Shannon-Weaver: Semantic noise

Semantic noise is not as easy to deal with as physical noise. It might not be an exaggeration to say that the very essence of the study of human communication is to find ways of avoiding semantic noise. Semantic noise is difficult to define. It may be related to people’s knowledge level, their communication skills, their experience, their prejudices and so on.

Examples of semantic noise would include:

Distraction: You are physically very attracted to the person who is talking to you. As a result, your attention is directed to their deep blue eyes rather than what they are saying. There is no physical noise which prevents the message from reaching you. You hear it, but you don’t decode it. Equally, your attention could be distracted by the other person’s peculiar tics and so on. Or think of when you watched the TV news: the reporter was standing outside No.10 Downing Street, but behind him the policeman outside the door was picking his nose. As soon as the report’s over you realize you haven’t a clue what it was about.

Differences in the use of the code: The other person is waffling on in Aramaic about fishes and loaves. You don’t understand. There is nothing which physically prevents the elements of the message from reaching you, you simply can’t understand it.

Emphasising the wrong part of the message: Maybe you can think of an advertising campaign which has been so successful with some new style or gimmick that everyone is talking about it. However, no one has actually noticed what product is being advertised.

Attitude towards the sender: You’re talking to someone a lot older than you. On the basis of their age, you make a lot of assumptions about the kind of code appropriate to them – and the conversation goes wrong because they were the wrong assumptions.

Attitude towards the message: I may have a very positive attitude to the Aramaic-speaking bearded chap in the flowing robes. But, despite that, I’d be unlikely to find him very persuasive even if he were talking to me in English about his fishes and his loaves. He believes in transcendent beings and I don’t.