What is the Cultivation Theory in Reference to Media

Cultivation Theory is one of the most interesting social theories to have explored the impact of media on society. Attributed to Professors George Gerbner and Larry Gross of the University of Pennsylvania, the cultivation theory historically examines the role of television in American society.

It is perhaps most appropriate that the theory take roots in the 1960s and 70s when the rock music and hippie culture was the order of the day. It was the time when TV programming featuring violence, witnessed raging popularity, especially amongst the young and impressionable.

The cultivation theory went beyond the realms of impact to study the domino effect of television viewing on the society at large over a period of time. The content analysis methodology examined the subject of television programming, whereas the cultural indication analysis sought response to television programs.

Based on the premise of a strong correlation between media, television exposure and societal effect, the cultivation theorists focused on the passive effect and attitudes vis-a-vis heavy, medium and light media usage.

The mean world syndrome is one such theory that springs from the misconceptions about violence in everyday lives. Those with less media and television exposure are found to have a pragmatic approach to violence, whilst heavy users are found to lose their sense of perception regarding violence and crime in society.

The first-order cultivation effect focuses on the effect upon heavy viewers who “overstated the likelihood of being the victim of a crime.” The second order cultivation effect deals with the general effect upon heavy viewers who are “more likely to view the world as a mean or scary place.” ( K. Miller, Communication theories: Perspectives, processes and contexts) This proves that more the exposure, more is the likelihood of viewing life close to the media depiction of reality. An individual will thus most probably integrate the television content he views into real-life perceptions and judgments.

The resonance effect which is more of a ‘double dose effect,’ was forwarded by Professor Gerbner. This was evident where the viewer’s life was in congruence with those depicted in television programming. For instance, when the viewer’s neighborhood was similar to that shown on television, which is predominantly urban. Violent content ‘resonates’ more in this theory.

The strongest examples would be women who watch more of the fashion programs on television, who are likely to believe that thinness is good and develop a lower self-esteem about their bodies.