Falling Prey to the Hypodermic Needle Theory of Communication

Abner Torres Martinez
3 min readJan 10, 2022

Hypodermic needle theory (also called the magic bullet theory) is a linear model of communication that suggests media’s power on an audience. The message, in this theory, is said to be like a magic bullet which enters the minds of an audience and injects a particular message (Bajracharya, 2018). This theory can be seen as being very dangerous, as a huge mass is influenced directly and at the same time (Bajracharya, 2018).

One might ask themselves, “am I vulnerable to such a theory, or can I be discipline enough to stay resistant to media influence?”. Me personally, I can say I have been victim to media influence on a smaller scale. Such examples include me wanting a Subway footlong after watching a Subway commercial that heightened my tastebuds, or me purchasing movie tickets after watching an incredible movie trailer for Marvel’s Spider-Man: No Way Home.

Watch the official teaser trailer for #SpiderManNoWayHome, exclusively in movie theaters December 17. Video by Sony Entertainment Pictures via https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rt-2cxAiPJk

Although I fell victim to media influence, it wasn’t as extreme as what others are influenced to do. For example, back in 2013, an 8-year-old boy allegedly shot and killed his grandmother after playing the “Grand Theft Auto” video game. While the motive is unclear, the sheriff’s department implied the child’s activities in a violent virtual world may have led to the killing (Russell, 2013).

GTA IV blamed in child’s shooting of elderly caregiver. Photo by James Cullinane via https://www.gameplanet.co.nz/xbox-360/news/g521aa5df8b3fc/GTA-IV-blamed-in-childs-shooting-of-elderly-caregiver/

Last year’s riot at the Capitol is another incredible example of how the media can influence audience behavior. Many who participated in the chaos at the U.S. Capitol came straight from an event held by President Donald Trump. Trump’s “Save America Rally” included the president telling supporters to “stop the steal” of the election, urging them to head to the Capitol to demonstrate against Congress certifying President-elect Joe Biden’s victory (Jacobo, 2021). What happened next is history and will always be remembered as the worst attack on American democracy since the Civil War.

Hundreds of Trump supporters swarmed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Photo by Getty Images via https://www.instyle.com/politics-social-issues/women-politics/capitol-riot-story-reporter-reflects

As mentioned earlier, hypodermic needle theory can be a dangerous concept, especially when the media is injecting or inserting messages into the people’s brain as propaganda and manipulation like that by a bullet or syringe (Bajracharya, 2018). It’s important to note that such messages have their own intention and are sent to get desired outcomes, those that are supposed to be encompassing, strong, immediate, and dangerous (Bajracharya, 2018).


Bajracharya, S. (2018, January 7). Hypodermic Needle Theory of Communication. Businesstopia. https://www.businesstopia.net/mass-communication/hypodermic-needle-theory-communication

Jacobo, J. (2021, January 7). This is what Trump told supporters before many stormed Capitol Hill. ABC News. https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/trump-told-supporters-stormed-capitol-hill/story?id=75110558

Russell, L. (2013, August 26). Police: 8-year-old shoots, kills elderly caregiver after playing video game. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2013/08/25/us/louisiana-boy-kills-grandmother/index.html