Mean world syndrome

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"Mean world syndrome" is a term coined by George Gerbner to describe a phenomenon whereby violence-related content of mass media makes viewers believe that the world is more dangerous than it actually is. Mean world syndrome is one of the main conclusions of cultivation theory. Gerbner, a pioneer researcher on the effects of television on society, argued that people who watched a large amount of television tended to think of the world as an intimidating and unforgiving place. A direct correlation between the amount of television one watches and the amount of fear one harbors about the world has been proven, although the direction of causality remains debatable in that persons fearful of the world may be more likely to retreat from it and in turn to spend more time in indoor, solitary activity such as television watching.[1]

The number of opinions, images, and attitudes that viewers tend to form when watching television will have a direct influence on how the viewer perceives the real world. They will reflect and refer to the most common images or recurrent messages thought to have an impact on their own real lives. Gerbner once said: "You know, who tells the stories of a culture really governs human behaviour. It used to be the parent, the school, the church, the community. Now it's a handful of global conglomerates that have nothing to tell, but a great deal to sell."[1][2]

Gerbner says that the spread of the syndrome has become more intense over time. He describes how newer technologies such as VCR, DVD, and cable do not disturb the cultivation theory, but actually allow more complete access and spread of recurrent messages, although widening access to the Internet world of information can counteract that. The 1930s behaviorism models, the Payne Fund Studies, show that the effect that mass media has on our behavior is considerable. This is called the hypodermic model theory: people are injected with appropriate messages and ideas constructed by the mass media.[3] Individuals who watch television infrequently and adolescents who talk to their parents about reality are claimed to have a more accurate view of the real world than those who do not, and they may be able to more accurately assess their vulnerability to violence. They may also tend to have a wider variety of beliefs and attitudes.[4]

Mean world syndrome can result in counter-productive behaviour. In the words of Dr. Mark Warr, "What makes fear of crime so important as a social problem is its consequences for our society. When people take precautions based on fear that restrict their life and their children’s lives, we restrict our freedom and we do so unnecessarily. Fear also undermines the civility and trust in our communities that make civic life possible, and that’s a terrible consequence for a democratic society."[5]

A study done on male adolescents found a correlation between more frequent exposure to violence in TV and movies and lower grey matter density in the left lateral orbitofrontal cortex.[6] This area of the brain plays a fundamental role in handling social conflict and in adjusting to new social environments. Damage to this area results in an inability to suppress certain negative emotions, such as fear of social reprisal. Therefore, this study may provide a biological basis for mean world syndrome.

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References[edit]

  1. ^ a b George Gerbner Leaves the Mean World Syndrome Posted by: lex on http://PEJ.org Sunday, January 08, 2006, Peace, Earth & Justice News
  2. ^ Gerbner, G., Gross, L., Morgan, M., Signorielli, N., & Shanahan, J. (2002) In J. Bryant & D. Zillmann (Eds.), Media effects: Advances in theory and research (2nd ed., pp. 43–67). Mahwah, N J: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
  3. ^ [1] Posted By: University of Twente September 6, 2004
  4. ^ OrgeonLive: "The 'mean-world' syndrome: Despite the horror of child abductions, reality is a less threatening place than the world of television"
  5. ^ http://www.utexas.edu/features/2008/crime/
  6. ^ Strenziok, M., Krueger, F., Pulaski, S. J., Openshaw, A. E., Zamboni, G., Van der Meer, E., & Grafman, J. (2010). Lower lateral orbitofrontal cortex density associated with more frequent exposure to television and movie violence in male adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Health, 46(6), 607-609.