Westley and MacLean’s Model of Communication

Westley and MacLean’s Model of Communication was suggested by Bruce Westley (1915-1990) and Malcolm S. MacLean Jr. (1913-2001) in 1957. This model was an adaptation from Newcomb’s model of communication, which talked about co-orientation for simultaneous orientation in a two way communication. It also consisted of some concepts from Lewin’s model. Unlike Dance’s Helical Model of Communication, the model says that communication does not begin when one person starts speaking, but it does when a person responds to something from his/her surroundings. The person must first receive message from the environment and then, he/she responds according to his/her object of orientation.

The Westley and MacLean’s model can be applied in two contexts: interpersonal and mass communication, the point of difference being the feedback. Feedback is direct and fast in interpersonal communication and indirect and slow in mass communication. The model also differentiates message as purposive and non-purposive.

[Related Reading: Models of Communication]

Westley and MacLean’s Model of Communication

Components of Westley and MacLean’s Model of Communication

The major components in the communication process for the model are

  • Source (A) - Source is the message creator and sender.
  • Environment (X) - Environment is the physical and psychological situation where the message is being created and sent.
  • Sensory experience (X1…) - Sensory experience is the first thing that the source sees by which the source gets the idea for the formation of the message.
  • Objects of Orientation (X1, X2,…) - Objects of orientation is the person's social and cultural reality that has formed from his/her past experiences and teachings.
  • Message Interpretation or Coding (X’) - Message is interpreted with the objects of orientation of the receiver of the message.
  • Receiver (B) - The person who gets the message sent by the source and the person who interprets according to his/her objects of orientation.
  • Object of Orientation of Receiver (X, b) - The views and ideas of the receiver or his/her social reality is his/her object of orientation. That is how the receiver interprets the message.
  • Feedback (f) - The receiver forms another message after interpreting the message and sends it back to the sender. It is known as feedback.
  • Gatekeeper (C) - Gatekeepers are found in mass communication. The gatekeeper is the editor who filters the message as per the needs of the audience and media institution.
  • Opinion Leader - Opinion leaders are well known and recognized people who can influence public opinions.

Concepts of Westley and MacLean’s Model of Communication

The process of communication in Westley and MacLean's model of communication starts when the source creates a message from his/her environment. The communicator acts and creates the message as a response to the sensory experience with his/her own objects of orientation. Then, the response is coded after interpreting the environmental response. The coded message is transmitted to a second respondent who interprets the message differently according to his/her objects of orientation and provide feedback to the sender.

Gatekeeper and opinion leader are the parts of communication process in mass communication. They are the editors, proofreaders, etc. who choose which message should be published and what effect will it have on the audience. Filter of the message is dependent on many factors.
Gatekeeping is done in these levels:

  1. Individual level: A person’s gender, sexual orientation, culture, likes, dislikes, etc.
  2. Routine practice level: Pre-established set of rules and practices for a particular type of work to be done
  3. Communication organizations: The policies of the organization that is publishing the work
  4. Social institutions: The social systems by which the message is formed
  5. Societies: Societal values and belief systems, rules and norms, etc.

Example of Westley and MacLean’s Model of Communication

A person 'A' is going to a meeting. Thunderstorms 'X1' and heavy rains 'X2' start. The roads 'X3' are all blocked. 'A' will have to convey the message to the people who are conducting the meeting that he/she will not be reaching on time. 'A' can inform all others through phone. Here, the message is conceived from the environmental message through the person’s sensory experience. The object of orientation of the person makes him call others because he thinks that reaching late is impolite. Sender 'A' creates the message as a courteous request. The message is coded in a language form and is sent to the receiver 'B'. 'B' interprets according to his/her own object of orientation like the receiver can still find reaching late to a meeting rude. The feedback is given accordingly.

Similarly, in mass communication, ‘A’ sends a message to ‘C’ who is the editor. ‘C’ acts as a gatekeeper and publishes the news after proper editing. There might be readers’ ‘B’ replies to which are in the form of letters or directly face to face. The process of letter reaching the writer takes a long time whereas direct review reaches fast.

In a website, there are many writers. They write and send the articles to get them published. But the editor chooses the articles that are relevant. The comment box is the place where the audience can give feedback.


  1. X1 is any article
  2. X2 is the audience comments
  3. X3 is the website
  4. f is feedback
  5. A is writers
  6. B is the audience
  7. C is the gatekeeper or the editor


  • there is a feedback loop between Audience (B) and the Editor (C) after sending the article for publishing, which is known as "fBC".
  • There is a feedback loop between Editor (C) and Writer (A) giving response to the writers, which is known as "fCA".
  • There is another feedback loop between Audience (B) and the Writers (A) in the comments, which is known as "fBA".

The message received from the environment can be accidental or abrupt, so might not be intentional. So, the signals can be received anytime and message is formed anytime.

Advantages of Westley and MacLean’s Model of Communication

  • There is the concept of feedback.
  • As the message comes from the environment, sensory field improves the message formation.
  • Social and other factors are included in objects of orientation.
  • The model can be applied to interpersonal, group communication as well as mass communication.
  • The model is very descriptive.

Disadvantages of Westley and MacLean’s Model of Communication

  • There are many variables even for simple communication which makes the model very complicated.
  • The model is only two-dimensional and does not explain communication which involves multiple messages and complicated messages.
  • The information can get modified while sending it from the sender to the receiver as there can be noise. The model does not account for noise in communication.