The Cultivation Theory

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The effect of television exposure on people's social realities is explained by the cultivation theory. The idea is that individuals who watch a lot of television have a propensity to perceive reality as shown on the screen rather than as it actually appears. The cultivation theory of mass communication and its use in research papers will be evaluated in this essay. The study will demonstrate that this theory is not only correct but also perfect using the many concepts of a good theory. Using the cultivation theory, it is true that high frequency television viewers are susceptible to messages from the media to the extent that they uphold the ideologies as valid and real.

Theoretical Overview

Among the major assumptions of the cultivation theory is that television is currently a part of life and it is impossible to live without one (Gerbner et al., 2002). Gerbner and his colleagues posit that today people spend a lot of time watching television that they engage in other normal activities such as eating and sleeping. For this reason, messages being spread through the television are a major source of information as well as entertainment. A lot of people pick up attitudes, ideologies and concepts from the television since it is the one gadget that people use to obtain information.

A second tenet provided by Gerbner and his colleagues is that television has made major changes in the lives of people mainly because they spend time listening to it consciously or unconsciously. It is impossible to get rid of television at the moment because people have gotten used to it as a source of information as well as entertainment (Gerbner et al., 2002). Since this covers all aspects f human life, a lot of information that is applied in real life is gleaned from the television. As a result, they end up applying the same concepts in real life and this has an impact on the way they view various concepts in life.

The issue with watching television is that the more you do it the more it affects the way you do different things. The scholars suggested that people who watch a lot of television end up believing that some of the ideologies presented in the media are absolutely true. As a result, they do not know how to differentiate reality from anything invalid presented through the television. Gerbner and his colleagues used this data to suggest that since people end up applying concepts learnt in television in real life, then the media has a way of cultivating perceptions in people.

Gerbner further made the assumption that since high frequency watching of television affects perception, then the process forces people to integrate or cultivate media messages into the real world. For example, young people start imitating the dressing style of most celebrities even if the clothing does not concur with their culture. The idea here is that watching television makes it difficult for people to perform other activities such as reading or even socializing. Once this happens, the television becomes an educative and socializing tool. For example, children tend to watch too much television over the holidays and they learn both positive and negative concepts.

Theory Development and Research

Mosharafa (2015) takes a critical perspective in the analysis of the cultivation theory where she confirms that the theory is still applicable even several years later. According to Mosharafa (2015), the cultivation theory explains the negative aspects of too much television watching as media has the ability to shape the perception of an individual. From this research, the cultivation theory can be used to explain why television is responsible for shaping the general beliefs and moral values of individuals. The researcher uses the theory from various environments expected to be symbolic including; storytelling, television traits, cultural model and the development of certain value system.

From the symbolic environment, Mosharafa (2015) explains that human beings that do not live under the compulsion of gratification of needs and thus they acquire knowledge from experiences. Furthermore, the researcher claims that Gerbner's three modes of storytelling portray the various ways with which the cultivation theory can be used to explain the change in behavior as a result of television watching. Furthermore, the researcher uses the cultivation theory to assert that television has a symbolic function in the cognitive abilities of human beings. The needs and wants of human beings such as fashion are controlled by television and the media.

In another research by Lau (2015), the researcher systematically analyzes examples from various researches to confirm that the cultivation theory has a practical application. Using examples such as fashion and the way internet (which has replaced television) affect the youth, the researcher brings out the practicability of the cultivation theory. Apparently, young people and most of the older generation have borrowed numerous ideologies from what the media says. Lau (2015) pinpoints concepts such as the purchase of phones and even mundane things like the acquisition of accents. From this research, it is obvious that television is the sole provider of information today, and it has affected the way people think and perceive a variety of ideologies. The acceptance or rejection of a certain idea is largely connected to the messages spread through the television.

Another practical application of the cultivation theory is evident in the music portrays the consumption of alcohol and drugs. Apparently, most of the young people who consume alcohol and drugs do it simply because they saw some celebrities engaging in the same activity (Beullens, Roe and Van den Bulck, 2012). This is especially common in most music videos and the researchers confirm that the behavior is picked on almost automatically. Television affects the cognitive abilities of the minds of young people because they are highly impressionable. Thus, the cultivation theory makes a lot of sense while analyzing the impact of television on some negative behaviors such as the consumption of drugs and alcohol.

From a psychosocial health perspective, Hammermeister et al., (2005) claim that people who are heavy television watchers tend to think that they can acquire a medical miracle quite easily as the same ideas are portrayed in the television. In this experimental study, fictional television program watchers uphold the impression that medical miracles are likely to come their way quite easily. The researchers use the cultivation theory to develop the hypothesis that television programs have a way of transforming the attitudes, behaviors and other cognitive processes. Apparently, this impact goes as far as body image issues where some young people believe that being thin is better than having a few extra kilograms. As a result, they change their eating habits since that is what they see on television.

In another experimental study, Jamieson and Romer (2014) use the cultivation theory to confirm that too much exposure to violence on television develops the fear of crime in people. The researchers used a time series model where they exposed participants to television programs filled with violence. Their results confirm that violence in television programs has a direct influence in the development of fear of crime. Instead of the violent programs advocating for the occurrence of crimes in individuals, they went ahead and made people fear crime generally.

From the results, the researchers confirm that the cultivation theory is applicable in explaining both an increase and a reduction in crime rates because of the positive and negative influences of the messages spread through the media. For example, television programs that show the violence of gangs and mafias deter a lot of people from engaging in such activities. Thus, they opine that television programs drive viewers into a world of fiction that transforms their perception of crime.


From a practical point of view the cultivation theory has not only been elaborately explained but researchers have meticulously explored its concepts. In regard to communication effects, it is evident that the theory gives a practical explanation to aspects such as the cognitive theory, priming effects and agenda setting among others. An analysis of the current issues such as fashion trends is a strong indicator that television has a strong impact as it pervades the environment. If the society is to explain aspects such as the spread of western dressing culture across the world, then this theory makes more sense.

From an accuracy point of view, several aspects make the cultivation theory one of the best approaches of describing some concepts that portray a certain pattern or image. According to Dainton and Zelley (2015), analyzing the accuracy of a theory examines whether the available research supports the theory and the way it works. From the research above, all the researches use practical examples to explain the accuracy of the cultivation theory. For example, the research by Lau cites the work of scholars such as Lewis and Shewmaker (2011) who confirm that youth behave as the celebrities that they love viewing or are constantly watching on the internet.

A third perspective of evaluating a theory as per the view of Dainton and Zelley (2015) is simplicity. Under this concept, a theory is supposed to be as simple as possible so that it becomes easy to understand and apply. The cultivation theory is one of the most applicable theories in real life considering that it makes its hypothesis so simple - too much watching of television has an effect on the perception of reality. Several examples align with this concept as shown in the researches above.

The cultivation theory is a complement to the traditional approaches towards the effects of media on the perception of individuals. Using this theory, it is possible to make a confirmation that high frequency television viewers are affected by messages in the media. As a result, they tend to imagine the media messages as real. Initially, researchers were more concerned with change but they later used the relationship between violence and some television programs. However, the theory of cultivation makes it possible to be genre specific and this makes it a perfect theory.


Beullens, K., Roe, K., & Van den Bulck, J. (2012). Music Video Viewing as a Marker of Driving After the Consumption of Alcohol. Substance Use & Misuse, 47 (2), 155-165.

Gerbner, G., Gross, L., Morgan, M., Signorielli, N., & Shanahan, J. (2002). Growing up with television: Cultivation processes. In J. Bryant, D. Zillman (Eds.), Media effects: Advances in theory and research, 2nd edition (pp. 43-68). Mahwah NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Hammermeister, J., Brock, B., Winterstein, D., & Page, R. (2005). Life without TV? Cultivation theory and psychosocial health characteristics of television-free individuals and their television-viewing counterparts. Health Communication, 17(3), 253-264.

Jamieson, P. E., & Romer, D. (2014). Violence in popular U.S. prime time TV dramas and the cultivation of fear: A time series analysis. Media and Communication, 2(2), 31-41.

Lau, Y. H. (2015). Cultivation effects of television broadcasting and online media. New Media, Knowledge Practices and Multiliteracies, 19-21.

Mosharafa, M. (2015). All you Need to Know About: The Cultivation Theory. Global Journal of Human-Social Science: A Arts & Humanities - Psychology, 15 (8), Online ISSN: 2249-460x.

March 10, 2023
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