• Developed by George Gerbner in the late
1960s, it represented a shift from the
limited effects paradigm of Paul Lazarsfeld
that had dominated since the 1940s.
• Cultivation theory (also called cultivation
analysis) is called a stalagmite theory
• Because it suggests that media effects
occur like the slow buildup of formations
on cave floors, which take their interesting
forms after eons of the steady dripping of
limewater from the cave ceilings above.
Origins of Cultivation Theory
• As a perspective, cultivation developed in
the context of the increasing growth of
television. Gerbner established the
“Cultural Indicators” research project, to
study whether and how watching
television may influence viewers' ideas of
what the everyday world is like.
Cultivation Theory Principles
• Suggests that television is responsible for
shaping, or ‘cultivating’ viewers’ conceptions of
• The combined effect of massive television
exposure by viewers over time subtly shapes the
perception of social reality for individuals and,
ultimately, for our culture as a whole
• Cultivation theorists argue that television has
long-term effects which are small, gradual,
indirect but cumulative and significant.
• According to Gerbner, the main thing that
people saw on television was violence and
he was especially concerned that it
“cultivated” the view among people that
the world was a violent place
• What was dramatic violence according to
• He defined it as “ the overt expression of
physical force (with or without weapon),
compelling action against one’s will on
pain of being hurt and/or killed or
threatened to be so victimized, as part of
• Included: Dramas, cartoons, news and
• Gerbner and his colleagues studied television
programming for 22 years. Each year, they
randomly selected a week and recorded prime
time programming as well as children’s weekend
• Identified quantity of violence in programs and
found these to be stable over time. For
instance, dramas that include violence,
averaged 5 violent incidents per viewing hour.
• However, they found significant
inequalities in victimhood with older
people, women and minorities particularly
• So even though minorities were underrepresented on television, when they
appeared, they were much more likely to
be victims of violence
• To analyze the effects of the violence,
Gerbner correlated the data from his
content analysis of television with survey
data from people who were classified
based on the amount of time they spent
watching television and questioned about
their views on violence in the world.
• Gerbner classified people into two groups:
• Heavy watchers (over 4 hours per day)
• Light Watchers (less than 2 hours per day)
He predicted that heavy viewers saw the
world as more dangerous than light
• Using a survey, he targeted four attitudes
1.Chances of Involvement with violence
Light viewers predicted their weekly odds
of being involved in violence were 1 in 100
while heavy viewers said it they were 1
2. Fear of walking alone at night
Women were more afraid than men, but
both sexes who were heavy viewers,
overestimated criminal activity, believing it to
be ten times more than figures indicate.
3. Perceived activity of police
Heavy viewers believed that about 5% of
society is involved with law enforcement. In
comparison, light viewers estimated 1 %.
4. General mistrust of people
People who were heavy viewers tended to
see other people’s actions and motives
Gerbner called this “the mean world
Based on this research, Gerbner sought to
quantify in percentage terms the differences
in the answers of light and heavy television
viewers about violence in the world. He
called this “the cultivation differential.”
The Cultural Indicators research thus
indicated that heavy viewers were
susceptible to a perception that the
world was a dangerous place.
• The Cultural Indicators project of Gerbner
also found that heavy watching of television
affected viewers through “mainstreaming”
Mainstreaming is the process by which
heavy viewing of television resulted in a
similarity of perspective among viewers who
varied in education and economic class.
With regard to mainstreaming, Gerbner
argued that unlike radio which focused on
very narrow slices of the audience,
television sought a broader audience which
it homogenized so that heavy viewers had
similar views which they self-identified
• Resonance is the process by which heavy
viewing of television affects viewers who
have first-hand experience of violence.
Gerbner argued that the portrayal of
violence causes viewers to relive the
experience over and over again.
• “ The congruence of the television world
and real-life circumstances may resonate
and lead to markedly amplified cultivation
Cultivation Theory in Other
Hargreaves and Tiggemann undertook a
study in 2003, to apply this approach to the
impact of images of undernourished women
that appeared in television ads on girls.
They showed different sets of ads to two
groups of girls, one set with the
undernourished women and one set without.
• They found that the girls who saw the ads
with the very thin models, not only had
immediate episodes of insecurity and
distress about their weight, but that two
years later they had greater dissatisfaction
with their bodies, as compared to the other
group of girls.
• The researchers concluded that a feasible
"link between individual reactive 'episodes'
of dissatisfaction in response to specific
media images and the development of
body image is that enduring attitudes,
beliefs, and feelings about bodies and
appearance accumulate over time through
repeated exposure to ideals of
attractiveness in the media"