Cultivation theory is a social theory which examines the long-term effects of television. "The primary proposition of cultivation theory states that the more time people spend 'living' in the television world, the more likely they are to believe social reality portrayed on television." Cultivation leaves people with a misperception of what is true in our world.
Developed by George Gerbner and Larry Gross of the University of Pennsylvania, cultivation theory derived from several large-scale research projects as part of an overall research project entitled "Cultural Indicators". The purpose of the Cultural Indicators project was to identify and track the "cultivated" effects of television on viewers. They were "concerned with the effects of television programming (particularly violent programming) on the attitudes and behaviors of the American public." Gerbner asserts that the overall concern about the effects of television on audiences stemmed from the unprecedented centrality of television in American culture. "The theory clearly posits that the cultivation effect occurs only after long-term, cumulative exposure to television." He claimed that, because TV contains so much violence, "people who spend the most time in front of the tube develop an exaggerated belief in a mean and scary world." He posited that television as a mass medium of communication had formed into a common symbolic environment that bound diverse communities together, socializing people into standardized roles and behaviors. "Today, the TV set is a key member of the household, with virtually unlimited access to every person in the family." He compared the power of television to the power of religion, saying that television was to modern society what religion once was in earlier times.
Cultivation Analysis is a positivistic theory, meaning it assumes the existence of objective reality and value-neutral research. A study conducted by Jennings Bryant and Dorina Miron (2004), which surveyed almost 2,000 articles published in the three top mass communication journals since 1956, found that Cultivation Analysis was the third most frequently utilized theory, showing that it continues to be one of the most popular theories in mass communication research.
- 1 Background
- 2 Definition
- 3 Hypothesis
- 4 Cultivation research
- 5 Three parts of research
- 6 The major findings of cultivation analysis
- 7 Cultivation differential
- 8 Key terms in cultivation analysis
- 9 Variations in cultivation
- 10 Cognitive mechanisms
- 11 Debate over genre- and program-specific "cultivation"
- 12 A broader look
- 13 Criticisms of cultivation theory
- 14 The future of cultivation theory
- 15 Links to other research
- 16 See also
- 17 References
- 18 Additional reading
"Gerbner attempted to devise a new, broad-based approach to the study of mass communication, one that focused on the process of mass communication itself." According to Miller, cultivation theory was not developed to study "targeted and specific effects (e.g., that watching Superman will lead children to attempt to fly by jumping out the window) [but rather] in terms of the cumulative and overarching impact [television] has on the way we see the world in which we live". Hence the term 'Cultivation Analysis'. This theory has several assumptions, including:
- Television is essentially and fundamentally different from other forms of mass media
- Gerbner, Gross, Morgan, & Signorielli argued that while religion or education had previously been greater influences on social trends, now "[t]elevision is the source of the most broadly shared images and messages in history...Television cultivates from infancy the very predispositions and preferences that used to be acquired from other primary sources ... The repetitive pattern of television's mass-produced messages and images forms the mainstream of a common symbolic environment."
- Due to its accessibility and availability to the masses, television has become the "central cultural arm of our society."
- Television shapes the way our society thinks and relates.
- Gerbner and Gross write that “the substance of the consciousness cultivated by TV is not so much specific attitudes and opinions as more basic assumptions about the facts of life and standards of judgment on which conclusions are based." Simply put, the realities created by television are not based on real facts but on speculations.
- Gerbner observed that television reaches people, on average, more than seven hours a day. While watching, television offers “a centralized system of story-telling”. Gerbner asserts that television's major cultural function is to stabilize social patterns and to cultivate resistance to change. We live in terms of the stories we tell and television tells these stories through news, drama, and advertising to almost everybody most of the time.
- Television's effects are limited.
- Gerbner’s ice age analogy states that “just as an average temperature shift of a few degrees can lead to an ice age or the outcomes of elections can be determined by slight margins, so too can a relatively small but pervasive influence make a crucial difference. The size of an effect is far less critical than the direction of its steady contribution."
In its most basic form, cultivation theory suggests that exposure to television, over time, subtly "cultivates" viewers' perceptions of reality. Gerbner and Gross say: "television is a medium of the socialization of most people into standardized roles and behaviors. Its function is in a word, enculturation" (p. 175). Gerbner draws attention in his work to three entities—institutions, messages, and publics—which he seeks to analyze. Additionally, Gerbner was less concerned about the effect of cultivation on aggressive behavior, and "more concerned that it affects viewers' beliefs about the world around them and the feelings connected to those beliefs."
"Gerbner's basic prediction was that heavy TV viewers would be more likely than light viewers to see the social world as resembling the world depicted on TV." Stated most simply, the central hypothesis explored in cultivation research is that those who spend more time watching television are more likely to perceive the real world in ways that reflect the most common and recurrent messages of the television world, compared with people who watch less television, but are otherwise comparable in terms of important demographic characteristics.
Gerbner et al. go on to argue the impact of television on its viewers is not unidirectional, that the "use of the term cultivation for television's contribution to conception of social reality... (does not) necessarily imply a one-way, monolithic process. The effects of a pervasive medium upon the composition and structure of the symbolic environment are subtle, complex, and intermingled with other influences. This perspective, therefore, assumes an interaction between the medium and its publics."
Gerbner looked specifically at the effects that the violence portrayed on television has on Americans because he believed violence is TV’s primary message. Gerbner and his team speculated that violence had an effect on the way Americans portray the world, but they wanted facts rather than just having an opinion. Therefore, they measured dramatic violence, which Gerbner defines as “the overt expression or threat of physical force as part of the plot.”
In 1968, Gerbner conducted a survey to demonstrate this theory. From his results he placed television viewers into three categories; light viewers (less than 2 hours a day), medium viewers (2–4 hours a day) and heavy viewers (more than 4 hours a day). He found that heavy viewers held beliefs and opinions similar to those portrayed on television rather than the real world which demonstrates the compound effect of media influence.
Research conducted on cultivation theory and television viewing reflects the idea that high amounts of television viewing can have an effect on psychosocial health. Those who would be classified as heavy viewers to Gerbner experience shyness, loneliness, and depression much more than those who either do not watch television or who do not watch television nearly as much. This research also supports the cultivation perspective that media influences beliefs, values, and attitudes; however, due to the cross-sectional nature of this research, a causal relationship between heavy TV viewing and mental well-being cannot be established.
However, Elihu Katz, one of the researchers of the Uses and Gratifications Theory, may argue that media fulfills certain needs for people including the need for parasocial relationships or "a sense of friendship or emotional attachment that develops between TV viewers and media personalities".
"The Cultural Indicators project started conducting annual message system analyses of prime-time broadcast programming in 1967. The goal was to track the most stable, pervasive, and recurrent images in network television content, in terms of the portrayal of violence, gender roles, race and ethnicity, occupations, and many other topics and aspects of life, over long periods of time."
Three parts of research
Gerbner created the cultivation theory as one part of a three-part research strategy, called Cultural Indicators. The concept of a cultural "indicator" was developed by Gerbner as a common concept of a social indicator.
Institutional process analysis
The first part of this strategy is known as the institutional process analysis. This investigates how the flow of media messages is produced and managed, how decisions are made, and how media organizations function. Ultimately, it asked: What are the processes, pressures, and constraints that influence and underline the production of mass-media content? "The second part of this strategy is known as message system analysis, which has been used since 1967 to track the most stable and recurrent images in media content. This part of research deals with scholars’ concern for the reasons why media produce the messages they do. Scholars who do this type of research penetrate behind the scenes of media organizations in an effort to understand what policies or practices might be lurking there."
Message system analysis
The second part of this strategy is known as message system analysis, which has been used since 1967 to track the most stable and recurrent images in media content. This part of research deals with scholars’ concern for the reasons why media produce the messages they do. Scholars who do this type of research penetrate behind the scenes of media organizations in an effort to understand what policies or practices might be lurking there. This is in terms of violence, race and ethnicity, gender, and occupation and the important fact that Gerbner conceived mass communication specifically to be the transporter of messages. It asked: What are the dominant patterns of images, messages, and facts, values and lessons, expressed in media messages? "Based on message system analyses, cultivation researchers develop hypotheses about what people would think about various aspects of ‘‘reality’’ if everything they knew about some issue or phenomenon were derived from television's dominant portrayals." This message analysis was supposed to "‘investigates broad structures and consistent patterns in large bodies of those messages in the aggregate (as opposed to in any particular program or genre, and apart from issues of 'quality' or aesthetic value)". "For more than two decades, Gerbner's team of researchers randomly selected a week during the fall season and videotaped every prime-time (8 to 11 p.m.) network show. They also recorded programming for children on Saturday and Sunday (8 a.m. to 2 p.m.) After counting up the incidents that fit their description, they gauged the overall level of violence with a formula that included the ratio of programs that scripted violence, the rate of violence in those programs, and the percentage of characters involved in physical harm and killing. They found that the annual index was both remarkably stable and alarmingly high."
Gerbner analyzed a specific type of violence portrayed in media: dramatic violence. Dramatic violence is the expression of physical force that threatens pain or death against one’s will as part of the storyline. While this does not include verbal abuse, threats, or slap-stick comedy, it does include cartoon violence, such as Pokémon or the coyote and roadrunner.
Another facet of the message-system analysis Gerbner discovered was something Griffin called "equal violence, unequal risk." The research Gerbner conducted showed that the amount of violence portrayed in media stayed consistent, but the distribution of that violence was never equal. The children and the elderly, for example, are more common recipients of violence than young or middle-aged adults. Gerbner often discovered trends in violence toward minority groups, with African Americans and Hispanics being the recipients of violence more often than Caucasians; two other demographics that experienced similar inequality were women and "blue-collar" workers. Griffin wrote: "The ironic result of this tendency is that the demographics shown, inaccurately, to be more in danger of violence than the rest are the demographics that will walk away from the media more afraid of violence.
The final part of the research study is the cultivation analysis. According to Griffin: "Cultivation deals with how TV's content might affect viewers—particularly the viewers who spend lots of time glued to the tube. This is where most of the action takes place in the theory."
The major findings of cultivation analysis
"Since Gerbner believed that violence was the structure of TV drama and knowing that people differ in levels of television consumed, Gerbner wanted to find the cultivation differential. He referred to cultivation differential rather than media effects because the latter term implies a comparison between before-TV exposure and after-TV exposure. But Gerbner believed there was no before-television condition. Television enters people’s lives in infancy. His surveys have revealed some provocative findings:"
Positive correlation between TV viewing and fear of criminal victimization
"In most of the surveys Gerbner conducted, the results reveal a small but statistically significant relationship between TV consumption and fear about becoming the victim of a crime. The question at the start of the chapter is illustrative: Those with light viewing habits predict their weekly odds of being a victim are 1 out of 100; those with heavy viewing habits fear the risk 1 out of 10. Actual crime statistics indicate that 1 out of 10,000 is more realistic."
Supporting this finding is a survey done with collegiate students that showed that there was a significant correlation between the attention paid to local crime and fear. This survey also showed a significant correlation between the fears of crime and violence and the number of times the respondents viewed television per week.
Perceived activity of the police
"People with heavy viewing habits believe that 5 percent of society is involved in law enforcement. Their video world is peopled with police officers, judges, and government agents. People with light viewing habits estimates a more realistic 1 percent."
General mistrust of people
"Those with heavy viewing habits are suspicious of other people's motives. They subscribe to statements that warn people to expect the worst." These people would be likely to believe statements such as: "Most people are just looking out for themselves"; "In dealing with others, you can't be too careful"; and "Do unto others before they do unto You." This mindset is what Griffin calls the mean world syndrome.
Gerbner’s original analysis shows that heavy viewers are much more likely to be afraid of walking alone at night. The reluctance of these individuals has also been seen on a more global scale because heavy viewers are much more likely to believe we, as a nation, should stay out of world affairs.
This term is what Gerbner sought to discover in his research. Griffin defines this as "the difference in the percentage giving the television answer within comparable groups of light and heavy TV viewers." Gerbner wanted to find how often individuals who watched a significant amount of television were influenced to have the same opinion as what they saw in the media. Gerbner believed there was no before-television stage in a person's life. He alleged the media influences a person the moment they are born. There are four attitudes that Gerbner focused on: (1) the chances of involvement with violence, (2) fear of walking alone at night, (3) perceived activity of police, and (4) general mistrust of people. When a person watches more television, that person is more likely to think he or she has a higher chance of getting into violence. The individual is likely to have a greater fear of walking alone at night. Griffin notes that people who view heavy amount of television think "that five percent of society is involved in law enforcement", which is four percentage points higher than actuality. Finally, heavy television watchers are more mistrusting of people than light or medium television viewers. This suspicious view on the world is called the mean world syndrome. Griffin sums this up as "the cynical mindset of general mistrust of others subscribed to by heavy TV viewers".
Key terms in cultivation analysis
"Mainstreaming is the blurring, blending, and bending process by which heavy TV viewers from disparate groups develop a common outlook on the world through constant exposure to the same images and labels on TV." Mainstreaming television plays a central role in society. While there are many diverse cultures in the United States (and the world) contributing the variety of beliefs, values, attitudes and practices creating our unique cultures, there is one thing that ties us all together: television. Of course there are many people that do not have access to television, but the underlying truth is, the reach of television is so expansive that it has become the primary channel responsible for mainstream in our culture. "He thought that through constant exposure to the same images and labels, heavy viewers develop a commonality of outlook that doesn’t happen with the radio." Mainstream is more than the sum of all cross-currents and sub-currents, it represents the broadest range of shared meanings and assumptions in the most general, functional and stable way Heavy television viewing may override individual differences and perspectives, creating more of an American (and increasingly global) "melting pot" of social, cultural and political ideologies Essentially, the more TV a viewer watches, the more likely it becomes that their opinions of various items in the world will start to mirror those the media portrays. In fact, most heavy TV viewers do not even know they are starting to bend their views to those of the media. Blending takes blurring one step further when heavy television viewers cannot draw a line between parts of life that are real and fiction. Bending happens when people’s perception is completely changed from their original views or opinions. This can go even beyond simple reflection of the media, quite often it turns into reflection of television fiction.
Gerbner found that ideas and opinions commonly held by heavy viewers as a result of mainstreaming have to do with politics and economics. According to Griffin, Gerbner’s research led to the conclusion that heavy viewers tend to label themselves as middle class citizens who are politically moderate. Gerbner also found people who labeled themselves as either liberal or conservative among those who mainly watched TV occasionally. Interestingly enough, however, he also found that “cultural indicators noted that their positions on social issues are decidedly conservative."
"The condition that exists when viewers' real-life environment is like the world of TV; these viewers are especially susceptible to TV's cultivating power." Resonance occurs when things viewed on television are actually congruent with the actual everyday realities of viewers. Gerbner writes that this provides a double dose of messages that resonate and amplify cultivation. Additionally, Gerbner et al. defines resonance as the combination of everyday reality and television providing a "double dose" that resonates with the individual, which in turn amplifies cultivation. The example they give is of minority groups whose fictional television character is stereotypically more frequently victimized on television, creating an exaggerated perception of violence for individuals who watch more television Griffin sums it up nicely, when he states, "Gerbner claimed that other heavy viewers grow more apprehensive through the process of resonance." Furthermore, Gerbner said, "The congruence of the television world and real-life circumstances may ‘resonate’ and lead to markedly amplified cultivation patterns." This cultivation could have a large effect on our society if these viewers insist on receiving more security from the government, their work place, family, friends, etc. Resonance seeks to explain why heavy TV viewers often have an amplified vigilance about the world.
As either mainstreaming or resonance, cultivation produces first-order or second-order effects. First-order effects refers to the learning of facts, while second-order effects involve "hypotheses about more general issues and assumptions" that people make about their environments.
Mean World Index
Gerbner et al. developed the Mean World Index. The Mean World Index consists of three statements:
- Most people are just looking out for themselves.
- You can't be too careful in dealing with people.
- Most people would take advantage of you if they got the chance.
The Mean World Index finds that long-term exposure to television in which violence is frequent cultivates the image of a mean and dangerous world. More frequent viewers had a perception of reality in which greater protection is needed and reported that most people "cannot be trusted" and are "just looking out for themselves."
"The overt expression or serious threat of physical force as part of the plot."
When people make judgments about the world around them, they rely on the smallest bits of information that come to mind most quickly."
"TV viewers who report that they watch at least four hours per day."
"A statistical procedure that blends the results of multiple empirical and independent research studies exploring the same relationship between two variables. (e.g. TV viewing and fear of violence)." Gerbner also calls heavy viewers the television type, a polite way of saying couch potato."
Variations in cultivation
Effect of a portrayal of a group
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Many experts held the belief that the rise of the Internet signified the inevitable demise of the television. However despite the insistence that traditional television viewing would become obsolete; television still finds itself as an integral part of everyday human life. Unfortunately, the television programs on air in the present day are in the business of dealing and spreading stereotypes that can turn out to be harmful. These programs condition individuals to operate on pre-existing bias and prejudice and judge and categorize individuals by their physical characteristics.
The racial misconceptions surrounding black people in western society arise in part from the stereotypes displayed on television programs. Indeed, members of the black community are systemically represented as either violent or in roles of subordination. When blacks are shown as being from a higher socioeconomic class than usual, viewers experience confusion as to how they became rich.
Also, African-American women on television tend to play the role of second-fiddle in many programs. For example, the hit TV shows Scandal and Being Mary Jane are led by African-American an actress in the main role. The characters portrayed by these actresses are successful in their careers but somehow find themselves as the mistresses of married men. Both characters are content in their position of the subordinate mistress seemingly aspiring for nothing more than what has been given to them.
They are also many realty television shows such as The Real Housewives of Atlanta, Love and Hip Hop that follow the lives of various different groups of black people. In these shows, black women are represented as loud, always dramatic, prone to violence, easy, over-the-top, and sassy. The black men are represented as unfaithful, liars, hustlers, and possessive. All these portrayals are stereotypical to the race and underscore already existing prejudices.
Because of these representations, individuals who spend most of their times watching television are likely to believe that this is an accurate representation of reality . This lack of diversity in the media, specifically television does not mirror the various and diverse ethnicities an individual is likely to encounter in the real world.
Effect of cultivation on children
"There was a positive relationship between childhood television viewing levels and social reality beliefs in young adulthood. The results of this study suggest that television viewed during childhood may have an impact on the social reality beliefs a person holds as an adult." "Accordingly, the present study focuses on the potential impact of childhood television viewing on social reality beliefs during adulthood. The focus of the present study will be childhood exposure to television genres that tend to be violent. Given that it has been argued and demonstrated that measuring exposure to violent content is a more appropriate method for cultivation analyses than measuring overall television exposure levels."
Effect of personal interactions
A 2002 study by Gerbner et al. expanded on previous research about cultivation theory to include variations in cultivation. It is noted that personal interactions have an impact on cultivation. For example, parental co-viewing, and family and peer support can impact the level of cultivation for adolescents; more cohesive support results in more resistant adolescents to cultivation.
International cultivation analysis
International cultivation analysis attempts to answer the question of whether the medium or the system is the message. Gerbner et al. found that countries where the television programs were less repetitive and homogenous than the United States produced less predictable and consistent results. The variety of television content is also an important factor. Increased diversity and balance within television channels or programs leads viewers to report similar preferences. Further, importing television programs internationally can elicit variable responses depending on the cultural context and the type of television program. For example, exposure of US television programs to Korean females resulted in liberal perspective of gender roles and family. However, in the Korean male television viewers, US programs brought out increased hostility and protection of Korean culture. Another study showed that Australian students who watched US television programs (especially adventure and crime shows) were more likely to view Australia as dangerous; however, they didn't transfer this danger to America, even though they were watching US television programs. A study conducted by Minnebo and Eggermont in 2007 found that heavy television viewers, over the age of 30, in Belgium “were more likely to believe that most young people are substance users.”
Several cognitive mechanisms that explain cultivation effects have been put forth by Shrum (1995; 1996; 1997). Shrum's availability heuristic explanation suggests that heavy viewers tend to have more frequent, recent, and vivid instances of television reality on the "top of the head" (i.e., available and accessible) when surveyors ask them questions, resulting in more responses that relate to television viewing and also speedier responses. Another mechanism that might explain the cultivation phenomenon is a cognitive-narrative mechanism. Previous research suggests that the realism of television narratives in combination with individual-level "transportability," or the ability to adopt a less critical stance toward a narrative, might facilitate cultivation effects (e.g., Bilandzic & Busselle, 2008).
Debate over genre- and program-specific "cultivation"
"What is at question is whether such genre-specific effects should be called "cultivation". Moreover, to focus on superficial distinctions among genres risks losing sight of what different types of programs have in common, which cultivation emphasizes. Still, one distinctive aspect of recent cultivation work has been a tendency to examine exposure to specific genres. Whether or not such studies should be called cultivation does not seem to be an issue for most researchers; as a practical matter, numerous scholars are pursuing studies of exposure to genres (and even to specific single programs) under the rubric of cultivation." Recent studies have examined so-called "cultivation" effects of prolonged exposure to particular television genres (e.g., reality television) or specific programs within a genre (MTV's 16 and Pregnant) (see Morgan & Shanahan, 2010). These studies are inconsistent with Gerbner's original conceptual definition of cultivation, which refers to gradual, long-term exposure to all types of programs, not simply exposure to one type of programming or one specific show. Nonetheless, as the number of television channels continues to increase, and as media becomes fragmented via the Internet, genre- and program- specific cultivation studies are predicted to become more abundant.
A broader look
Although Gerbner's research focused on violence on TV this theory can be applied to a variety of different situations. Many other theorists have done studies related to the cultivation theory which incorporated different messages than Gerbner's original intent. This research has been conducted in order to defeat two criticisms of the theory; its breadth and lumping of genres.
Music videos and the cultivation theory
Kathleen Beullens, Keith Roe, and Jan Van den Bulck conducted research relating to alcohol consumption in music videos. The research revealed that high exposure to music videos develops an unrealistic perception of alcohol consumption. Musicians in these videos endorse alcohol in their songs and create a false reality about alcohol and its effects." Beullens, K., Roe, K., & Van den Bulck, J. (2012). "Music Video Viewing as a Marker of Driving After the Consumption of Alcohol". Substance Use & Misuse, 47(2), 155-165.
Gays, gender, and sex on television
Sara Baker Netzley conducted research in a similar fashion to Gerbner in the way that homosexuals were depicted on television. This study found that there was an extremely high level of sexual activity in comparison to the amount of gays that appeared on television. This has led those who are heavy television consumers to believe that the gay community is extremely sexual. Much like the idea of a mean and scary world it gives people a parallel idea of an extremely sexual gay community."
Criticisms of cultivation theory
Scholars think that cultivation research focuses more on the effects rather than who or what is being influenced. Jennings Bryant agrees and says that the research to date has more to do with the 'why's' and 'how's' of a theory as opposed to gathering normative data as to the 'what's', 'who's', and 'where's'.“
Critics have faulted the logical consistency of cultivation analysis, noting that the methods employed by cultivation analysis researchers do not match the conceptual reach of the theory. The research supporting this theory uses social scientific methods that are typically used with limited effects findings. Another possibility is that the relationship between TV viewing and fear of crime is like the relationship between a runny nose and a sore throat. Neither one causes the other—they are both caused by something else." Many also question the breadth of Gerbner's research. When using the Cultural Indicators strategy, Gerbner separated his research into three parts. The second part focused on the effects of media when looking at gender, race/ethnicity, and occupation.Michael Hughes writes about this process that “it does not seem reasonable that these three variables exhaust the possibilities of variables available…which may be responsible for spurious relationships between television watching and the dependent variables in the Gerbner at al. analysis” Also, the variables Gerbner did choose can also play a factor in the amount of time a person has available to watch TV. For example, a person who works part-time is likely to have more time on their hands than someone who works a fifty-hour workweek. Just based on this example alone, one can see how correlating these variables specifically to the way a person views violence in the world can be problematic. Another piece of evidence that comes from Daniel Chandler is that “those who live in high-crime areas are more likely to stay at home and watch television and also to believe that they have a greater chance of being attacked than are those in low-crime areas.” He claims as well, “when the viewer has some direct lived experience of the subject matter this may tend to reduce any cultivation effect.” So, if an individual identifies with the media's message, they are less likely to let it affect their beliefs. This is probably due to the fact that they already have their own opinion on the matter.
Gerbner is also criticized for the fact that he "lumped together" all forms of violence; he did not split up the different types of television programs. Chandler argues, "different genres—even different programmes—contribute to the shaping of different realities, but cultivation analysis assumes too much homogeneity in television programmes" This point is addressed by Horace Newcomb (1978) who argues that violence is not presented as uniformly on television as the theory assumes; therefore, television cannot be responsible for cultivating the same sense of reality for all viewers. When considering different programs that are on television, it makes sense that scholars would criticize Gerbner’s lack of categories. For example, Saturday morning cartoon “play” violence is in combination with a murder on Law and Order. This does not seem to logically fuse together. Morgan and Shanahan understand this dispute, but they contend “that people (especially heavy viewers) do not watch isolated genres only, and that any “impact” of individual program types should be considered in the context of the overall viewing experience.”
Chandler maintains, “Cultivation theory focuses on the amount of television viewing or 'exposure', and does not allow for differences in the ways in which viewers interpret television realities.” This interpretation can vary from innocent viewing to getting ideas for carrying out an act of violence. There should be a way to continue research into this area of study.
Cultivation analysis has also been criticized by humanists for examining such a large cultural question. Because the theory discusses cultural effects, many humanists feel offended, thinking that their field has been misinterpreted. Horace Newcomb (1978) writes "More than any other research effort in the area of television studies the work of Gerbner and Gross and their associates sits squarely at the juncture of the social sciences and the humanities."
The theory has also received criticism for ignoring other issues such as the perceived realism of the televised content, which could be essential in explaining people's understanding of reality. Wilson, Martins, & Markse (2005) argue that attention to television might be more important to cultivating perceptions than only the amount of television viewing. In addition, C. R. Berger (2005) writes that because the theory ignores cognitive processes, such as attention or rational thinking style, it is less useful than desired.
Lastly, it is argued that there is no evident correlation in the research. "Critics are quick to point out that the correlation between TV viewing and fear of criminal victimization can be interpreted plausibly in more than one way. The correlation could indicate, as Gerber contended, that TV viewing cultivates or causes fear of crime. But it could make just as much sense to interpret the relationship the other way - fear of crime cause people to watch more TV. After all, most TV shows depict a just world in which the bad guys get caught in the end."
The future of cultivation theory
Nielsen informed the general public that "television viewing had reached an all-time high" in November 2009. With this new age of technology, we have access to television at our fingertips at almost every moment of the day. A variety of studies expanded cultivation research into new areas, or updated areas of earlier work to reflect notable changes in media messages." The introduction of the Internet has multiplied our viewing capabilities and we can be more selective than ever. Hulu, YouTube, TiVo, On Demand, and other computer-mediated technologies are making this process affordable, quick, and easy. We should, therefore, be looking at the cultivation theory with even more respect. In the same breath though, we should be focusing on the cultivation theory in other forms of media. The Internet plays a huge role in our communication and the way we, as Americans, receive information. Those who study the cultivation theory should consider extending it to various other media outlets.
So far, Cultivation Analysis has been applied to other forms of media, including video games. A longitudinal, controlled experiment conducted by Dmitri Williams, in 2006, examined the presence of cultivation effects in the playing of an online game. Over the course of playing the video game for one month, participants changed their perceptions of real world dangers. However, these dangers only corresponded to events and situations present in the game world, not other real-world crimes.
Links to other research
In their article titled “The State of Cultivation”, Michael Morgan and James Shanahan argue “that cultivation has taken on certain paradigmatic qualities” and that they "consider the future prospects for cultivation research in the context of the changing media environment". What this means is that Morgan and Shanahan join in the conversation that this Cultivation Theory has started to take on a new form, which is starting to shift the way scholars view media effects on the general public. Morgan and Shanahan claim that the concept of cultivation is "vibrant, thriving, and branching off into areas Gerbner could not have imagined."
- Schroeder (2005) used the elaboration likelihood model to try to determine whether cultivation was better explained cognitively by an active learning/construction model or an availability heuristic model.
- Salmi et al. (2007) examined cultivation with reference to social capital.
- Diefenbach and West (2007) drew upon the third-person effect in their analysis of the relationship between amount of television viewing and attitudes toward mental health.
- Reimer and Rosengren (1990) examined the viewing of entertainment programming and its impact on materialistic values.
- Minnebo and Eggermont (2007) examined whether heavy television viewing contributes to negative perceptions of young people's behavior with regard to substance use.
- Carveth and Alexander (1985) examined gender stereotyping and find that heavy viewing of television can create a distorted picture of social reality.
These are only a few highlights of what scholars have done with the research of Gerbner. His work has penetrated into other fields of study and has furthered research beyond what Gerbner could have expected.
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