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A phenomenon of mass communication, first discovered in a panel study of the 1944 US Presidential election and reported in The People's Choice (1944) by the Austrian-born US sociologist Paul Felix Lazarsfeld (1901–76) and several colleagues, according to which most rank-and-file members of a population are not directly influenced by messages conveyed through the mass media but are influenced by face-to-face contact with a relatively small number of recipients who do respond to mass media messages and are called opinion leaders. This explains why mass media messages often cause significant shifts in public opinion in spite of the fact that most individuals who are investigated show little or no direct response to them. The same phenomenon has been shown to occur in the diffusion of fashions and innovations, including the adoption of new drugs by general practitioners.


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