Cultivation Theory

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Cultivation Theory: Reality Versus Fiction

Cultivation theory is a social theory, which examines the long-term effects of television on American audiences of all ages. Developed by George Gerbner and Larry Gross of the University of Pennsylvania was the Cultural Indicator project, which was used to identify and track the 'cultivated' effects of television on viewers.

At a very basic level, cultivation theory focuses on the role of the media in shaping how people perceive their social environment. Research in social psychology has highlighted many variables that can influence how people interpret their social environment, including attitudes, social norms, and accessible constructs (Higgins, 1996). So the idea that various psychological and sociological factors influence how people understand their social environment is well established. However, cultivation theory maintains that TV operates as the primary socializing agent in today’s world (Gerbner, Gross, Morgan, Signorielli, and Shanahan, 2002). In other words, the culture that people learn is influenced heavily by the culture portrayed on TV. This is especially so for heavy viewers of TV.

Cultivation theory suggests that the effects of television on users can be categorized in two groups: the first order effects and second order effects. First order effects refer to general view that one holds about life. Second order effect refers to the specific attitudes that one acquires as a result of exposure. Heavy viewing of television is perceived as ‘cultivating’ attitudes, which have high correlation to life presented on the television rather than the actual occurrences of everyday life. In other words, the more time a person spends watching television, the more likely he or she will believe in the social realities presented in the media. Television tends to create a general mentality about sexuality and violence, which in essence may induce such deviant behavior on the viewers.

Cultivation theory also maintains that culture influences what is shown on TV so that there is a dynamic between TV and culture in that they can be mutually reinforcing, although this aspect has not been emphasized in previous research. However, it will become more important from a mental models perspective. Much of the early research on cultivation theory focused on the influence of TV violence on perceptions of social reality. According to cultivation theory, heavy viewers of TV should see the world as a more violent and hostile place than light viewers of TV.

Literature Review

Fear of Crime

Cultivation theory suggests that widespread fear of crime is fueled in part by heavy exposure to violent dramatic programming on prime-time television. Although local television news sources presumes to give viewers factual stories about their media region, it relies heavily on sensational coverage of crime and other mayhem with particular emphasis on homicide and violence. This coverage could well increase fear of crime by cultivating expectations that victimization is both likely and beyond our control (Romer, Jamieson & Aday, 2003).

The results from this study showed that the increases in crime coverage on national television news also appeared to increase fear. It therefore seems that the casual direction flows from local and national news coverage needs not reflect trends in crime as reported by the police. Also, the findings show that exposure to television news is strongly associated with the perception that crime is an important problem. The findings are consistent with the results, indicating that television news viewing is related to fear of crime (Romer, Jamieson & Aday, 2003). Crime coverage may not only condition viewers’ fears of victimization but may also affect perceptions of places were crime is likely to occur and the persons stereotypes as typical perpetrators (Romer, Jamieson & Aday, 2003).

Media portrayals of sexual...
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