Cultivation Theory of Media

It is a commonly held notion that what we watch and listen to shapes us on a personal level. The advice to be attentive to what we consume has been passed down to us for generations. Psychological and sociological literature has recently taken an interest in this belief and conducted some systematic inquiry into its nature and characteristics.

What is the Cultivation Theory of Media?

Cultivation theory is a social science theory that explores the longitudinal effects of television on audiences, particularly how people's perceptions of reality are shaped by their media consumption. The theory was developed by George Gerbner and his colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania in the 1970s. According to cultivation theory, people who watch much television are more likely to have a distorted worldview because they are exposed to a narrow range of experiences and perspectives through the media. This can lead to the "mean world syndrome," where people perceive the world as more dangerous and hostile than it is.

According to the notion, media effects take the form of gradual formations on cave floors that take on their intriguing shapes due to the constant drop of limewater from the cave ceilings. The media "usually portrays an image of the world that does not represent reality," according to Gerbner and his colleagues in 1980. Since television is the medium studied, theorists note that television pictures are exaggerated or fantastical and removed from reality. It makes the case that audiences still view television in the same partisan way they do in the real world.

According to Gerbner and his study group, television messages do not accurately depict the state of the globe. However, as perceptions about the world and society are formed via continuous exposure and reinforcement, the impact of depicted messages must be addressed. The art of storytelling serves as the foundation for Gerbner's explanation of the causes of media's impact on viewers. He notes that humans are the only species that inhabit a world built by our tales. In the past, telling stories was a handmade, homegrown, and community-driven activity, and it has now been through a difficult production and marketing procedure.

Given the circumstances, a fresh diagnosis and a new treatment plan are required. The Cultural Indicators and Cultivation research initiatives sought to do that. Gerbner studied how television affected viewers who tuned in for an extended amount of time on a specific day and discovered that youngsters who watched for an average of four hours were drawn to the storylines, typically sponsored by companies that provide consumer goods. Gerbner and his colleagues worked on the cultivation difference due to this issue brought on by the persistent infiltration of contrived commercial messages.

The Effects of Media According to the Theory

Cultivation theory suggests that the more time people spend consuming media, the more their perceptions of the world are shaped by the messages and representations they see in the media. This can lead to several effects, including −

  • Increased fear of crime

  • Distorted perceptions of social norms and values

  • Furthermore, a tendency to rely on media messages as a primary source of information about the world.

Each of the effects will be examined in detail in the following paragraphs.

Media Consumption and Increased Fear of Crime

Research has shown that people who consume a lot of crime-related media tend to fear crime more, even if they live in relatively safe areas. This is because the media often portrays crime and violence in a more sensationalized and exaggerated way, which can lead people to believe that the world is more dangerous than it is. Additionally, the media often focuses on the most extreme and unusual crimes rather than the more common and mundane crimes that people are more likely to experience. This can create a distorted view of crime and make people believe they are at greater risk of victimization than they are.

Vigilance and caution are healthy for an individual. Overindulgence in any one of the aspects becomes an issue once it leads them to develop a biased perception of the world. People with prejudiced beliefs against a social group may find them to be the reason for the prevailing crime they notice. It is important to recognize that media consumption can affect a person's perception of reality and to be mindful of the media one consumes. It can be helpful to seek balanced and accurate information about crime and safety and remember that media often do not provide a complete or accurate picture of the world.

Media Consumption and Distorted Perception of Social Norms and Values

Media consumption can also affect people's perception of social norms and values. This is because media, including television, movies, music, and social media, often portray certain behaviors, attitudes, and values as being more prevalent or acceptable than they are. For example, media may portray certain types of relationships, lifestyles, or body types as ideal or desirable, even if they are not representative of the diversity of the human experience. This can create a distorted view of what is normal or acceptable and may lead people to feel pressure to conform to certain standards or expectations.

Additionally, media may depict certain behaviors or attitudes as being more common or accepted than they are, leading people to believe that these behaviors or attitudes are more prevalent in society. This can affect a person's perception of what is acceptable or normal in their community and may lead to misunderstandings or conflicts. This necessitates recognizing that media do not accurately reflect the human experience's complexity and diversity. It is important to consider multiple sources of information and be open to different perspectives and experiences.

Overreliance on Media for Information

One needs to be aware of the potential for overreliance on the media for information and solutions. While media can be a valuable source of information and provide useful insights and ideas, it is important to recognize that media only sometimes provide a complete or accurate picture of reality. The media often focuses on sensational or unusual stories rather than the more mundane or common aspects of life, which, as mentioned above, can create a distorted view of the world. Additionally, the media may present information in a biased or misleading way and may only sometimes provide a full and balanced perspective on complex issues.

It is important to be critical of the information that one consumes from the media and to seek out multiple sources to understand an issue completely. It is also important to be aware of the potential for media to influence one's perceptions and attitudes and to be mindful of the media that one consumes. In addition to seeking out information from multiple sources, it is important to engage in critical thinking and consider multiple perspectives when seeking solutions to problems. This helps ensure that decisions are based on a well-rounded and informed understanding of an issue rather than relying on a single source of information or a particular perspective.

Significance of Cultivation Theory

Television provides viewers with various ideas and conceptions about social and cultural undercurrents in society, such as race, gender, and sexuality. The majority of what people watched on television, in Gerbner's opinion, was violence, and he was particularly worried that this cultivated the idea that the world was a violent place. As part of the storyline, he described it as the overt manifestation of physical force (with or without a weapon), demanding activity against one's will on penalty of being harmed and murdered or threatened to be thus victimized.

People utilize the shows as a guide to go about their lives over time, and continual exposure to media material shapes people's values, beliefs, attitudes, and wants. Understanding cultivation theory becomes increasingly important as television dependence grows in the modern world. The growing dependence may be linked to nature television, which is meant to assist viewers more than any other media in comprehending the complex web of social conventions, values, and thinking.

Limitations of Cultivation Theory

The assertions made by cultivation analysis are contested, and there are concerns that the theory is only sometimes effective in explaining the occurrence thoroughly. According to researchers, not all television programming features violence. Therefore, small-screen programming cannot always be blamed for instilling a sense of aggression in viewers. The cultivation idea has also come under fire from researchers for failing to include viewers' comprehension capacity.

A viewer will interpret the message based on their perspective, which raises questions regarding how humans see the world. Rather than focusing on the amount of television seen, attention should be paid to content-shaping perceptions. While coming to a decision. The viewer's cognition abilities, including their capacity for concentration and thought, cannot be ignored by theory. The theory contends, however, that influence is more dependent on quantitative factors, such as frequency of viewing, and less on qualitative factors, such as perception, persuasion, and the impact of the material on the viewers.

Arguments about theory also center on the pre-existing traits of viewers who may opt to watch specific program genres, such as crime or violence, exclusively. Other external influences, such as concurrent use of another media, the viewer's personal experiences, the atmosphere in which they are watching, and the company of others, may impact how they perceive television. According to certain research, binge-watching may only sometimes impact how someone behaves or perceives the world.

It is challenging to demonstrate a causal connection between the viewer and the media since people might not see what they see on television as genuine. The effects on the spectator may alter if s/he is aware that what s/he is witnessing is fictitious.


It is important to recognize the potential for media to shape an individual's perceptions and attitudes and to be mindful of the media one consumes. It is also important to seek out multiple sources of information and be open to different perspectives to get a well-rounded and accurate understanding of the world.

Updated on: 27-Apr-2023


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