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Last updated:

February 14,  2001



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Cultivation Theory

Explanation of Theory: 

Gerbner’s cultivation theory says that television has become the main source of storytelling in today's society.  Those who watch four or more hours a day are labeled heavy television viewers and those who view less then four hours per day, according to Gerbner are light viewers.  Heavy viewers are exposed to more violence and therefore are effected by the Mean World Syndrome, an idea that the world is worse then it actually is.  According to Gerbner, the overuse of television is creating a homogeneous and fearful populace. 

Theorists: George Gerbner


Primary Article: 
    Gerbner, G. & Gross, L. (1976). Living with television: The violenceprofile. Journal of Communication, 26, 76.

Metatheoretical Assumptions:

Ontological Assumptions:
determanistic---X----------------free will 

Epistemological Assumptions: 

Axiological Assumptions: 
value neutral---------X------------value laden

Individual Interpretations and Critique:  The cultivation theory is a scientific theory.  Epistimologically speaking, Gerbner believes in one truth.  The theory does not believe television viewers have a choice in whether they are effected by media violence or not.  Lastly, Gerbner allows some of his own values to enter into the theory by deciding what to consider violence and by assigning a numerical value to heavy television viewing.  Gerber’s idea of the effects heavy television viewing is intriguing.  There is definitely support to show that those who watch great amounts of television do experience the mean world syndrome, the definition of ‘heavy’ needs to be reexamined.  Gerbner defines heavy television viewing as watching four or more hours a day.  The idea of setting a numerical value to try to equate heavy influence to a mass populace is suspect.  While the theory does contain some holes it adequately opens the discussion dealing with effects of the media upon viewers. 

Ideas and Implications: The effects of Gerbner’s mean world syndrome can easily be seen in nursing homes.  Many occupants of nursing homes watch many hours of television per day without leaving their rooms to actually see what the real world is like.  Having only the media to guide their interpretation of the ‘real world’, nursing home residents believe that the world is a corrupt and violent place. 

Relevant Researchers:
Demers, David 
Salwen, Michael Brian 
Potter, James W. 
Hobart, Mark

Relevant Articles: 
     Gandy, O.H., Jr., & Baron, J. (1998). Inequality: its all the way you look at it. Communication Research, 25, 505-528.
     Potter, W.J. (1990). Adolescents’ perceptions of the primary values of television programming. Journalism Quarterly, 67, 843-852.
     Shrum, L.J. (1997). The role of source confusion in cultivation effects may depend on processing strategy: A comment on Mares (1996). Human Communication Research, 24, 349-359.

Location in Eight (8) Primary Communication Theory Textbooks:

  Anderson, R., & Ross, V. (1998). Questions of communication: A practical introduction to theory (2nd ed.). New York: St. Martin's Press. 
Page 255
     Cragan, J. F., & Shields, D.C. (1998). Understanding communication theory: The communicative forces for human action. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon. 
Page 265
     Griffin, E. (2000). A first look at communication theory (4th ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill. 
Page 349
     Griffin, E. (1997). A first look at communication theory (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.
Page 353 
     Infante, D. A., Rancer, A. S., & Womack, D. F. (1997). Building communication theory (3rd ed.). Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press.
Page 383 
     Littlejohn, S. W. (1999). Theories of human communication (6th ed). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Page 344 
     West, R., & Turner, L. H. (2000). Introducing communication theory: Analysis and application. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield.
Page 318 
     Wood, J. T. (1997). Communication theories in action: An introduction. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Page 291