Cultivation theory (sometimes referred to as the cultivation hypothesis or cultivation analysis) was an approach developed by Professor George Gerbner, dean of the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania. He began the 'Cultural Indicators' research project in the mid-1960s, to study whether and how watching television may influence viewers' ideas of what the everyday world is like. Cultivation research is in the 'effects' tradition. Cultivation theorists argue that television has long-term effects which are small, gradual, indirect but cumulative and significant. They emphasize the effects of television viewing on the attitudes rather than the behaviour of viewers. Heavy watching of television is seen as ‘cultivating’ attitudes which are more consistent with the world of television programmes than with the everyday world. Watching television may tend to induce a general mindset about violence in the world, quite apart from any effects it might have in inducing violent behaviour. Cultivation theorists distinguish between ‘first order’ effects (general beliefs about the everyday world, such as about the prevalence of violence) and ‘second order’ effects (specific attitudes, such as to law and order or to personal safety). Gerbner argues that the mass media cultivate attitudes and values which are already present in a culture: the media maintain and propagate these values amongst members of a culture, thus binding it together. He has argued that television tends to cultivate middle-of-the- road political perspectives. And Gross considered that 'television is a cultural arm of the established industrial order and as such serves primarily to maintain, stabilize and reinforce rather than to alter, threaten or weaken conventional beliefs and behaviours' (1977, in Boyd- Barrett & Braham 1987, p. 100). Such a function is conservative, but heavy viewers tend to regard themselves as 'moderate'. Cultivation research looks at the mass media as a socializing agent and investigates whether television viewers come to believe the television version of reality the more they watch it. Gerbner and his colleagues contend that television drama has a small but significant influence on the attitudes, beliefs and judgements of viewers concerning the social world. The focus is on ‘heavy viewers’. People who watch a lot of television are likely to be more influenced by the ways in which the world is framed by television programmes than are individuals who watch less, especially regarding topics of which the viewer has little first-hand experience. Light viewers may have more sources of information than heavy viewers. Judith van Evra argues that by virtue of inexperience, young viewers may depend on television for information more than other viewers do (van Evra 1990, p. 167), although Hawkins and Pingree argue that some children may not experience a cultivation effect at all where they do not understand motives or consequences (cited by van Evra, ibid.). It may be that lone viewers are more open to a cultivation effect than those who view with others (van Evra 1990, p. 171). Television is seen by Gerbner as dominating our 'symbolic environment'. As McQuail and Windahl note, cultivation theory presents television as 'not a window on or reflection of the world, but a world in itself' (1993, p. 100). Gerbner argued that the over-representation of violence on television constitutes a symbolic message about law and order rather than a simple cause of more aggressive behaviour by viewers (as Bandura argued). For instance, the action- adventure genre acts to reinforce a faith in law and order, the status quo and social justice (baddies usually get their just dessert). Since 1967, Gerbner and his colleagues have been analysing sample weeks of prime-time and daytime television programming. Cultivation analysis usually involves the correlation of data from content analysis (identifying...
References: • Boyd-Barrett, Oliver & Peter Braham (eds.) (1987): Media, Knowledge & Power. London: Croom Helm
• Condry, John (1989): The Psychology of Television. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum
• Dominick, Joseph R. (1990): The Dynamics of Mass Communication. New York: McGraw-Hill
• Evra, Judith van (1990): Television and Child Development. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum
• Livingstone, Sonia (1990): Making Sense of Television. London: Pergamon
• McQuail, Denis & Sven Windahl (1993): Communication Models for the Study of Mass Communication. London: Longman
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