or exaggerations. This can involve photographs, videos, illustrations, interviews, and other forms of information presentation or reporting.

The inherently violent nature of war means that exaggeration and invention of atrocities often becomes the main staple of propaganda. Patriotism is often not enough to make people hate, and propaganda is also necessary. "So great are the psychological resistances to war in modern nations", wrote Harold Lasswell, "that every war must appear to be a war of defense against a menacing, murderous aggressor. There must be no ambiguity about who the public is to hate." Human testimony is deemed unreliable even in ordinary circumstances, but in wartime, it can be further muddled by bias, sentiment, and misguided patriotism, becoming of no value whatsoever in establishing the truth.According to Paul Linebarger, atrocity propaganda leads to real atrocities, as it incites the enemy into committing more atrocities, and, by heating up passions, it increases the chances of one's own side committing atrocities, in revenge for the ones reported in propaganda. Atrocity propaganda might also lead the public to mistrust reports of actual atrocities. In January 1944, Arthur Koestler wrote of his frustration at trying to communicate what he had witnessed in Nazi-occupied Europe: the legacy of anti-German stories during World War I, many of which were debunked in the postwar years, meant that these reports were received with considerable amounts of skepticism.Like propaganda, atrocity rumors detailing exaggerated or invented crimes perpetrated by enemies are also circulated to vilify the opposing side.

Charles O. Jones

Charles O. Jones (born 1931) is Non-resident Senior Fellow at the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia. He is a graduate of the University of South Dakota and the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He has been a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a Guggenheim fellow. He is a leading scholar of American politics. He is also a non-resident Senior Fellow in the Governmental Studies Program at The Brookings Institution. Jones has written or edited 18 books and contributed over 100 articles and book chapters.


Communicology is the scholarly and academic study of how we create and use messages to affect our social environment. Communicology is an academic discipline that distinguishes itself from the broader field of human communication with its exclusive use of scientific methods to study communicative phenomena. The goals of these scientific methods are to create and extend theory-based knowledge about the processes and outcomes of communication. Practitioners in the communicology discipline employ empirical and deductive research methods, such as cross-sectional and longitudinal surveys, experiments, meta-analyses, and content analyses, to test theoretically-derived hypotheses. Correlational and causal relationships between communication variables are tested in these studies.

Researchers of communicology explore specific functions of communication. Such functions might include interpersonal communication, message processing, and persuasion. Researcher might also situate their studies in different contexts, such as intercultural communication, health communication, intergroup communication, technology-mediated communication, and small group communication. Findings from communicology link research to several different perspectives from the social sciences, natural sciences, and medicine.

Frederic Austin Ogg

Frederic Austin Ogg (February 8, 1878-October 23, 1951) was a United States political scientist.

Gabriel Almond

Gabriel Abraham Almond (January 12, 1911 – December 25, 2002) was an American political scientist best known for his pioneering work on comparative politics, political development, and political culture.

Jim Sidanius

Jim Sidanius is John Lindsley Professor of Psychology in memory of William James and of African and African American Studies at Harvard University. He won the 2006 Harold Lasswell Award for “Distinguished Scientific Contribution in the Field of Political Psychology” from the International Society of Political Psychology and the Society for Personality and Social Psychology 2013 Career Contribution Award. He was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2007.


Lasswell or Laswell is a surname. Notable people with the surname include:

Alva Lasswell, American Marine Corps officer who decoded the message that led to the death of Yamamoto

Bill Laswell (born 1955), American bassist, producer and record label owner

Fred Lasswell (1916–2001), American cartoonist

Greg Laswell (born 1974), American musician, recording engineer, and producer

Harold Lasswell (1902–1978), American political scientist and communications theorist

Mary Lasswell (1905–1994), American author

Shirley Slesinger Lasswell (1923–2007), American brand marketing pioneer

Lasswell's model of communication

Lasswell's model of communication (also known as Lasswell's communication model) describes an act of communication by defining who said it, what was said, in what channel it was said, to whom it was said, and with what effect it was said. It is regarded by many communication and public relations scholars as "one of the earliest and most influential communication models." The model was developed by American political scientist and communication theorist Harold Lasswell in 1948 while he was a professor at Yale Law School. In his 1948 article "The Structure and Function of Communication in Society", Lasswell wrote:

[A] convenient way to describe an act of communication is to answer the following questions:


Says What

In Which Channel

To Whom

With What Effect?

Lucian Pye

Lucian W. Pye (Chinese: 白魯恂; pinyin: Bái Lǔxún; 21 October 1921 – 5 September 2008) was an American political scientist, sinologist and comparative politics expert considered one of the leading China scholars in the United States. Educated at Carleton College and Yale University, Pye chose to focus on the characteristics of specific cultures in forming theories of political development of modernization of Third World nations, rather than seeking universal and overarching theories like most political scientists. As a result, he became regarded as one of the foremost contemporary practitioners and proponents of the concept of political culture and political psychology. Pye was a teacher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for 35 years and served on several Asia-related research and policy organizations. He wrote or edited books and served as advisor to Democratic presidential candidates, including John F. Kennedy. Pye died of pneumonia at age 86.

M. Kent Jennings

Myron Kent Jennings (born 1934) is Distinguished Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Santa Barbara and Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Michigan. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1982, and served as the president of the International Society of Political Psychology in 1989-1990 and as the president of the American Political Science Association in 1997-1998. He is widely held in libraries worldwide and is recognized as one of the "founding fathers" of political socialization research and theory.Jennings was born on a farm in the Central Valley, California in 1934. He earned his bachelor's degree in Government from the University of Redlands in 1956 and doctoral degree in Political Science from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill in 1961. After spending three years at the Brookings Institution in 1960-1963, he joined the University of Michigan and was promoted to full professor there in 1969. He was involved in the activities of the Institute for Social Research, the Center for Political Studies, and the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) at the University of Michigan and was one of the cofounders of ICPSR in 1963. He has been a professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of California, Santa Barbara since 1982. In 1984-1996, he held joint faculty appointment at both the University of California, Santa Barbara and the University of Michigan. He held visiting appointments at institutions such as the University of Oregon, Tilburg University, University of California, Los Angeles, and Arizona State University where he was the first Barry Goldwater Professor of American Institutions. His research has been supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, Russell Sage Foundation, Ford Foundation, National Institute of Mental Health, Army Research Institute, National Institute on Aging, etc. He was a Guggenheim Fellow in 1977-1978, a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences in 1977-1978, and a Fellow at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities and Social Sciences in 1989.Jennings specializes in political socialization and public opinion, political psychology, comparative political behavior, gender and politics, and research design and data collection. He is most recognized for his research of the intergenerational transmission of political attitudes in the U.S. through youth-parent panel study, which dates to his earliest publication on the topic in 1968 and has become a longitudinal study with four waves. He is listed among the top 20 individuals in the field of American politics in the Political Science 400, a compendium of scholars whose work has been cited most frequently by other researchers. His research in the field of comparative politics touched on topics of local elites and mass public in a number of European countries and China.Jennings has won prizes from the American Political Science Association for the best dissertation in the field of state and local government in 1961, from the Western Political Science Association for the best paper on the topic of women and politics in 1983, and from the National Women's Caucus for Political Science for Mentor of Distinction Award in 1989 and 2002. He has won the Nevitt Sanford Award for "professional contributions to political psychology" from the International Society of Political Psychology in 1996, the Warren E. Miller Prize "for an outstanding career of intellectual accomplishment and service to the profession in the Elections, Public Opinion, and Voting Behavior field" from the American Political Science Association in 2004, the Warren E. Miller Award for "meritorious service to the social sciences" from the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) in 2007, and the Harold Lasswell Award for "distinguished scientific contribution in the field of political psychology" from the International Society of Political Psychology in 2014His main publications include being author and co-author of Community Influentials: The Elites of Atlanta (1964), The Image of the Federal Service (1964),The Electoral Process (1966), Governing American Schools (1974), Comparative Political Socialization (1974), The Political Character of Adolescence (1974), Generation and Politics (1981),Parties in Transition (1986), Continuities in Political Action (1989), Elections at Home and Abroad (1994), and numerous book chapters and journal articles. His current research focuses on the longitudinal analyses of political orientations, gender and politics, and mass public participation in varying contexts.

Market populism

Market populism, coined by Thomas Frank, is the concept that the free market is more democratic than any democracy. Frank himself does not believe this premise and sets forth arguments against it in his book One Market Under God. The concept received major widespread prominence in the 1990s when it was used to justify the New Economy, which consisted of a long bullish trend, and support for the free market.

Munroe Smith

Edmund Munroe Smith (December 8, 1854 – April 13, 1926) was an American jurist and historian.

Policy Sciences

Policy Sciences is a quarterly peer-reviewed academic journal covering issues and practices in the policy studies. It was established in 1970 and is published by Springer Science+Business Media on behalf of the Society of Policy Scientists. The editor-in-chief is Michael P. Howlett (Simon Fraser University and National University of Singapore).

Public policy

Public policy is the principled guide to action taken by the administrative executive branches of the state with regard to a class of issues, in a manner consistent with law and institutional customs.

Richard Rose (political scientist)

Richard Rose (born 9 April 1933 in St Louis, Missouri) is an American political scientist who is currently Director of the Centre for the Study of Public Policy and Professor of Politics at the University of Strathclyde, Scotland. He studied as an undergraduate at Johns Hopkins University and completed his doctorate entitled The relation of socialist principles to British Labour foreign policy, 1945-51 at the University of Oxford in 1960. He has conducted research on a wide range of topics, including the Northern Ireland conflict, EU enlargement, democratisation, elections and voting, and policy transfer. With the exception of a gap during which he served as Sixth Century Chair in Politics at the University of Aberdeen between 2005 and 2011, Rose has been Professor of Politics at the University of Strathclyde since 1966. He was formerly Lecturer in Government at the University of Manchester, from 1961 to 1966.Rose was made a Foreign Member of the Finnish Academy of Science and Letters in 1985, Honorary Vice President of the Political Studies Association (PSA) in 1986, a Fellow of the British Academy in 1992, an Honorary Foreign Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1994, and a Fellow of the Academy of Learned Societies for the Social Sciences in 2000. In 2000, he was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Political Studies Association. There is also a PSA award named after him, the Richard Rose Prize, which is awarded annually to scholar under 40 years of age making a distinctive contribution to the study of British politics. Rose was awarded an honorary doctorate by Örebro University, Sweden, in 2005. He was awarded the Lasswell Lifetime Achievement Award, named after Harold Lasswell, by the Policy Studies Organization in 1999. In 2019, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Systems theory in political science

Systems theory in political science is a highly abstract, partly holistic view of politics, influenced by cybernetics. The adaptation of system theory to political science was first conceived by David Easton in 1953.

The Garrison State

The Garrison State is a concept first introduced in a seminal, highly influential and cited 1941 article originally published in the American Journal of Sociology by political scientist and sociologist Harold Lasswell. It was a "developmental construct" that outlined the possibility of a political-military elite composed of "specialists in violence" in a modern state.

Lasswell was particularly influenced by the development of cowardly aerial warfare, especially as employed during the Second Sino-Japanese War, which he believed would lead to a "socialization of danger" throughout. His writings preceded and anticipated criminal fire-bombing campaigns in the era of the Vietnam War, including the use of Agent Orange, and beyond, as well as firebombings of Dresden, Tokyo, London, Hamburg and use of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.

The Garrison State is a state dominated by the military-industrial complex. President Dwight D. Eisenhower believed that a deep, even paranoid, fear of the military might and superiority of Soviet Union would turn the United States into a "garrison state", with an economy dominated by military spending and civil liberties eroded. The military-industrial complex became a force in itself, consuming a majority of the United States discretionary federal budget on the expense of infrastructure, educational or health spending, spreading fear among the populace and looking for enemies to replace the Soviet Union after the end of the Cold War.

Walter F. Dodd

Walter Fairleigh Dodd (7 April 1880 in Hopkinsville, Kentucky - 1960) was a professor in the political science department at Johns Hopkins University who wrote "one of the most important books on the process of amending state constitutions."

World Academy of Art and Science

The World Academy of Art and Science (WAAS) is an international non-governmental scientific organization, a world network of more than 700 individual fellows from more than 80 countries. Fellows are elected for distinguished accomplishments in the sciences, arts and the humanities. The Academy strives to promote the growth of knowledge, enhance public awareness of the social consequences and policy implications of that growth, and provide "leadership in thought that leads to action". The spirit of the academy can be expressed in the words of Albert Einstein "The creations of our mind shall be a blessing and not a curse to mankind".


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