The Social Psychology of Communication

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Martin Bauer and Dr Jennifer Sheehy-Skeffington


This course is compulsory on the MSc in Social and Public Communication. This course is not available as an outside option.

Course content

The course examines core theories towards a social psychology of communication. Issues raised will refer to verbal and non-verbal, face-to-face, rumours and mass mediated, as well as private and public, communal and strategic forms of communication. The second half of the course will provide an overview of applied communication research in various professional areas of public communication.

Theories of communication covered in the course include evolutionary theory, classical rhetoric, diffusion research, pragmatics and relevance theory, semiotics and system theory and the theory of communicative action. Issues will be raised as to the critical analysis and the design of communicative action. Issues will be raised as to the critical analysis and the design of communication efforts in professional fields such as business corporations, NGOs, scientific professional bodies, health promotion, governments and political parties, police campaigns, and international organisations.


20 hours of lectures and 15 hours of seminars in the MT.

Formative coursework

1 x formative essay and 1 x annotated bibliography to correspond with each summative assessment. Both to be submitted in MT.

Indicative reading

No one book covers the entire syllabus; students will be expected to read widely in appropriate journals, and a list of references will be provided at the start of the course.

J Habermas, Theory of Communicative Action, Vol 1 + 2, Polity Press, 1997.

R Heath & B Jennings, Human Communication Theory and Research: Concepts, Contexts, and Challenges (2nd edn), Lawrence Erlbaum, 2000.

A Mattelart & Mattelart, Theories of Communication: a Short Introduction, Sage, 1998.

D McQuail, McQuail's Mass Communication theory (4th edn), Sage, 2000.

D Hook, B Franks, MW Bauer, (eds) The Social Psychology of Communication, London, Palgrave, 2011.

R Rice & C Atkin, Public Communication Campaign, Sage, 2000; E Rogers, Diffusion of Innovation, Free Press, 1995.

D Sperber & D Wilson, Relevance: Communication and Cognition, Cambridge, 1995.


Essay (80%, 4000 words) and annotated bibliography (20%) in the MT.

Two assessments to be submitted in MT. 1 x essay (4000 words) and 1 x bibliographic exercise (1000 words).

Teachers' comment

Students taking PB404 will also be expected to take part in a full day Training Day on practical issues in public communication (MT) and a full day Dissertation Presentation Conference (ST)

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2020/21 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the situation of students in attendance on campus and those studying online during the early part of the academic year. For assessment, this may involve changes to mode of delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Psychological and Behavioural Science

Total students 2019/20: 29

Average class size 2019/20: 15

Controlled access 2019/20: Yes

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Communication
  • Application of numeracy skills
  • Specialist skills