Helical Model of Communication

Helical model of Communication - toolshero

This article provides a practical explanation of the Helical Model of Communication. After reading, you will understand the basics of this powerful communication tool.

What is the Helical Model of Communication?

The Helical Model of Communication, or Dance’s Helix Model, is a communication model in which communication is explained by means of a helix. The Helical Model of Communication is both linear and circular, and stands in contrast to exclusively linear models, or models based on circularity, such as the Artistotle communication model, or Berlo’s SBSW model.

The creator of the model, Frank Dance, emphasised the role of communication problems. To this end, he used the shape of a helix. This shape describes the communication process, and visualises communication as a spiral-shaped model. This approach also strongly highlights the evolutionary aspect of the communication model.

The model was proposed by Dance in 1967. He referred to the model as Dance’s Helix Model. A helix is an object with a three-dimensional shape, which can for example be created by winding a rope around a cylinder or cone; the shape of a screw thread more or less.

The Helix

A helix is compared to the evolution of communication as a human process, from before birth to a moment in the present. The cylindrical or conical shape shows that communication is evolutionary, because it can be viewed from a broad perspective. In this perspective, all activities are taken into account that take place in a person’s life from day 1 to a specific moment in time. These activities influence the communication process and build a person’s communication sphere. The Helical Model of Communication accumulates and visualises these activities, and shows the influences of activities from the past.

Helical model of communication - toolshero

The evolution of communication in a human life

In the Helical Model of Communication, time is an important factor. Especially the concept of continuity and social interaction plays a major role in the evolution of communication. After all, communication is considered a dynamic process, and progresses with time, or age, as more experiences are gained, and one’s vocabulary increases.

As shown in the image, the thread on the bottom of the helix is small, and becomes larger as time and communication progress. This is because in the beginning, people only share little information about themselves.

A similar effect can be seen in daily communication. After meeting for the first time, two people know little about each other, but as they begin to learn more about another, communication improves and becomes more open. After some time, a person’s activities from both the past and the present are taken into account.

The helix grows steadily, and slowly moves upwards and leaves the lower behavioural levels behind. As people grow older and acquire a greater vocabulary, they communicate more and the screw thread thus becomes larger. According to the Helical Model of Communication, communication is a continuous and normally non-repetitive process. It continues to expand, and every activity influences the evolution of communication.

Practical example of the Helical Model of Communication

Frank Dance’s communication model assumes that a person’s communication starts at birth, and continues as life progresses. Communication usually moves forward, but there are also cases of it moving backwards. This is because memories and impressions from the past also influence the present. Errors in communication usually teach a person what needs to be changed to ensure effective future communication.

A common example for this model is the fact that a baby starts crying as soon as he or she is born. Crying is the first and only form of communication. This moment therefore serves as an important way of determining whether the baby is in good health. If the baby does not cry, a nurse will usually give him/her an incentive to start communicating and to let everyone know they are healthy.

In the time immediately after birth, the baby cries to communicate it wants to eat or that it needs attention. Over time, the child learns their first words. At first, the child learns a specific language, or languages, and communicates with people who speak the same language. All knowledge acquired, and how it is applied in practice, is linked to past experiences. As the child grows older, communication becomes more complex. For example, they learn certain facial expressions or certain views.

In the example, the small circle of the spiral at the bottom indicates that crying is the only form of communication. Once more possibilities for communication are acquired, the screw thread becomes gradually wider.

Pros and cons of the Helical Model of Communication

The Helical Model of Communication is a relatively new communication model, and has in fact more critics than supporters. The pros and cons of the model are described below.

Pros of the Helical Model of Communication

  • The model assumes that there is a sender and receiver. This makes it a two-way model, with similarities to traditional communication theories.
  • The model includes important aspects such as intelligence, languages, experiences from the past.
  • The model is relatively simple.

Cons of the Helical Model of Communication

The model is so simple that its critics do not actually call it a model, due to the limited number of variables.

  • The model cannot be tested, and is very abstract.
  • The model is not organised.
  • Variables cannot be identified separately.
  • Continuity is not necessarily applicable when it comes communication.
  • The goal of communication is not always growth.

To summarise

Frank Dance published the Helical Model of Communication in 1967. Using this model, he emphasised the role of disruptions and problems in communication. In the model, communication is represented as a spiral process, from a person’s birth to the present. At birth, the spiral is small due to limited means of communication. As a baby begins to communicate through crying and language, the spiral becomes wider. Past experiences affect the way in which communication is formed in the future.

The model is relatively new, but despite its prominence, it is rejected by many critics. The model has few to no identifiable variables. Its creator’s opinion that communication is a continuous process with the aim of growth has also been called into question.

Now It’s Your Turn

What do you think? Do you recognise the explanation of the Helical Model of Communication? Do you recognise similarities with other communication theories, or do you have your own reservations about the model? To what extent do you agree with the model as explained above? Do you have any tips or additional comments?

Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.

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More information

  1. Dance, F. E. (1967). A helical model of communication. Human Communication Theory, New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
  2. Dance, F. E. (1967). A helical model of communication. Human Communication Theory.
  3. McQuail, D., & Windahl, S. (2015). Communication models for the study of mass communications. Routledge.
  4. Kurtz, S. M. (2002). Doctor-patient communication: principles and practices. Canadian Journal of Neurological Sciences, 29(S2), S23-S29.
  5. Sereno, K. K., & Mortensen, C. D. (1970). Foundations of communication theory.

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Ben Janse
About the Author

Ben Janse is a young professional working at ToolsHero as Content Manager. He is also an International Business student at Rotterdam Business School where he focusses on analyzing and developing management models. Thanks to his theoretical and practical knowledge, he knows how to distinguish main- and side issues and to make the essence of each article clearly visible.

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