Harold Lasswell


Bio 1... by Danielle Marshall

Harold D. Lasswell was a psychologist that studied and researched politics, personality, and social science. This great mind was born on February 13, 1902, in Donnellson, Illinois, a small town in the heartland of the Midwest. His father was a humble Presbyterian minister, and his mother was a schoolteacher. In Arnold Rogow¡¯s book, Politics, Personality, and Social Science in the Twentieth Century, he explains Lasswell¡¯s history and that his parents had a high regard for education and gave him enlightenment, which in turn explains Lasswell¡¯s drive for enlightenment (42). In high school he was known as a high school genius, and he was involved as editor of the school newspaper and was valedictorian of his class. At the young age of sixteen he received a scholarship to the prestigious University of Chicago. Harold Lasswell was truly a teen-age prodigy. First of all, he always had so much sheer physical vigor, but he also had a gift for comprehensiveness and whenever a topic interested him, he would expand the study of it to its outer limits. He could retain huge amounts of information and could understand them and categorize them in an orderly manner. Lasswell had an acute need for self-orientation. He was always lonely in a way, and this way due to the death of his slightly older brother when he was five. So, because he was a "psychological only child," he was a loner all his life. He was never married, and therefore devoted his whole life to his work and research.

Once he did his undergraduate work at the University of Chicago, he studied at the London School of Economics. He then became a professor of social sciences at Milikan University, then at the University of Chicago, then at Columbia University, and finally at Yale University. He published many articles over the years but one of his first books was Psychopathology and Politics. In this book, Lasswell explains that "human motives are generated very largely in the nursery, in the bedroom, in childhood sexual and excretory experiences and reveries, and in a whole network of interpersonal contacts generally thought of as private" (Rogow 59). Freud was a large influence on Lasswell in writing this book.

One of Lasswell¡¯s many famous works was "Propaganda Technique in World War." In this he set forth the actual definition of propaganda. He also discussed four major objectives of propaganda, which are "to mobilize hatred against the enemy, to preserve the friendship of allies, to preserve the friendship and procure the cooperation of neutrals, and to demoralize the enemy" (Severin 111).

Another one of Lasswell¡¯s well-known concepts is his Model of Communication, which implies that more than one channel can carry a message. He studied the way in which communication occurred and the processes it entails. The model is shown by finding the answers to this simple question: Who says what, in which channel, to whom, with what effect? "The Who" is who controls the message in the media, the "Says What" is the subject matter being communicated, "In Which Channel" are the studies in media analysis, the "To Whom" is the audience or the receivers, and "With What Effect" is the effects made on the public (Severin 47). He also defined the functions of the media in three parts: "surveillance of the environment, the correlation of the parts of society in responding to the environment, and the transmission of the social heritage from one generation to the next" (Severin 355).

Lasswell¡¯s most famous and widely read book is Politics: Who Gets What, When, How. It was shorter and clearer than his other books, which made his thinking and ideas available to a larger audience. He gives a broad scope to the subject of politics. It was basically a revision of one of his previous books, World Politics and Personal Insecurity, which was about public opinion, symbols, power, Marxist fallacies, international relation, and the psychology of revolution (Rogow 10). Some of Lasswell¡¯s other notable works include, Democracy through Public Opinion, Power and Society, Power and Personality, A Free and Responsible Press, and National Security and Individual Freedom.

Harold D. Lasswell was one of the most influential political scientists of our time. His studies on personality and politics contributed greatly to behavioral political science. Harold Lasswell died on December 18, 1978 in New York, NY.


bio 2... by Melissa Menzies

Harold D. Lasswell was born in Donnellson, Illinois on February 13, 1902. Lasswell received his Ph.B. in 1922 and his Ph.D. in 1926 from the University of Chicago. He also studied at the universities of London, Paris, Geneva, and Berlin during those years. After completing his education, Lasswell taught political science at the University of Chicago from 1922 to 1938. In 1938, he left the University of Chicago where he had now studied and taught, and went to Yale University. There he was a visiting lecturer at the Law School in 1938, a professor of law from 1946-1970, a professor of political science from 1952-1970, and a Ford Foundation professor of law and social sciences and emeritus fellow of Bramford College from 1970-1976. Lasswell served at the Washington School of Psychiatry from 1938-1939, and then as director of war communications research at the US Library of Congress from 1939-1945. In addition to teaching law at Yale, he taught at John Jay College of the City University of New York for three years and at Temple University for three years. Lasswell was also a visiting lecturer at campuses all over the world. He also consulted for many government agencies in his lifetime.

This American political scientist wrote and published a book in 1927 called Propaganda Technique in the World War. This now famous book is a "dispassionate description and analysis of the massive propaganda campaigns conducted by all the major belligerents in World War I." Propaganda is basically the systematic effort to manipulate other people¡¯s beliefs, attitudes, or actions. Lasswell¡¯s book was said to have given a "central place to the phenomenon of power in the same time that gave a central place to the phenomenon of power in the empirical study of politics." "Lasswell discusses four objectives of wartime propaganda: to mobilize the enemy, to preserve the friendship of allies, to preserve the friendship and, if possible, to procure the cooperation of neutrals, and to demoralize the enemy."

His book contains one of the first attempts at defining propaganda: "It refers solely to the control of opinion by significant symbols, or, to speak more concretely and less accurately by stories, rumors, reports, pictures and other forms of social communication." A few years after that definition was printed He came out with another one: "Propaganda in the broadest sense is the technique of influencing human action by the manipulation of representations. These representations may take spoken, written, pictorial or musical form." One of Lasswell¡¯s most effective techniques of "mobilizing hatred against the enemy, was the use of atrocity stories." Stories such as these bring out feelings of pain, sadness and hatred in people, and make them want to "fight back".

Personally, I think that Lasswell¡¯s research is very accurate. His definitions of propaganda are effective, as are his techniques. He was successful in educating audiences about propaganda and all that it entails. I would classify his approach as Radical because he is concerned with the pervasiveness of propaganda as well as the concentration and ownership of the elite. This approach also "lends itself less directly to social science measurement."

I think that the main influence on his work was the war. Living through two major World Wars, and seeing the governments use of propaganda might cause someone to explore and research it for themselves. Also, teaching law and political science for so many years had its effects as well. The work of Harold Lasswell has been extremely influential on many theorists, professors, scientists, and all media effects scholars. As noted in the biographical sketch above, he consulted for numerous government agencies throughout his lifetime.

Harold Lasswell is also famous for his Communication Model that says, "Who says what to whom with what effect?" Many general applications in communication are used with this model. The "who" is who is controlling the message. The "says what" is the subject of content analysis. "To whom" deals with the receiver and audience analysis.

And lastly, "with what effect?", deals with effect studies. This communication of Lasswell¡¯s provides a basic framework or idea, as well as implies relationships. This model explains in part, the effects of media on audiences, and the steps that it goes through. It was then, and still is a great Model of Communication.