Narcotizing dysfunction is a theory that as "mass media inundates people on a particular issue they become apathetic to it, substituting knowledge for action. It is suggested that the vast supply of communications Americans receive may elicit only a superficial concern with the problems of society, while importance of real action is neglected, and this superficiality may cover up mass "apathy. Thus, it is termed "dysfunctional" as it assumed it is not in the best interests of the people who compose modern complex society to form a social mass that is politically apathetic and inert.["better source needed] The term narcotizing dysfunction was coined in the article["disputed (for: coined earlier) ] Mass Communication, Popular Taste and Organized Social Action, by "Paul F. Lazarsfeld, and "Robert K. Merton.
Mass media's overwhelming flow of information has caused the populace to become passive in their social activism. Because the individual is assailed with information about a huge range of issues and problems and they are knowledgeable about or able to discuss these issues, they believe they are helping to resolve these issues. As more time is spent educating oneself of current issues, there is a decrease in time available to take organized social action. Courses of action may be discussed, but they are rather internalized and never come to fruition. In short, people have unwittingly substituted knowledge for action. People's consciences are clear, as they think they have done something to address the issue. However, being informed and concerned is not a replacement for action. Even though there are increasing numbers of political messages, information, and advertisements available through traditional media and online media, "political participation continues to decline. People pay close attention to the media, but there is an overexposure of messages that can get confusing and contradictory so people do not get involved in the political process.
The term narcotizing dysfunction gained popularity from its use in the 1957 article Mass Communication, Popular Taste, and Organized Social Action, by Paul F. Lazarsfeld and Robert K. Merton. In Lazarsfeld and Merton's article, it appears as the third function of mass media's problematic social effects, alongside social status conferral function and the enforcement of social norms.
one of the first media effects to be studied in some depth using functional analysis was the narcotizing dysfunction, the idea that as news about an issue inundates people, they become apathetic to it... These findings were disturbing because they suggested that even when media are effective at surveying the environment and calling attention to societal problems (a manifest function), ... media coverage might ""narcotize" [the public] so that they become apathetic and decide that they are powerless to do anything (a latent dysfunction).