The Social Psychology of Communication

This information is for the 2021/22 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Martin Bauer and Prof Bradley Franks


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, covering what we call the five ‘language games’ of signal transfer, rhetoric, speech acts and dialogue, systems of discourse, and emergent features of reception. Issues raised will refer to verbal and non-verbal, face-to-face, rumours, gossip and mass mediated, as well as private and public, communal and strategic forms of communication. The course will also provide an overview of applied communication research in various professional areas of public communication.

Implications will be explored 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 (800 words) and 1 x annotated bibliography (200 words) to correspond with each summative assessment. Both to be submitted in MT to recieve feedback.

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.

M Meyer (2017) What is Rhetoric?, Oxford, OUP

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.

G Sammut and MW Bauer (2021) The Psychology of Social Influence – Modes and Modalities of Shifting Common Sense, Cambridge, CUP


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).

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

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 2021/22 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 differing needs of students in attendance on campus and those who might be studying online. For example, this may involve changes to the mode of teaching 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 2020/21: 25

Average class size 2020/21: 9

Controlled access 2020/21: Yes

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

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