Representation and explanation of complex communication phenomena are goals of communication research and theory building. To reach these goals, communication science uses simplified representations, also known as scientific models. Scientific models describe, in simplified form, the order of elements in a system and their relations to each other. These relations can be described as temporal, spatial, causal, correlative, interactive, or transactional. A model of our solar system, for example, describes the spatial arrangement of the planets. The Lasswell formula describes the central protagonists of the communication process (communicators, recipients, media, etc.) and their temporal and causal relations in a communication model.
A transactional relation can best be described in contrast to causal relations. In a causal relationship the two elements “cause” and “effect” can be clearly distinguished from each other. The cause always occurs before the effect. Such a causal consideration is not theoretically correct in every model. In some cases, a relation can also be described as a transaction. Here, the strict analytical separation between cause and effect is eliminated. An element changes itself at the moment at which it causes something, or, in the language of causal logic, when the effect influences the cause before it has appeared. In this way, an element simultaneously represents both cause and effect.
Suggestions for transactional modeling first came from Dewey and Bentley (1949). Bauer (1963) introduced this concept in the field of communication science. Transactional models are used in descriptions of social and individual phenomena. In the social case, processes between individuals or social subsystems are described, and in the individual case, processes within individuals are described. Schönbach and Früh (1984) suggest the terms “inter-transaction” and “intra-transaction” to distinguish the two.
Inter-transactions occur in the process of communication between different communication partners. These can be single individuals or social subsystems. Most of these models describe communication in a form known from Mead’s (1934) theory of symbolic interactionism. Knowledge of the effect of the communication is the basis for a successful communication. Communication between two individuals is based on the fact that one person has an idea of the effects and reactions of his or her remarks on the other person, and that this person, utilizing this idea, adapts his or her communication. When the remarks of the first person elicit the reactions of the other person, but it is exactly these reactions that are involved as anticipations in the generation of the remarks, then cause and effect are no longer separable in this model. In this case, one can describe the relationship between the remark of the first person and the reactions of the other person as transactional.
However, this does not apply solely to interpersonal communication but also to communication via mass media. In the field of public relations or advertising, the contents of communication are professionally optimized to achieve an intended effect. In the process of the journalist’s selection of a message, this anticipatory effect also plays an important role. It is a part of a general picture of their audience that journalists construct during the course of their work (e.g., in the form of news factors).
Intra-transactions are used for the description of individual psychological processes. Perception and comprehension are explained transaction ally by analogy with Neisser’s (1976) perception cycle. His concept describes the comprehension of a text (e.g., a news item) as the interplay between the incoming information (data-driven) and an available schema (concept-driven). Such a schema represents a memory structure in a simplified form. Initially, the nature of the incoming information determines which schemas are used for comprehension. However, at the same time, comprehension of this information depends on the schemas retrieved and employed. The decoding of the information (data-driven processes) and the choice of schemas required for this (concept-driven processes) can be sorted neither temporally nor causally. Therefore, the relationship between the two aspects of the perception cycle is best described as a transaction.
An important application area of this basic transactional view of communication can be seen in the modeling of media effects. Both intra- and inter-transactions are involved in the effect of media on individuals. On the one hand, the transactional perception process described above is a prerequisite for an effect, since only perceived information can, in general, have effects on the audience. A commercial, for example, will only convey a positive product image when the recipient cognitively maps the positive product attributes implied in the commercial in such a schema-escorted comprehension process.
In communication science, this aspect of a transactional effect model has been successfully used in the description of the effect of violent television content (Sander 1997). Furthermore, the relations described as inter-transactions are also important for the modeling of processes of effect. In the context of persuasive communication, e.g., advertising and public relations, trust and credibility are examples of such transactional concepts (e.g., Woodward 2000): a recipient develops a set of ideas about the communicators and their credibility. This trust guides the reception of the message, but a sense of the credibility of the communicators develops only from the reception.
One conclusion drawn from such a transactional modeling of media effects is that the notion of effect is not adequate, either in the form of a stimulus–response model with a powerful communicator, or in the form of a purely recipient-oriented model with an active, critical audience that determines the effects it chooses to allow and those it chooses to reject. Media effects arise from a transactional interplay of communicators and their intentions, of media messages and the recipients, and of their intentions and schemas.
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- Dewey, J., & Bentley, A. F. (1949). Knowing and the known. Boston: Beacon Press.
- Mead, G. H. (1934). Mind, self and society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
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