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