Cultivation Theory and Mass Communication Research, From Left to Right

This is a learning module for the class Contemporary Social / Mass Media Theory taught at Purdue University by Sorin Adam Matei

Cultivation theory suggests that heavy television exposure generates a world of ideas and mental content that is homogeneous and biased toward “reality” as is depicted in media content. Heavier television users are more like to be anomic, to believe in the “meanness” of the world, to accept specific gender stereotypes, and to fear possible crime victimization. The theory acts at mental content and attitudinal level. It assumes that our attitudes are forged in the hours we watch TV in the direction in which the content flows ideologically. As the content changes over time, our attitudes change. It is not a behaviorist theory, but rather a passive learning theory. We are what we eat, we are what we watch. In this respect, the theory can skew right or left, depending on what we thing media serves us: liberal or conservative content. This learning module includes two schools of thought, the traditional, launched by Gerbner and his colleagues, which take a liberal, leftist slant, and a more recent one, generated by Rothman and his more conservative colleagues.


A summary of cultivation theory by Daniel Chandler – Online

Kicking Television
Kicking Television (Photo credit: dhammza)

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.

The The “Mainstreaming” of America: Violence Profile No. 11, George Gerbner, Larry Gross, Michael Morgan, Nancy Signorielli, DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.1980.tb01987.x, Journal of Communication,Volume 30, Issue 3, pages 10–29, September 1980

Television makes specific and measurable contributions to viewers’ conceptions of reality. These contributions relate both to the synthetic world television presents and to viewers’ real life circumstances. These are the basic findings of our long-range research project called Cultural Indicators, and they have been supported, extended, and refined in a series of studies. Here we shall report new findings and introduce theoretical developments dealing with the dynamics of the cultivation of general concepts of social reality (which we shall call “mainstreaming”) and of the amplification of issues particularly salient to certain groups of viewers (which we shall call “resonance”).

Given our premise that television’s images cultivate the dominant tendencies of our culture’s beliefs, ideologies, and world views, the observable independent contributions of television can only be relatively small. But 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.

We have found that amount of exposure to television is an important indicator of the strength of its contributions to ways of thinking and acting. For heavy viewers, television virtually monopolizes and subsumes other sources of  information, ideas, and consciousness. Thus, we have suggested that the more  time one spends “living” in the world of television, the more likely one is to report perceptions of social reality which can be traced to (or are congruent with) television’s most persistent representations of life and society. Accordingly, we  have examined the difference that amount of viewing makes in people’s images, expectations, assumptions, and behaviors.‘

The heart of the argument: Many differences between group of viewers can be explained in terms of one of two systematic processes which we call “mainstreaming” and “resonance.” Heavy use trumps all other behaviors.

Heavy Television Use Mainstreams View of the World: Individuals Across Medium and Higher Income Levels and Whites who Watch a Lot of TV Fear Crime More, Despite the Fact That They Are Less Likely to Be Victims of Crime
Resonance effects in cultivation: suburbanites and women are more likely to fear crime
Resonance effects in cultivation: urban dwelleers and women are more likely to fear crime

Television’s cultivation of conceptions and behaviors is a consistent process but is integrated in different ways and with different results into different patterns of life. Therefore, a fuller understanding of television’s contribution may be achieved by paying particular attention to differences across different subgroups.

The “mainstream” can be thought of as a relative commonality of outlooks that television tends to cultivate. By “mainstreaming” we mean the sharing of that commonality among heavy viewers in those demographic groups whose light viewers hold divergent views. In other words, differences deriving from other factors and social forces may be diminished or even absent among heavy
viewers. Thus, in some cases we should only find evidence for cultivation within those groups who are “out” of the mainstream. In other cases, we may find that viewing “moderates” attitudes in groups whose light viewers tend to hold extreme views. But in all cases, more viewing appears to signal a convergence of outlooks rather than absolute, across-the-board increments in all groups.

For example, it is well documented that more educated, higher income groups have the most diversified patterns of cultural opportunities and activities; therefore, they tend to be lighter viewers. We found that, when they are light viewers, they also tend to be the least imbued with the television view of the world. But the heavy viewers in the higher educationhigh income groups
respond differently. Their responses to our questions are more like those of other heavy viewers, most of whom have less education and income. It is the college-educated, higher income light viewers who diverge from the “mainstream” cultivated by television; heavy viewers of all groups tend to share a relatively homogeneous outlook.

But the relationship of real life experience to television’s cultivation of conceptions of reality entails not only this generalized notion of “mainstreaming” but also special cases of particular salience to specific issues. This is what we call resonance.” When what people see on television is most congruent with everyday reality (or even perceived reality), the combination may result in a coherent
and powerful “double dose” of the television message and significantly boost cultivation. Thus, the congruence of the television world and real-life circumstances may “resonate” and lead to markedly amplified cultivation patterns.

Even more revealing than this small overall correlation is the relationship between television viewing and mistrust for specific groups of the population. The relationship is strongcst for respondents who have had some college education-those who are also least likely to express interpersonal mistrust. (The correlaticin between education and the Mean World Index is -.28, p < .001.) The most striking specifications emerge for whites and non-whites. As a group, non whites score higher on the Mean World Index (r = 23, p < .001). Yet, there is a significant negative association among non-whites between television and this index (r = -.10, p < .05). The relationship for whites, however, remains positive. Thus, those groups who in general are least likely to hold a television-related attitude are most likely to be influenced toward the “mainstream” television view; and those who are most likely to hold a view w e extreme than the TV view may be “coaxed back” to the “mainstream” position.

The Man Who Counts the Killings

George Gerbner, who thirty years ago founded the Cultural Indicators project, which is best known for its estimate that the average American child will have watched 8,000 murders on television by the age of twelve, is so alarmed about the baneful effects of TV that he describes them in terms of “fascism”

Does Hollywood hate business or money? SR Lichter, LS Lichter, D Amundson, DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.1997.tb02693.x, Journal of Communication, Volume 47, Issue 1, pages 68–84, March 1997

Challenging earlier findings that television entertainment depicts business negatively, Thomas and Le Shay (1992) recently argued that television stigmatizes wealth rather than business. In this article we test that argument through a content analysis of television characters in all occupations across 30 seasons. The findings reaffirm that television stigmatizes the occupation of business, independently of economic factors. These results pose a challenge to mass communications theory that interprets popular culture as a source of social control.


Out of 20,000 prime time fictional series spanning 30-years of television history found in the Library of Congress broadcast archives, 620 episodes were randomly chosen.  To randomly choose these files, Lichter, Lichter, and Amundson (1997) looked at each season from 1955 to 1986, chose 20 series from each season, and then randomly selected one episode from each series.  Coders were trained using 200 additional episodes found in the archive.  The episodes were coded for character-level issues, such as plot function, as well as episode level-issues, such as social relations or social controversy themes.  The coding scheme was used to determine occupation, socioeconomic status of the characters, and plot function (positive/negative portrayal).  Out of these episodes, over 4,700 characters were able to be organized into census-determined occupational category and over 70% were able to be judged as portraying a positive or negative function.  All other characters were determined to be neutral.

Charts that illustrate the Lichter and Lichter study

Business Characters are consistently more negatively portrayed, regardless of income/wealth

THE MEDIA, IDENTITY AND PERSONALITY, Stanley Rothman, International Journal on World Peace , Vol. 14, No. 4 (DECEMBER 1997), pp. 49-80

My goal in this essay is to understand the impact of the media on identity and character in the modern world. Before I begin, I assert that there is considerable evidence that the human psyche is embedded in a biological structure which sets the parameters of identity and personality and which is defied with difficulty. We are not simply the work of nature, but if we stray too far from its mandates we do so at our own peril. In this essay I discuss how our characters have changed in the past 500 years and how they are changing now under the impact of affluence and new technologies. While I stress the role of the mass media, these changes are the result of a confluence of factors, no one of which is fully determinative. Thus, other issues will inevitably be brought in as part of my narrative.

 In depth

Shrum, L. J., & Lee, J.  (2012). Multiple processes underlying cultivation effects:  How cultivation works depends on the types of ideas being cultivated.  In M. Morgan, J. Shanahan, & N. Signorielli (Eds.),  Living with television now:  Advances in cultivation theory and research (pp. 147-167).  New York, NY:  Peter Lang.

Shrum, L. J., Lee, J., Burroughs, J. E., & Rindfleisch, A.  (2011).  An online process model of second-order cultivation effects:  How television cultivates materialism and its consequences for life satisfaction.  Human Communication Research, 27, 34-57.

Morgan, Michael, and James Shanahan. “The state of cultivation.” Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 54.2 (2010): 337-355.

Sorin Adam Matei

Sorin Adam Matei - Professor of Communication at Purdue University - studies the relationship between information technology and social integration. He published papers and articles in Journal of Communication, Communication Research, Information Society, and Foreign Policy. He is the author or co-editor of several books. The most recent is Ethical Reasoning in Big Data. He also co-edited Transparency in social media and Roles, Trust, and Reputation in Social Media Knowledge Markets: Theory and Methods (Computational Social Sciences) , both the product of the NSF funded KredibleNet project. Dr. Matei's teaching portfolio includes online interaction, and online community analytics and development classes. His teaching makes use of a number of software platforms he has codeveloped, such as Visible Effort . Dr. Matei is also known for his media work. He is a former BBC World Service journalist whose contributions have been published in Esquire and several leading Romanian newspapers. In Romania, he is known for his books Boierii Mintii (The Mind Boyars), Idolii forului (Idols of the forum), and Idei de schimb (Spare ideas).

25 thoughts on “Cultivation Theory and Mass Communication Research, From Left to Right

  • November 10, 2012 at 3:22 pm

    Cultivation theory is quite interesting, in my opinion, regardless of its many criticisms. Cultivation theory essentially implies that regular and prolonged exposure to television will alter a viewer’s perceptions of reality (Gerbner, 1980).

    Gerbner claims that such an analysis is an examination of the “consequences of [an] ongoing and pervasive system of cultural messages,” (1980) so it seems peculiar that so little of this research has been done in the non-television realm. Newer media fits this definition; since its inception the Internet has continuously evolved to fit the needs of a population that thrives on globalized knowledge. Through social media in particular, it seems that an application of cultivation theory would be a worthy endeavor. Like all forms of media, there are “heavy users” online. Gerbner defines such a viewer as someone who watches and engages in four or more hours of television a day. According to Nielsen, the average Internet usage in the U.S. is about 30 hours a month at home and approximately 57 hours total when work is taken into consideration. While such a figure may seem significant, there are obviously users who spend much more time online with social media, which makes up about a quarter of total Internet time (Nielsen, 2012). It’s not difficult to find testimonies of individuals who participate in virtual social worlds (e.g. Second Life) or virtual gaming worlds (e.g. World of Warcraft) for more than 12 hours a day. In fact, a report issued by the Wall Street Journal earlier this year claimed that World of Warcraft’s 11 million players had clocked over 5.9 million years of play time (Hotz, 2012). Such figures indicate there exists a sufficient audience and that cultivation could be tested.

    Gerbner’s research focused primarily on the correlation between television viewing and fear of criminal victimization, and similar, provocative relationships could be tested through social media. The aforementioned MMORPG is made up of a community that thrives on “leveling up” characters, and this is often done through battles that are both repetitive and violent in nature. Can such exposure and engagement lead to cultivation effects? Moving away from the idea that we live within a “mean world,” new media outlets could also be used to test other correlations, such as that between a brand on a social network site (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and loyalty to that brand. Can the Nike Twitter page and the resulting tweets about athletics, products, and motivation cultivate trust or loyalty for the brand? A plethora of topics such as this can continue to expand our knowledge of the effects and the cultivation differentials within media.

    Gerbner, G., Gross, L., Morgan, M. & Signorielli, N. (1980). The “mainstreaming” of
    America: Violence profile No. 11. Journal of Communication, 30, 10–29.
    doi: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.1980.tb01987.x

    Hotz, R.L. (2012, March 5). When gaming is good for you. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from

    The Nielsen Company. (2012). August 2012: Top U.S. web brands and technology news websites. Retrieved from

  • November 12, 2012 at 3:38 am

    Cultivation theory is based around the idea that media has the ability to frame the way that media consumers view the realities of society. A majority of these studies seem to focus on violence and how heavy media consumers tend to vastly overestimate it’s prevalence in the real world as a result of what is portrayed in popular media. Researchers assume that this is a result of the “mean world syndrome”, as pointed out in David Chandler’s summary titled “Cultivation Theory”, which concludes that because people witness a large amount of violent acts on television, they are led to believe that the same dangers exist in reality ( It can be assumed that this impact of media can be extended to other aspects of one’s perception of reality. For example, if one’s only interaction with the New Jersey residents is through the popular television show “Jersey Shore”, they will probably have a skewed conception of what life on the East Coast is actually like.
    The way that media has this ability to change the way we feel about things that we know little factual information about becomes even more important when the Spiral of Silence and Echo Chamber theories that were discussed last week become a factor. To recap, these theories looked at how content from the majority opinion tends to quickly overpower the minority voice simply because the minority does not want to risk isolation they may experience from holding a different view from the masses ( As a result, many times the prevalence of the minority opinion is underestimated. However, when the impact of the findings from cultivation theory studies are taken into account with relation to these two theories, one could speculate that because the majority opinion is so much more prevalent in media that the opinions of heavy consumers will actually start to change as they consume more content in favor of this “majority”, similar to the way actual beliefs about the prevalence of violence change. Cultivation theory shows that the content of media can have a very significant impact on the way an individual feels about a certain topic or issue. Just like those that heavily view media may be led to feel that the streets are full of violence, they could also be led to believe that this over-projected majority opinion should represent their own feelings, regardless of actual factual groundings.
    Cultivation theory poses the question, can media tell us how we should feel? Referencing back to the study by Dominick on the New Jersey schoolchildren, featured in the Chandler article, media can sway our belief about reality, thus if used in certain ways, the media could be used to sway our opinion about a certain political issue. This contradicts the assumptions of agenda setting theories that conclude that while media can change how important we view a certain topic, it cannot tell us how to feel about that topic ( To better explain, if a government wanted society to feel more favorably towards stricter immigration laws, could they not simply feature more negative depictions of certain foreigners on mainstream media? While the United States government may not have totalitarian control over content, many Communist regimes around the world do, thus they have more power to sway opinion of heavy media consumers according to cultivation theory.
    While agenda setting theory suggests that media can assign importance and the spiral of silence and echo chamber theories suggests that we tend to hear the most prevalent side of an opinion, cultivation theory takes it a step further, saying that what we see on television has the power to impact how we actually feel about life in the real world. These theories work together to show us that what we consume and how much of it that we consume has the ability to greatly impact our outlook on the world off the screen. It is important to understand the extend of these effects: is it limited to creating a belief that makes us lock our doors at night, or could it delve into having the potential of altering key beliefs and attitudes that we’ve held for long periods of time?

    • November 12, 2012 at 8:28 pm

      Was spiral of silence theory meant to explain how majorities smother minority views?

  • November 12, 2012 at 12:01 pm

    “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’.” (Chandler, 1995)

    “Television has become this centralized system; it is the cultural arm of the state that established religion once was. “Television satisfies many previously felt religious needs for participating in a common ritual and for sharing beliefs about the meaning of life and the modes of right conduct,” Gerbner has written. “It is, therefore, not an exaggeration to suggest that the licensing of television represents the modern functional equivalent of government establishment of religion.” A scary collapsing, in other words, of church into state.” (Stossel, 1997)

    The preceding passages struck me as the kind of bold claims I love reading, but that I ultimately find hard to believe. They tell a story about big forces that cleverly find ways to oppress the masses, and apparently grasp human nature well enough to adapt to changing cultures, times, and technologies. This story is painted in the broadest strokes in Rothman’s piece, wherein he takes us all the way back to primitive man to demonstrate the vacuum left by religion in the effort to control the modern individual (Rothman, 1997). Critics in the Marxist tradition love telling stories like this, and after reading this week’s pieces I for one found myself surprised at how persuasive I found this story’s presentation.

    Before we allow this story to subsume us, however, it is important to question whether or not there is any vacuum left by the decline of religion for television to step into. After all, as of last year Gallup reports that 92% of Americans still proclaim that they believe in God, a figure that is only down 2% of the same poll conducted by Gallup in 1947. It might surprise a cultural observer from outside of academia to come across an academic discussion that tries to replace religion with some other controlling force. The Harvard yard may have replaced “Truth for Christ and the Church” with “Truth,” but the 40% of Americans that report attending religious services at least nearly every week do not fit the narrative that religion has been replaced at all.

    Further, we might also consider the empirical evidence challenging cultivation theory. Chandler’s piece does a good job of summarizing the objections and critiques of cultivation theory. One piece of evidence I found particularly damning for the grander narratives was the lack of evidence for cultivation effects outside the United States. This may not strike cultivation theory down entirely as the U.S. may be particularly susceptible for one reason or another, but it does hurt our grand story. If religion, that all civilization permeating force, is being replaced by television in the modern (read: western) world, then there is little reason to believe that we would see no evidence of this shift in Britain but would in the United States. If we are to understand this shift in such broad historical strokes, Britain and the U.S. should both fit the bill.

    Finally, I would like to offer the following consideration. Let’s say that television is a generally homogenizing force. Let’s say that it reinforces convention, gives us a common ritualistic behavior to rehearse, and generally makes viewers (especially heavy ones) more conservative. Can we get over our kneejerk repulsion of the idea that television would perform these functions and see any benefit? For example, I find it difficult to reconcile flippant dismissal of any homogenizing force with the pervasive concern over the polarization of the American electorate. How are we to resist debilitating polarization without some force that helps make the world common to us all? One might respond that the problem is television makes common a fake reality, but that implies that there might be some kind of real reality that people could coalesce around instead. The Marxist theorist wants the masses to ditch the oppressive morality of religion or capitalism, but I see no viable alternative to replace it. This brings me back to the forces I mentioned at the beginning of this post, and my ultimate conclusion is that I find it extraordinarily difficult to believe that any entity consciously and purposefully manipulates the forces that control people. Simply put, I do not believe in the man behind the curtain, but it does not come as any great surprise to me that a man who spent his formative years fighting against and developing a hatred for fascism would see something like it elsewhere.

    Chandler, Daniel. “Cultivation Theory.” 18 September 1995.

    Newport, Frank. “More than 9 in 10 Americans Continue to Believe in God.” Gallup. 3 June 2011.

    Rothman, Stanley. THE MEDIA, IDENTITY AND PERSONALITY. International Journal on World Peace , Vol. 14, No. 4 (DECEMBER 1997), pp. 49-80

    Stossel, Scott. “The Man Who Counts the Killings.” The Atlantic Monthly. (May 1997),

    • November 12, 2012 at 1:53 pm

      Very eloquent points. I agree that cultivation is over-broad and that religion is under-rated as a source of social bonding. Yet, and here it is important to remark, I see Rothman and Gerbner as two opponents that use that same argument. They argue against each other using the same argumentative logic. What do you think about this?

  • November 12, 2012 at 12:51 pm

    I found the readings interesting because Gerbner’s theory of cultivation can be seen as describing and explaining more than just the mechanism of effect from the television media. Despite the critique of cultivation theory as over-simplistic (Chandler, n.d.), I argue that Gerbner have developed a theory that is able to explain some of the mechanism of effect in social media and not only the television media.

    Cultivation theory moves close to that of the hypodermic needle, bordering to determinism, because media is understood as influencing, shaping and effecting peoples’ perceptions. One of cultivation theory’s basic assumptions is that media’s effects on people are accumulated over time and thus influence our perceived social reality. Gerbner et al (1980 p. 14) describes the process as “the more time one spends “living” in the world of television, the more likely one is to report perceptions of social reality portrayed on television”. I found the phrase ‘living in the world of television’ very interesting as it hints at more than just a media with certain functions. E.g. people who are heavy users of Facebook will be influenced in how they make sense of their social reality based on the shared content. The ‘world’ of a media (be it social media or television) can therefore be understood as capable of influencing our perception of social reality because people are ‘living’ through it.

    Another central element in cultivation theory is the mechanism of resonance – the intensified effect on the audience when what is experience is similar to life experiences (Gerbner et al, 1980). E.g. hardcore gamers in World of Warcrafy, what Gerbner would call heavy users of virtual worlds, use vast amounts of time in virtual environments exploring dungeons and fighting monsters yet the streets are not filled with people dressed in costumes with bloody swords. Even though the example is extravagated it illustrates the mechanism of ‘resonance’. The virtual world is not similar to the perceived reality offline and therefore it has a more limited effect as the realism of the content influences the effect of the media. As such the mechanism of resonance can also be used to understand the degree of effect in social media.

    The last mechanism of the cultivation theory is that of mainstreaming. Mainstreaming is the mechanism that explains how television binds together members of a culture because it propagates its dominant values. This understanding of the media, I argue, has to be reviewed if one is to apply the cultivation theory in social media research. E.g. will users of Facebook depend on what is shared or propagated by their friends, which is not necessary based on the dominant values in society. As such cultivation theory can help us describe and explain some of the mechanism of social media but the emergence of these new media also raises the question of how different media’s influence may vary depending on their functionalities.

    Gerbner, G., Gross, L., Morgan, M. & Signorielli, N. (1980). The “mainstreaming” of America: Violence profile No. 11. Journal of Communication, 30, 10–29.
    doi: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.1980.tb01987.x

    A summary of cultivation theory by Daniel Chandler – Received the 12. Nov. 2012 from:

    • November 12, 2012 at 1:55 pm

      Chandler forewarns us that cultivation is not a behaviorist theory, but an attitudinal one. How can your opinion that cultivation theory be equated with the hypodermic needle effect be seen in view of this?

      • November 12, 2012 at 3:52 pm

        I would agree with Chandler that the cultivation theory is a attitudinal one and not a deterministic behaviorist theory.Therefore I do not see the cultivation theory as equated to the hypodermic needle effect. I see the cultivation theory to have deterministic elements in how attitudes are formed. E.g. television determines to a large extend which attitudes viewers have on a given subject by its accumulative influence on people’s perception. It is in this sense that cultivation theory moves close to the hypodermic needle theory, as it determines people’s attitudes and perceptions – not their behavior.

        Chandler sums up my understanding well in the critique of the theory: “A correlation between television exposure and the beliefs of viewers do not, of course, prove that there is a causal relationship, although it may suggest the possibility of one (…) Rather than heavy TV viewing leading people to be more fearful, it may be that more fearful people are drawn to watching more television than other people”. In this sense the cultivation theory can be seen as too deterministic of attitudes.

  • November 12, 2012 at 11:59 pm

    Cultivation theory, as others have posted, is certainly an interesting concept to “tangle with.” I find, however, that I have mixed opinions about the utility of cultivation theory in media research. It is clear that media have some kinds of effects on consumers – otherwise we as researchers would not spend so much time investigating these possible effects and outcomes. However, cultivation theory does not seem to stand alone as a strong tool for describing, let alone predicting, media effects and outcomes. The primary reason that cultivation theory does not seem to hold a great deal of descriptive or predictive power, I believe, lies in the fact that cultivation theory steps into the boundaries of the development of attitudes and beliefs without considering the internal and external (e.g., psychological, environmental, etc.) factors that we know directly and indirectly influence such developments. Some of these critiques are presented in Chandler’s (1995) piece, where the author discusses a long list of “interacting factors such as developmental stages, viewing experience, general knowledge, gender, ethnicity, viewing contexts, family attitudes, [and] socioeconomic background.”

    This is not to say that the principle idea behind Cultivation Theory, that prolonged exposure to media (granted, television in particular) alters consumers’ attitudes and beliefs about the real world, is useless. What this is saying, however, is that for Cultivation Theory to be a more useful perspective to take when researching mass media is that it should also be combined with some theoretical, explanatory mechanisms for understanding the other factors that contribute to the attitudes and beliefs individuals develop about the “real world” that are also associated with media exposure. I think this need to combine cultivation theory with other explanatory mechanisms highlights a sort of fatal flaw of media effects theories – the relationship the theory specifies might exist, but we really don’t know how to characterize it beyond the stimulus-response description. Some of Chandler’s (1995) critiques also address this issue as the author points of the possible “over-simplicity” of the theory, and the inability for a causal relationship to be drawn as a conclusion based on the theory.

    At the end of it all, I think mainstreaming and resonance are the stars of cultivation theory, as these two concepts provide at least small, preliminary explanations for why individuals’ perceptions might be impacted in certain ways by exposure (e.g., heavy exposure or exposure congruent to real life experiences). However, each of these concepts can be clearly tied to various other factors (e.g., environmental, physical, psychological) that are also likely to influence those same individuals’ perceptions of reality. In this case, I am wondering if there would be any theoretical value in considering the possible intersections of Social Learning Theory and Cultivation Theory. It seems that perhaps if Cultivation Theory was examined on a more small-scale level (e.g., individual perceptions), that SLT could serve as a lens for evaluating the factors outside of media exposure that likely influence individuals’ perceptions of reality.

    Chandler, Daniel. “Cultivation Theory.” 18 September 1995.

    Bandura, A. (2001a). Social cognitive theory of mass communication. Media Psychology, 3(3), 265-299.

    In-class discussion on SLT (October 23 – 25).

  • November 20, 2013 at 4:37 pm

    The main concern behind cultivation theory – the direct effects of media viewing on audience members – is a persistent concern in the literature we have read so far this semester. The readings this week present a unique perspective on this common concern. Cultivation theory addresses the impact of television on viewer’s overall worldview. Gerbner proposed that television viewing impacted attitudes, influencing ideas such as political opinions and perceptions of violence in the real world (Chandler, 1995). Overall, research studies support the suggestions of cultivation theory; individuals identified as heavy television viewers tend to show “television attitudes” more than individuals identified as light television viewers (Chandler, 1995). Heavy viewers are more likely to believe that the world is a violent and dangerous place, support extreme beliefs related to the justice system (such as capital punishment), and perceive strict gender roles as the norm. Researchers have identified two specific effects related to cultivation theory: mainstreaming and resonance. Mainstreaming refers to the idea that heavy television viewers develop homogenous worldviews, while light television viewers, who are arguably exposed to more sources of information and differing opinions, develop a variety of different perspectives (Chandler, 1995; Gerbner, Gross, Morgan, & Signorielli, 1980). Resonance refers to the effects of reinforcement when a viewer’s real life circumstances are similar to events portrayed on television; the viewer is likely to believe in the associated attitude more strongly (Chandler, 1995; Gerbner, Gross, Morgan, & Signorielli, 1980).

    Attempting to apply cultivation theory to new media technology is challenging. Internet users are perceived as active in their pursuit of information and entertainment across various websites; it seems logical to assume that heavy internet users would be exposed to divergent opinions on occasion. Patterns of use, frequency of visits to specific websites, and the extent to which individual users customize their information environment online will all have an impact on the influence of cultivation theory in the new media landscape. One area that I am particular curious about the application of cultivation theory is “awareness campaigns” on Facebook.

    Speaking from my own experience, many awareness campaigns have been created and spread through Facebook, covering a wide variety of subjects. Some campaigns seek to end hunger, some to spread information and awareness about breast cancer, others to promote particular political views or programs. What I find curious is users’ reactions to these campaigns. Particularly with breast cancer awareness campaigns, there appears to be a belief that posting a specific status message or liking an organization’s page on Facebook contributes to research or broad awareness in some way. In reality, these behaviors allow users to feel as if they have contributed to a specific campaign or concern without actually taking any action at all; users are pleased with their show of support and imagined contribution, while in reality no beneficial action occurs. This association occurred to me when I came across Gerbner’s term “happy violence” (Stossel, 1997). The idea of “happy violence” refers to the portrayal of violent acts on television as painless, swift, and effective; Gerbner points out that violence is portrayed as always being an effective solution to the problem at hand, and never causing negative consequences (Stossel, 1997). Might there be a similar effect in Facebook awareness campaigns? Users are told that clicking a “like” button or sharing a status message has a positive impact on the issue at hand. From the users’ perspective, these actions have positive consequences for causes they care about, and are relatively low stakes and easy to follow through on. Users feel as if they have contributed to solving a social problem, but are relatively unaware of what their behaviors actually do; they are simply aware that these actions are associated with positive impact on the given campaign – in much the same way that “happy” cartoon violence solves issues and produces no negative consequences.


    Chandler, D. (1995). Cultivation theory. Retrieved from

    Gerbner, G., Gross, L., Morgan, M., & Signorielli, N. (1980). The “mainstreaming” of America:
    Violence profile no. 11. Journal of Communication, 30(3), 10-29.

    Stossel, S. (1997). The man who counts the killings. The Atlantic Online.

    • November 25, 2013 at 10:43 am

      Great emphasis on mainstreaming and resonance. Also, your comment that social media engagement campaigns rest on the same faulty assumption of “happy violence” is right on the money…

  • November 21, 2013 at 6:05 pm

    Cultivation theory is a theory that was proposed by George Gerbner and it is one that is concerned with TV’s overall effect on people’s attitudes. This theory suggests that heavy consumption of TV programming has a significant effect on consumers’ perception of reality and the world around them.

    Cultivation theory argues that over time, the consumption of TV content will result in heavy users viewing their real world as one that is similar, in many ways, to the world presented to them via their screens and consequently, reacting to this world and interacting with it based upon this perception. TV then, according to cultivation theory, acts as a socializing agent (Chandler, D., Cultivation Theory, 1995) and a conduit by which people in society absorb specific messages, values, beliefs, and perspectives which result in cultivating a homogenous collective consciousness in people with respect to their social surroundings (Morgan & Shanahan, 2010, 338).

    Additionally, this socializing and far-reaching ability that TV programming has in shaping people’s understanding of the world was of concern to Gerbner (1980). Gerbner, likened TV’s influence on viewers to the influence organized religion has on its followers, because much like organized religion, TV can reach a large number of people, and it can transmit a continuous flow of messages and ideologies to them hence, shaping their notion of reality, their perception of the other and most importantly, their fears and their concerns. Therefore, the consequences of TV consumption on people’s attitudes, as suggested by cultivation theory imply, that TV can be a very dangerous tool in the hands of an undesirable entity such as an authoritarian or fascist government or an institution with extremist views.

    Gerbner (1980) further refined cultivation theory to encompass two different concepts, mainstreaming and resonance. Mainstreaming proposes that TV is a basis upon which heavy users, despite their background differences, come to formulate a shared and common outlook towards the world (Gerbner et. al, 1980, 15). In other words, mainstreaming argues that heavy consumption of TV programs can effectively reduce the gap that exists between different sub-group’s by encouraging them to share a common conception of social reality while at the same time, it may increase the gap between heavy and light viewers within the same sub-group.

    On the other hand, resonance refers to the idea that people, whose own reality seems in many respects similar to that depicted on TV, will experience what Gerber referred to as a double dose effect. This effect increases people’s susceptibility to cultivate TV’s conception of reality because the messages portrayed on TV are of relevance and importance to them consequently, compounding the cultivation effect.

    In general, cultivation theory was mostly concerned with TV’s depiction of violence. The theory proposes that people’s continuous and heavy exposure to violence on TV creates a mean world syndrome, a state in which heavy viewers are extremely skeptical of others, are convinced that crime rates are higher than what they are and are persuaded to believe that their chance of encountering harm or becoming victims of a crime is incredibly high. Therefore, the theory argues that the continuous portrayal of violence on TV increases people’s perception of violence in the real world and consequently, might increase people’s dependence on their government and its policing force as a source of protection.

    Nonetheless, according to Morgan and Shanahan (2010), cultivation theory has been expanded over the years to address TV’s portrayal of many other issues including sex, minority and gender issues and has also been used to explore how certain genres like talk shows, reality shows and news programs for example, affect people’s attitudes towards related issues in their social world.

    In terms of our present day, cultivation theory is still relevant because the increase in technological platforms through which we can access and consume TV has made it even easier and much more convenient for us to watch TV produced content when and where we choose to. Moreover, according to a study by Parents Research Council (2013), there is a considerable increase in violence depicted on TV today hence, that increase combined with greater access to TV programming through tablets or smart phones for example, means that we are now exposed to a greater amount violence than ever before making the effect of cultivation theory today even more likely (Study: Violence Increasing in TV Dramas- Especially on NBC, Oct 20130). Also, according to Bushman (2013), the advancement in technology today makes it much more easier for TV shows and video games to create realistic illustrations of violence thus presumably making these images much more effective in cultivating fear in heavy consumers today and increasing their perception of the world as a mean and scary place (Study: Violence Increasing in TV Dramas- Especially on NBC, Oct 20130).

    To conclude, in my opinion cultivation theory is disturbing on many levels least of which is the idea that heavy exposure to TV results in a convergence of views between people of different backgrounds to the views mostly depicted by TV, including the convergence of views between heavy viewers of a higher educational background with those of a lower educational background. This seems to suggest that despite someone’s higher education level, and what benefits to society that might bring in terms of allowing him/her to have a more open and more tolerant view of the world for example, he or she might still adopt an increasingly limited view that is handed to him/her by the mainstream media as a result of spending many hours consuming TV programs. Consequently, implying that the heavy consumption of TV content creates a culture of acquiescence and blind compliance in which people of every background are discouraged from interrogating or questioning information handed to them by mass media and as such, are prevented from being more accepting of other political, social and cultural views.

    Flock, E. (2013). Study: Violence Increasing in TV Dramas-Especially on NBC. Retrieved from–especially-on-nbc

    M.Morgan, J. Shanahan.(2010). The State of Cultivation. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media. 54(2), 337-355

    G.Gerbner, L. Gross, M. Morgan. (1980). The “Mainstreaming of America: Violence Profile No. 11. Journal of Communication. 11, 10-29

    Chandler, D. (1995). Cultivation Theory. Retrieved from

    • November 25, 2013 at 10:54 am

      Is your overall opinion that cultivation reveals the negative impact of mass media and especially television?

  • November 22, 2013 at 6:48 am

    Cultivation theory looks at the extent television may influence viewers’ understandings of and attitudes toward reality (Chandler, 1995). This media effects theory emerged from the “Cultural Indicators” project by Gerbner starting in 1968 (Chandler, 1995; Stossel, 1997). Theorists argue that television has “long-term effects which are small, gradual, indirect but cumulative and significant” (Chandler, 1995). Specifically, much of the early work looked at television violence. This did not look at idea that it leads to aggression and violence like other studies, but instead focused on how it “cultivates” attitudes and perceptions about the prevalence of violence in everyday life (Chandler, 1995). General exposure is argued to be the most important difference. The focus is then on the differences between “light” and “heavy” viewers, with heavy viewers’ perceptions more reflective of the representations on television rather than in their reality (Chandler, 1995; Gerbner & Gross, 1980). In the case of violence, this can lead heavy viewers to believe that the incidence of violence in reality is higher than it is and than light viewers perceive it to be (Chandler, 1995; Gerbner & Gross, 1980). While useful in speaking to this influence not just in violence but also as it relates to occupations and representations of traditionally marginalized groups, cultivation theory’s primary assumptions pose complications in the current media environment.

    First, the theory is based on the assumption that television is fundamentally different from other media. Television is argued to be central to American lives and to have become a primary source of socialization, playing “a distinctive and historically unprecedented role” (Gerbner & Gross, 1980, p. 14). What makes it so different other than its wide adoption is argued to be that the medium is “nonselective,” based on the idea that we “just watch TV – turn it on, see what’s on” (Stossel, 1997). This is the basis given for looking at overall trends on television and their effects as opposed to focusing on specific shows (Stossel, 1997). This idea becomes complicated by developments like cable television and more recently streaming-services such as Netflix, Hulu, and the like. With more choices available, viewers may more actively “select” what it is that they consume, which in turn may shape the beliefs they “cultivate.” Streaming services also complicate any attempts to use the original methods of cultivation theory as viewers can watch anything available from any decade rather than just “what’s on.” Morgan and Shanahan (2010) argue that even in this age cultivation is still valuable in that the convenience of watching “what we want, when we want” may mean we are also spending more time watching and, as such, there is an even greater need to pay attention to the common messages being sent about reality (p. 350).

    A second and related general assumption is that the viewer is passive, as opposed to other theories we’ve discussed that argue for a more active audience. As a result, little to no attention is given to differences in the ways individuals interact with and interpret what they view (Chandler, 1995). Gerbner and Gross’s (1980) concept of resonance, where the influence may be more pronounced when the issue at hand has the most congruence with the viewers’ lives, is a start to addressing this. Gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status, viewing context, experiences, and prior knowledge, among other psychological and socio-cultural factors may interact with television to shape viewers’ perceptions (Chandler, 1995). This has been a common criticism of cultivation theory, but seems even more relevant at the present. Newer media like social media and video games require the user to play an even more active role beyond just selecting their exposure. How can cultivation theory account for this? Can it be transferrable to these environments in the same generalized way that Gerbner argued for with television?

    Going forward, it seems attention will be needed to how well these assumptions hold in the changing media environment. While the general ideas of the media serving to shape and influence certain ideas about reality may be maintained, the extent of the theory’s use may be related to how well it can adapt to recent trends and adopt mechanisms to help explain them.


    Chandler, D. (1995). Cultivation theory. Retrieved from

    Gerbner, G., & Gross, L. (1980). The “mainstreaming” of America: Violence Profile No. 11. Journal of Communication, 30(3), 10–29. Retrieved from

    Morgan, M., & Shanahan, J. (2010). The state of cultivation. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 54(2), 337-355. doi: 10.1080/08838151003735018

    Stossel, S. (1997). The man who counts the killings. The Atlantic. Retrieved from

    • November 25, 2013 at 10:41 am

      You explanation of how cultivation works its magic and how does this matter is right on the money… Great summary… I highly recommend it to all class members….

  • November 22, 2013 at 12:12 pm

    Cultivation theory focuses mainly on messages broadcasted on television, arguing that viewers cultivate attitudes about everyday life over time and exposure to the medium. Gerbner, Gross and Signorielli (1980) explain that television is uniquely suited to invite these limited effects that make a significant contribution to viewers beliefs and attitudes over time. This is because people are exposed television, which offers a detailed symbolic reality through its programming, from an early age and watch it throughout different life stages. The consistent use of TV and the significant amount of time spent using this medium by such a large number of the population is what gives TV the ability to cultivate these effects over other traditional mediums. As new media changes how we consume television and how we spend our time, modifications need to be made to effectively incorporate these changes into cultivation analysis. While cultivation analysis research offers a helpful method of combining content analyses with survey data, these methods would have to be modified to conduct cultivation analyses in the future.

    At the time the cultivation hypothesis was being tested, television offered a limited amount of channels and programs that could only be accessed at certain times. Thus, Gerbner, Gross and Signorielli (1980) were able to analyze media content and assume that general viewers of television were actually witnessing the content that was analyzed. This type of study would be hard to translate to television viewing today, due to the proliferation of channels, content, and online media for television show viewing (like Hulu, Netflix, etc.). People can access many different types of shows from their televisions, computers and even their smart phones. Future explorations of cultivation theory would have to analyze specific sets of content and analyze how and if viewers are consuming that content. When Chandler (2012) highlights some of the critiques of cultivation theory, he sees this lack of specificity as a problem within the original studies as well; it is ineffective to ask viewers to report the amount of time spent viewing television instead of analyzing first what types of shows they are choosing to watch during that viewing time. Lichter, Lichter and Amundson (1997) also point out the importance of rigorous and accurate analysis of content. Their analysis of TV content contradicts a previous study and its findings show how differing analyses of the same content can lead to very different conclusions. They also brought forth the idea that surveys of the content creators could bring insight into whether TV content reflects the ideology of society or of its producers. (Findings along this vein could bring interesting results for research on gatekeeping as well, if they were incorporated into cultivation analyses).

    Stringent content analysis and a more detailed analysis of the how, what and why of media consumption (not just the how much) would bring more specific findings to test cultivation theory in the world of television today. Cultivation analysis techniques and constructs could also be tested in new media like social media, which, like television, are widely used by people of many ages. Content analyses and surveys could determine if there are differences in attitudes and beliefs of heavy and light social media users that are consistent with patterns found in the messages presented by these media. (For example, Pinterest offers many pictures of thin, white women in its health and beauty channels. Do heavy users of Pinterest have different estimations of the average BMI or do they have specific views about beauty that differ from light users of Pinterest?)

    Gerbner, G., Gross, L., Morgan, M. & Signorielli, N. (1980). The “mainstreaming” of America: Violence profile No. 11. Journal of Communication, 30, 10–29.
    doi: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.1980.tb01987.x

    A summary of cultivation theory by Daniel Chandler – Received the 12. Nov. 2012 from:

    Does Hollywood hate business or money? SR Lichter, LS Lichter, D Amundson, DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.1997.tb02693.x, Journal of Communication, Volume 47, Issue 1, pages 68–84, March 1997

  • November 15, 2014 at 10:38 pm

    This week’s assigned readings centers around the effects television have on audience members. Gerbner’s perspective is indeed intriguing, because it suggests that “Television makes specific and measurable contributions to viewers’ conceptions of reality” (Gerbner, Gross, Morgan & Signorielli, 1985). On the surface this appears very similar to the perspective of the Hypodermic Needle Theory, which implies that mass media have a powerful and direct effect on audiences. However, the two perspectives do differ in a variety of aspects.

    The hypodermic needle theory has also been called “the magic bullet model” because it views a message of communication as direct injection. When a message of communication hits its audience, it will convey a powerful and relatively uniform effect on anyone who processes it (Sparks, 2010). Thus, the hypodermic needle theory views the effects of mass media as being present instantly. Conversely it is the view of the Gerbner’s cultivation hypothesis, that “television has long-term effects which are small, gradual, indirect but cumulative and significant” (Chandler, 1996, p.1). Hence, the two perspectives do agree that mass media effects audiences directly, but diverge in both the nature of effects and the timespan necessary to induce such an effect.

    An interesting takeaway from the writings about the cultivation hypothesis is how TV is depicted as a root of evil and bad things. Gerbner et al. (1985) describes how the depictions of violent acts on television lead audiences to believe that the same level of violent acts exists in reality. Consequently, a “mean world syndrome” occurs among heavy viewers which cause them to believe that the world is a nastier place than it actually is” (Chandler, 1995). Furthermore it is noted how TV causes children to be more violent. Although it is not specifically stated that TV is a bad thing, the effects of heavy TV use are mainly portrayed as negative. Remembering how Putnam (2000) found that “Heavy television watching by young people is associated with civic ignorance, cynicism, and lessened political involvement in later years, along with reduced academic achievement and lower earnings later in life” (Putnam, 2000, p.237), one is left to wonder why people even watch TV in the first place.

    Many of the perspectives we have studied during the course of this semester have applied rather pessimistic views on the effects of media and technology. Digital divide, echo chambers and knowledge gaps are some of the more recent examples. Although I do acknowledge these perspectives, I think that all of this negativity is rather uncalled for. In my opinion, technology and technological development are good things that bring an abundance of possibilities and wonderful things with them. After all, it is much more fun to be an optimists than a pessimist :).


    Chandler, D. (1995, September 18). Cultivation Theory. Retreived from

    Gerbner, G., Gross, L., Morgan, M. & Signorielli, N. (1980). The “mainstreaming” of
    America: Violence profile No. 11. Journal of Communication, 30, 10–29.

    Putnam, R. D. (2000). Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

    Sparks, G. G. (2010). Media effects research: A basic overview (3rd ed.). Boston, MA: Wadsworth.

  • November 16, 2014 at 3:26 pm

    A few nights ago, I was over at my mother’s house watching TV with her. We caught a few seconds of a story about recent rapes in Bloomington, Indiana where I was going to see a band play that Saturday. She immediately told me I was not allowed to be left alone under any circumstance and preferably would have my boyfriend with me at all times. We knew nothing about the victims or circumstances surrounding the rapes but she immediately reacted with fear and distrust. She is a classic example of Mean World syndrome.

    Daniel Chandler (1995) describes television as having “long-term effects which are small, gradual, indirect but cumulative and significant” (para. 1). I have observed this in the case of my mother. She definitely fits in the heavy TV viewer category and most of the shows on her DVR are crime shows such as CSI, Elementary, and Hawaii Five-O. Over the years, she has become more and more paranoid to the point where when I leave her house I have to text her I have arrived home safely when I live only one block away. Television is not fully to blame but as Gerbner says in “The Man Who Counts the Killings”, television “contributes to this or that. The extent of contribution varies. But it’s there.” (Stossell, “The Mean World Syndrome” section, para. 13). I am sure these shows contribute to her fear because she often cites them as evidence that she is not being as overprotective as I accuse her of being.

    I watch many of these shows with my mother so why has my worldview not skewed towards the bad as much as hers? Here Gerbner, Gross, Morgan, and Signorelli (1980) can be of help with their explanation of the concept of resonance. Resonance is “the amplification of issues particularly salient to certain groups of viewers” (p.10). These TV shows often focus on the parents and family of the crime victims more than on the victims themselves. They are the ones who talk to the investigators and whose emotions we see while the victims are often only portrayed in pictures or reenactments of the crime itself. As a parent, my mother gets hit not only by the crime but also by the effect she witnesses it having on the fictional parents. I, a non-parent, do not get the same double dose.


    Chandler, D. (1995) Cultivation Theory. Retrieved November 16, 2014 from

    Gerbner, G., Gross, L., Morgan, M., & Signorelli, N. (1980) The “Mainstreaming” of America: Violence Profile No.11. Journal of Communication, 30(3), 10-29. Doi: 10.111/j.1460-2466.1980.tbo1987.x

    Stossell, S. (1997) The Man Who Counts the Killings. The Atlantic. Retrieved from

    • November 18, 2014 at 8:59 am

      Excellent and quite refined way at explaining one possible meaning of resonance…

  • November 16, 2014 at 11:52 pm

    The Cultivation theory, developed from the long-term research project Cultural Indicators, is a very interesting and bold perspective to look at the effects of television on people’s attitude formation. This theory attempts to examine how watching television can shape the viewers’ view of the real world (Chandler, 1995). The answer the Cultivation theorists have is that the effects are “small, gradual, indirect but cumulative and significant” (Chandler, 1995). Though confidence in these effects is still not solidified, using television programs to change viewers’ attitudes has already been adopted and practiced. One good example will be the educational entertainment which focuses on fulfilling educational purposes in an entertaining manner. The primary purpose of educational entertainment is to promote social change, the rationale behind which is obvious that the similar effects indicated in Cultivation theory are held true by the educational entertainment program producers.

    Gerbner et al. (1980) further elaborated on the Cultivation theory and focused on two concepts pertinent to previous findings: “mainstreaming” and “resonance”. “Mainstreaming” refers to that heavy television viewers tend to develop common and homogeneous views while light viewers are likely to hold divergent views because of their various sources of information. Particularly, the mainstreaming effect has discussed the absence of other factors and social forces in shaping viewers’ real world view (Gerbner et al., 1980). “Resonance” discusses an amplified cultivation pattern when what viewers see on television is well corresponding to what they see in reality. This resonance of TV reality and world reality reinforced the cultivation effects (Gerbner et al., 1980). In mapping out the Cultivation theory, it is not hard to find that the cultivation theory views the “reality” portrayed by television programs as unified, therefore it is easier to compare the unified TV reality with the real world reality. In addition, the Cultivation theory sees audiences as passive recipients of information who process information in a passive manner and rely on television as the primary source of information (heavy viewers). It would be interesting, yet challenging, to examine if these premises would still be applicable in today’s media environment.

    Firstly, the unified reality in television programs might be called to question in the media environment available to all users now. As discussed in the Echo Chamber and Filter Bubble effects, the highly customized and personalized features of media technology are crippling people’s connection to a larger world. The perceived reality users of the technology hold may vary dramatically. To some degree, the reality people gain knowledge of from the media technology is very similar to the reality they are experiencing in the real world since they have the abilities to customize their knowledge of the “outside world”. In this respect, mainstreaming effect might be hard to measure. However, it still leaves possibility for the cultivation of resonance since the online reality can resonate with the offline reality due to the customization features.

    Furthermore, the passive characteristics of viewers probably need a second thought. It is reasonable to believe that passive audiences will process the information they are exposed to and act accordingly. However, if the issue has a high personal relevance to the viewers or the users of the modern media technology, the viewers are more likely to become active audiences who will seek information actively instead of processing information passively. This group of active viewers might still be heavy viewers of television, but the television is not likely to be their sole source of information, considering the wide possibilities of available sources they have nowadays. How the active viewers shape their world view could be very different from how the passive viewers shape their view. The Cultivation theory needs to be further weighed when understanding its viewers with a different characteristic.

    Chandler, D. (1995, 18 September). Cultivation Theory. Retrieved from

    Gerbner, G., Gross, L., Morgan, M., & Signorielli, N. (1980). The “Mainstreaming” of America: Violence Profile No. 11. Journal of Communication, 30(3), 10-29

  • November 17, 2014 at 7:52 am

    Cultivation Theory is alive and well in today’s legal society. Cultivation Theory suggests that mass media, as a social agent, affects it viewers by changing the viewer’s reality to more reflect the reality portrayed on television (Chandler, 1995). Amongst attorneys, Judges, law enforcement, and technical specialists or expert witnesses (i.e., DNA and fingerprint experts) this phenomena is known as the “CSI Effect.” CSI Effect occurs when members of general society increase the demands for issues, like DNA evidence, based on their knowledge of the subjects from viewing television shows like “CSI” or “Law and Order.” This perception is then carried with the persons into the court room if they are selected for jury duty (Shelton, 2008). As someone that has spent a considerable amount of time in a courtroom, I believe the CSI Effect is changing the way jurisprudence in this country is being practiced. From the inception of a criminal case to the final verdict by the jury or judge, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and law enforcement must prepare for the questions that are raised by victims and the accused concerning evidence. The simplest case can be affected, take for example theft. I worked a theft case where a subject had several items stolen from the vehicle they owned. The broken side window was the point of entry and all items were snatched through the window. As an investigator, the victim could not understand why the police had not gathered fingerprints and run them through my system. I attempted to explain the perpetrator seemingly did not touch anything other than the items taken and we cannot just “dust” a whole car for prints, not to mention there were likely thousands of prints in the car belonging to hundreds of people. The victim literally stated he saw them so it “on some cop show”!
    The problem gets even greater for attorneys attempting to present/dispute complicated evidence to a jury. The Bar Association, a group consisting of attorneys who set training standards, has begun to offer training classes (CLE) to assist attorneys in how to address the issue of CSI Effect (Dysart, 2012). Additionally, many jurists ask the jurors, after the verdict, why they decided the case the way they did. Many times the answer is that the jurors attached a high level of importance to the technical evidence and the expert that presented that evidence. And in cases that involve highly technical issues, the jury will sometimes believe in technology that does not even exist, as they saw it on a TV crime show (Shelton, 2008). I like to call this the “James Bond-CSI Linkage.” JB-CSI refers to the attachment of non-existent social media technology to a real life problem, resulting in a conclusion, based on an impossibility. Juries are now demanding more evidence of this nature and the legal community may not be able to provide it, as it just might not exist! Everyone is now an expert, thanks to CSI (Heinrick, 2006).

    Chandler, D. (1995). Cultivation Theory. Retrieved from

    Dysart, K.L. (2012). Managing the CSI Effect in Jurors. American Bar Association. Retrieved from

    Heinrick, J. (2006). Everyone’s an Expert: The CSI Effect’s Negative Impact on Juries. The Triple Helix; Fall 2006.

    Shelton, D. (2008). The CSI Effect: Does it Really Exist? National Institute of Justice; NCJ 221501.

    • November 18, 2014 at 9:06 am

      I am no ready to reject that claim that cultivation and the CSI effect are connected, but I am not convinced that the evidence for the connection is in this comment. What do you think? How can we make the connection complete?

  • November 17, 2014 at 11:56 am

    Gerbner and his colleagues (1980) stated that watching television has long-term effect that gradually influences the audiences’ perception of the real world. Heavy viewers of television tend to believe media messages more and therefore have the “Mean world syndrome”, which leads to the audience believe the world they are in is more terrible and dangerous then it truly is. Gerbner and his colleagues also developed the “Cultural Indicators” to measure that how many violent content that the children have watched on television in order to explore the negative effects of media. Cultivation theory contains two orders. The first order is the perception of the real world; and the second order is a specific attitude. According to Gerber, the media cultivating process mechanism is that there is a relation between violent media content exposure and mean world syndrome, which leads to the audiences’ specific attitudes about the perceived world, such as a specific attitude of the law and order. According to the theory, media may create a “mainstreaming” for peoples’ perception. If audience have experienced what they have seen on television, they will have resonance effect to intensify the cultivation effect. I think the filter bubble effect can be used to expand how media content cultivates the audiences’ perception in the social media age. With the development of communication technology, media are no longer one-way channels, but channels that give users the ability to interact with the content, which expands and strengthens the media’s influence. Audiences can receive more personalized information based on their own “ideological frames” (Weisberg, 2011) and, therefore, the media effects can be stronger than ever.
    Cultivation theory and the filter bubble effect both only focus on how media shapes and cultivates audiences’ perceptions of the social reality. Will these perceived realities turn to behaviors? Social cognitive theory is the best theory to explain how media’s demonstration affects human attitude and behaviors. The audiences’ perceived social reality are greatly influenced by vicarious experience, and their images of reality increasingly depend on the media’s symbolic environment (Bandura, 2001). If the media frequently demonstrate how people get away with violent behavior, and frequently portray violent behavior, media content would disinhibit certain behaviors (Bandura, 2001, p. 280). Malamuth and his colleagues conducted a series of studies examining the impact of exposure to sexual violence in the media on perception of rape and its victims (Linz & Malamuth, 1993). They found that males who have watched rape-related films are more likely to have fantasies of sexual offenses than males who have watched films depicting congenial love. The respondents frequently exposed to violent pornography are often desensitized and don’t believe violence is a serious problem or can’t perceive rape victim suffering; thus, they have less compassion for victims in rape trials (Linz & Malamuth, 1993). All these perception could disinhibit certain behaviors (Bandura, 2001, p. 280). In the digital age, Internet and social media could affect people more significantly than traditional media because interactive and multimedia nature intensifies peoples’ involvement in online activity and increases the frequency of their use of the Internet. In a nutshell, cultivation theory, the filter bubble effect and social cognitive theory can complement each other to explain peoples’ perception and attitude change, as well as the psychological mechanism of behavioral formation.

    Bandura, A. (2001). Social cognitive theory of mass media. Media psychology, 3, 265-299.
    Gerbner, G., Gross, L., Morgan, M., & Signorielli, N. (1980). The “mainstreaming” of America: Violence profile no. 11. Journal of communication,30(3), 10-29.
    Linz, D., & Malamuth, N. (1993). Pornography. Londom: Sage.
    Linz, D., Donnerstein, E., & Penrod, S. (1984). The effect of multiple exposures to filmed
    violence against women. Journal of Communication, 34, 130-147.
    Weisberg, J. ‘Bubble Trouble, Is Web Personalization Turning Us Into Solipsistic Twits?’
    Slate, 10 June 2011,
    bubble_trou- ble.html.


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