Knowledge gap hypothesis proposes that more information does not always mean a better informed public, or at least that not all members of the public will be be better informed to the same degree. To the contrary, as some members of the public might become better informed, some might in fact lag farther behind in terms of knowledge about important issues of the day. In other words, the slopes of the curves of information gain are more abrupt for some and flatter for other. The angle of the slope seems to be determined by socio-economic status. The final outcome of this process is that as we add more educational and information resources, the ones that have better chances to absorb them will get much more out of them than those that have lesser socio-economic resources. Or, in more vernacular terms, the richer (materially) become even richer (intellectually), while the poor will, although getting something out of this intellectual evolution, do not get nearly as much of it. Thus, the difference is not defined in terms of “some get, while some lose,” but in terms of “some get, while some get even more”… The knowledge gap as been recast more recently as a “digital divide” gap. With the Internet and social media many things can be done faster and better. So much faster and better that those that do not have access to them are literally left out of the game. Two readings highlight the issues involved in the digital divide debate.
Mass Media Flow and Differential Growth in Knowledge P. J. Tichenor, G. A. Donohue and C. N. Olien The Public Opinion Quarterly Vol. 34, No. 2 (Summer, 1970), pp. 159-170 Published by: Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Association for Public Opinion Research
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2747414 (please search library database for full citation if the links do not work)
Data from four types of research-news diffusion studies, time trends, a newspaper strike, and a field experiment-are consistent with the general hypothesis that increasing the flow of news on a topic leads to greater acquisition of knowledge about that topic among the more highly educated segments of society. Whether the resulting knowledge gap closes may depend partly on whether the stimulus intensity of mass media publicity is maintained at a high level, or is reduced or eliminated at a point when only the more active persons have gained that knowledge.
There are several contributory reasons why the predicted knowledge gap should appear and widen with increasing levels of media input.
One factor is communication skills. Persons with more formal education would be expected to have the higher reading and comprehension abilities necessary to acquire public affairs or science knowledge.
A second factor is amount of stored information, or existing knowledge resulting from prior exposure to the topic through mass media or from formal education itself. Persons who are already better informed are more likely to be aware of a topic when it appears in the mass media and are better prepared to understand it.
A third factor is relevant social contact. Education generally indicates a broader sphere of everyday activity, a greater number of reference groups, and more interpersonal contacts, which increase the likelihood of discussing public affairs topics with others. Studies of diffusion among such groups as doctors and farmers tend to show steeper, more accelerated acceptance rates for more active, socially integrated individuals.
A fourth factor includes selective exposure, acceptance, and retention of information. As Sears and Freedman have pointed out, voluntary exposure is often more closely related to education than to any other set of variables. They contend that what appears to be selective exposure according to attitudes might often more appropriately be called “de facto” selectivity resulting from educational differences.’ Selective acceptance and retention, however, might be a joint result of attitude and educational differences. A persistent theme in mass media research is the apparent tendency to interpret and recall information in ways congruent with existing beliefs and values.’ A final factor is the nature of the mass media system that delivers information. Thus far, most science and public affairs news (with the possible recent exceptions of crisis events and space spectaculars) is carried in print media which, traditionally, have been more heavily used by higher-status persons. Print media are geared to the interests and tastes of this higher-status segment and may taper off on reporting many topics when they begin to lose the novel characteristic of “news.” Unlike a great deal of contemporary advertising, science and public affairs news ordinarily lacks the constant repetition which facilitates learning and familiarity among lower-status persons. The knowledge gap hypothesis might be expressed, operationally, in at least two different ways:
1. Over time, acquisition of knowledge of a heavily publicized topic will proceed at a faster rate among better educated persons than among those with less education; and
2. At a given point in time, there should be a higher correlation between acquisition of knowledge and education for topics highly publicized in the media than for topics less highly publicized.
One would expect the knowledge gap to be especially prominent when one or more of the contributory factors is operative. Thus, to the extent that communication skills, prior knowledge, social contact, or attitudinal selectivity is engaged, the gap should widen as heavy mass media flow continues.
Mass Media and the Knowledge Gap A Hypothesis Reconsidered G.A. Donohue, P.J. Tichenor, C.N. Olien, University of Minnesota, doi: 10.1177/009365027500200101 Communication Research January 1975 vol. 2 no. 1 3-23 – Try this link while on campus or GET FROM LIBRARY STACKS (Blame the library…)
A principal consequence of mass media coverage about national public affairs issues, particularly from print media, appears to be an increasing “knowledge gap” between various social strata. Previous data presented by the authors were concerned with issues largely external to the local community. More recent work raises the question whether social conflict about a community issue will tend to open the gap further, or close it. Survey data from fifteen Minnesota communities experiencing conflicts of varying magnitude indicate that as level of conflict about local issues increases, the knowledge gap actually tends to decline. Level of interpersonal communication about the issue appears to be a major intervening variable. Thus, it appears that the knowledge gap hypothesis needs to be modified according to the type of issue involved and the conflict dimensions of the issue within the community.
Citizens, Knowledge, and the Information Environment, Jennifer Jerit1, Jason Barabas2, Toby Bolsen3 Article first published online: 29 MAR 2006, DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-5907.2006.00183.x, American Journal of Political Science Volume 50, Issue 2, pages 266–282, April 2006
In a democracy, knowledge is power. Research explaining the determinants of knowledge focuses on unchanging demographic and socioeconomic characteristics. This study combines data on the public’s knowledge of nearly 50 political issues with media coverage of those topics. In a two-part analysis, we demonstrate how education, the strongest and most consistent predictor of political knowledge, has a more nuanced connection to learning than is commonly recognized. Sometimes education is positively related to knowledge. In other instances its effect is negligible. A substantial part of the variation in the education-knowledge relationship is due to the amount of information available in the mass media. This study is among the first to distinguish the short-term, aggregate-level influences on political knowledge from the largely static individual-level predictors and to empirically demonstrate the importance of the information environment.
This present study, a meta-analysis providing a systematic summary of previous research on the knowledge gap hypothesis, has three specific goals: (a) to obtain an average size for the knowledge gap, (b) to examine the impact of media publicity on the knowledge gap, and (c) to identify conditions (e.g., topic, knowledge measurement, country, and publication status) under which the gap increases or decreases.
Consistent with previous reviews,43 the results show that knowledge disparities exist across social strata. The average effect size of the relationship between education and knowledge acquisition was moderate (r = .28). However, according to this meta-analytic review, the gap in knowledge did not change either over time or with varying levels of media publicity.
Does the Digital Divide Matter More? Comparing the Effects of New Media and Old Media Use on the Education-Based Knowledge Gap DOI:10.1080/15205431003642707 Lu Weia & Douglas Blanks Hindmanb, pages 216-235
As the Internet has become increasingly widespread in the world, some researchers suggested a conceptual shift of the digital divide from material access to actual use. Although this shift has been incorporated into the more broad social inclusion agenda, the social consequences of the digital divide have not yet received adequate attention. Recognizing that political knowledge is a critical social resource associated with power and inclusion, this study empirically examines the relationship between the digital divide and the knowledge gap. Based on the 2008–2009 American National Election Studies panel data, this research found that, supporting the shift of the academic agenda, socioeconomic status is more closely associated with the informational use of the Internet than with access to the Internet. In addition, socioeconomic status is more strongly related to the informational use of the Internet than with that of the traditional media, particularly newspapers and television. More importantly, the differential use of the Internet is associated with a greater knowledge gap than that of the traditional media. These findings suggest that the digital divide, which can be better defined as inequalities in the meaningful use of information and communication technologies, matters more than its traditional counterpart.
From the end of the 1990s onwards the digitaldivide, commonly defined as the gap between those who have and do not have access to computers and the Internet, has been a central issue on the scholarly and political agenda of new media development. This article makes an inventory of 5 years of digitaldivide research (2000–2005).
The article focuses on three questions. (1) To what type of inequality does the digitaldivide concept refer? (2) What is new about the inequality of access to and use of ICTs as compared to other scarce material and immaterial resources? (3) Do new types of inequality exist or rise in the information society?
The results of digitaldivide research are classified under four successive types of access: motivational, physical, skills and usage. A shift of attention from physical access to skills and usage is observed. In terms of physical access the divide seems to be closing in the most developed countries; concerning digital skills and the use of applications the divide persists or widens.
Among the shortcomings of digitaldivide research are its lack of theory, conceptual definition, interdisciplinary approach, qualitative research and longitudinal research.