Knowledge Gap Hypothesis: Definition & Analysis

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson is going to go over something known as the knowledge gap hypothesis. First, you'll learn what it is, then why it occurs, and finally a bit about the support and criticisms surrounding it.


''Knowledge is power,'' as Sir Francis Bacon apparently uttered quite a while back. The problem is that while knowledge might equate to greater power in some sense, not everyone attains this knowledge in equal fashion. The reason why this might be the case is explained partly thanks to something known as the knowledge gap hypothesis.

It's quite an interesting hypothesis, and this lesson goes over what it is and why the knowledge gap may exist.

What Is the Knowledge Gap Hypothesis?

Back in the summer of 1970, while some were grooving to the music of the Jackson Five, three researchers published an article called ''Mass Media Flow and Differential Growth in Knowledge'' instead. These researchers, P. J. Tichenor, G. A. Donohue, and C. N. Olien, proposed something known as the knowledge gap hypothesis.

The knowledge gap hypothesis is the notion that individuals with a higher socioeconomic status absorb information presented by mass media at a faster rate than those with a lower socioeconomic status. This leads to an increased gap in knowledge between these two segments of society as a result.

It must be emphasized that this hypothesis does not state that individuals of a lower socioeconomic status are completely kept in the dark. Rather, it is the rate at which knowledge is acquired that is the difference between the two groups. Furthermore, the original hypothesis was primarily limited to information flowing in the mass media about topics in the realms of science and public affairs.

Why Might the Knowledge Gap Exist?

So why might this knowledge gap exist? Well, it's generally believed that a higher socioeconomic status leads to a better education. In turn, a better education leads to a better ability to acquire, understand, and even utilize information.

This can be understood from more than one perspective. Let's say that Jackie is a highly educated individual. Compared to a poorly educated person, Jackie will more likely be able to find out where she can get relevant information. Moreover, when Jackie finds the information she is looking for, she will be more likely to have the background knowledge required to better understand and use that information.

It's one thing to find a source of information, it's another thing to have the means by which to understand it. And so, those with more education, like Jackie, are more likely to actually gain useful information from a source, since they are better positioned to understand it from the get-go.

But there's more to this. As per Newtonian physics, an object in motion will stay in motion unless acted upon by some outside force. What does this have to do with knowledge? Well, have you ever read something you found very interesting? What did you do thereafter? You may have used that interest to find more information to learn even more about a topic. And so, you stayed in information-gaining motion. Information begets interest, which begets even more information.

These are just some of the reasons why the knowledge gap might exist.

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