What Is Linear Communication?

by Brian Heuberger

An important quality that separates humans from other animals is the advanced ability to communicate and express thoughts to each other by using verbal language and body language. Scientists and psychologists have proposed many different models to help understand how communication works. In 1949, Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver developed a one-way communication theory known as the linear communication model.

One-Way Communication

The linear communication model established by Shannon and Weaver supports and advocates the notion of one-way communication. The model depicts a source at one end of the spectrum that encodes and sends information. The encoded message then travels through a neutral medium until it arrives at the mind of the other participant, who then receives the message. The model suggests that, at any given time during a conversation or communication between people, only one party is expressing the information because the other party is exclusively absorbing the information.

Roles of Sender

In the linear communication model, the sender is the source who provides the information and encodes its meaning into noise, language or other forms of communication. As the only source responsible for providing information to contribute to the communication, he then sends the encoded information through a medium and to the mind of the receiver. For example, during a conversation, the linear one-way model would suggest that only the person speaking at any given time is responsible for sending information. Furthermore, the model suggests that the source sending information is the only powerful decision-making force in the communication, for only he provides information and encodes it into a message.

Roles of Receiver

After the source sends the information through the medium, the model indicates that it strikes the mind of the listener. Thus, during a communication, the listener is responsible only for receiving and absorbing the information being sent to him by the source. The receiver then decodes the message by attaching meaning to the noise or words sent by the source. In the linear model, the receiving party of a conversation -- who is listening to the other person speak -- is relatively powerless, for he is only responsible for absorbing and decoding the information sent.


Many scientists and psychologists have challenged the linear communication theory because the model does not account for simultaneous interaction and transactional feedback. The one-way linear model suggests that at any given time, one person exclusively sends information while the other party exclusively receives information. However, many other communication models point out that communications and conversations often entail both parties sending and receiving information simultaneously. Thus, the transactional and interactive communication models portray both parties, at any given time of a conversation, as active participants in sending and receiving information to each other. For instance, when one person is telling a story to a friend, the friend is not just a passive listener but instead is constantly contributing to the conversation by interpreting the meaning of the story and by sending information back to the speaker through body language. By sending the speaker messages through body language, the speaker adjusts his tone and his words to accommodate the listener's messages.

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