of a culture reflect and cultivate its most basic and fundamental
assumptions, ideologies, and values. Mass communication is the mass
production, distribution, and consumption of cultural stories. Cultivation
analysis, developed by George Gerbner and his colleagues, explores
the extent to which television viewers' beliefs about the "real
world" are shaped by heavy exposure to the most stable, repetitive,
and pervasive patterns that television presents, especially in its
dramatic entertainment programs.
analysis is one component of a long-term, ongoing research program,
called Cultural Indicators, which follows a three-pronged research
strategy. The first, called "institutional process analysis," investigates
the pressures and constraints that affect how media messages are
selected, produced, and distributed. The second, called "message
system analysis," quantifies and tracks the most common and recurrent
images in television content. The third, cultivation analysis, studies
whether and how television contributes to viewers' conceptions of
in the late 1960s, by the mid-1990s the bibliography of studies
relating to the Cultural Indicators project included over 300 scholarly
publications. Although early cultivation research was especially
concerned with the issue of television violence, over the years
the investigation has been expanded to include sex roles, images
of aging, political orientations, environmental attitudes, science,
health, religion, minorities, occupations, and other topics. Replications
have been carried out in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, England,
Germany, Hungary, Israel, the Netherlands, Russia, South Korea,
Sweden, Taiwan, and other countries.
and assumptions of cultivation analysis were designed to correct
for certain blind spots in traditional mass communication research.
Most earlier studies looked at whether individual messages or genres
could produce some kind of change in audience attitudes and behaviors;
in contrast, cultivation sees the totality of television's programs
as a coherent system of messages, and asks whether that system
might promote stability (or generational shifts) rather than immediate
change in individuals. Whereas most research and debate on, for
example, television violence has been concerned with whether violent
portrayals make viewers more aggressive, Gerbner and his colleagues
claimed that heavy exposure to television was associated with exaggerated
beliefs about the amount of violence in society.
analysis is not concerned with the impact of any particular program,
genre, or episode. It does not address questions of style, artistic
quality, aesthetic categories, high vs. low culture, or specific,
selective "readings" or interpretations of media messages. Rather,
cultivation researchers are interested in the aggregate patterns
of images and representations to which entire communities are exposed--and
which they absorb--over long periods of time.
does not deny the importance of selective viewing, individual programs,
or differences in viewers' interpretations; it just sees these as
different research questions. It focuses on what is most broadly
shared, in common, across program types and among large groups of
otherwise heterogeneous viewers. No matter what impact exposure
to genre X may have on attitude Y, the cultivation perspective argues
that the consequences of television cannot be found in terms
of isolated fragments of the whole. The project is an attempt to
say something about the more broad-based ideological consequences
of a commercially-supported cultural industry celebrating consumption,
materialism, individualism, power, and the status quo along lines
of gender, race, class, and age. None of this denies the fact that
some programs may contain some messages more than others, that not
all viewers watch the same programs, or that the messages may change
somewhat over time.
The theory of
cultivation emphasizes the role that story-telling plays in human
society. The basic difference between human beings and other species
is that we live in a world that is created by the stories we tell.
Great portions of what we know, or think we know, come not from
personal or direct experience, but from many forms and modes of
story-telling. Stories-from myths and legends to sitcoms and cop
shows-tend to express, define, and maintain a culture's dominant
assumptions, expectations, and interpretations of social reality.
transformed the cultural process of story-telling into a centralized,
market-driven, advertiser-sponsored system. In earlier times, the
stories of a culture were told face-to-face by members of a community,
parents, teachers, or the clergy. Today, television tells most of
the stories to most of the people, most of the time. Story-telling
is now in the hands of global commercial conglomerates who have
something to sell. Most of the stories we now consume are not hand-crafted
works of individual expressive artists, but mass-produced by bureaucracies
according to strict market specifications. To be acceptable to enormous
audiences, the stories must fit into and reflect--and thereby sustain
and cultivate--the "facts" of life that most people take for granted.
For the Cultural
Indicators project, each year since 1967, week-long samples of U.S.
network television drama have been recorded and content analyzed
in order to delineate selected features and trends in the overall
world television presents to its viewers. In the 1990s, the analysis
has been extended to include the FOX network, "reality" programs,
and various new cable channels. Through the years, message system
analysis has focused on the most pervasive content patterns that
are common to many different types of programs but characteristic
of the system of programming as a whole, because these hold the
most significant potential lessons television cultivates.
the analyses of television's content are then used to formulate
questions about people's conceptions of social reality, often contrasting
television's "reality" with some other real-world criterion. Using
standard techniques of survey methodology, the questions are posed
to samples of children, adolescents, or adults, and the differences
(if any) in the beliefs of light, medium, and heavy viewers, other
things held constant, are assessed. The questions do not mention
television, and respondents' awareness of the source of their information
is seen as irrelevant.
and stable over-representation of well-off white males in the prime
of life pervades prime time. Women are outnumbered by men at a rate
of three to one and allowed a narrower range of activities and opportunities.
The dominant white males are more likely to commit violence, while
old, young, female, and minority characters are more likely to be
victims. Crime in prime time is at least 10 times as rampant as
in the real world, and an average of five to six acts of overt physical
violence per hour involve well over half of all major characters.
researchers have argued that these messages of power, dominance,
segregation, and victimization cultivate relatively restrictive
and intolerant views regarding personal morality and freedoms, women's
roles, and minority rights. Rather than stimulating aggression,
cultivation theory contends that heavy exposure to television violence
cultivates insecurity, mistrust, and alienation, and a willingness
to accept potentially repressive measures in the name of security,
all of which strengthens and helps maintain the prevailing hierarchy
of social power.
is not a linear, unidirectional, mechanical "effect," but part of
a continual, dynamic, ongoing process of interaction among messages
and contexts. Television viewing usually relates in different ways
to different groups' life situations and world views. For example,
personal interaction with family and peers makes a difference, as
do real-world experiences. A wide variety of socio-demographic and
individual factors produce sharp variations in cultivation patterns.
differences often illustrate a phenomenon called "mainstreaming,"
which is based on the idea that television has become the primary
common source of everyday culture of an otherwise heterogeneous
population. From the perspective of cultivation analysis, television
provides a relatively restricted set of choices for a virtually
unrestricted variety of interests and publics; its programs eliminate
boundaries of age, class, and region and are designed by commercial
necessity to be watched by nearly everyone.
means that heavy television viewing may erode the differences in
people's perspectives which stem from other factors and influences.
Mainstreaming thus represents a relative homogenization and an absorption
of divergent views and a convergence of disparate viewers. Cultivation
researchers argue that television contributes to a blurring of cultural,
political, social, regional, and class-based distinctions, the blending
of attitudes into the television mainstream, and the bending of
the direction of that mainstream to the political and economic tasks
of the medium and its client institutions.
has been a highly controversial and provocative approach; the results
of cultivation research have been many, varied, and sometimes counterintuitive.
The assumptions and procedures of cultivation analysis have been
vigorously critiqued on theoretical, methodological, and epistemological
grounds; extensive debates and colloquies (sometimes lively, sometimes
heated) continue to engage the scholarly community, and have led
to some refinements and enhancements.
researchers have looked inward, seeking cognitive explanations for
how television's images find their way into viewers' heads, and
some have examined additional intervening variables and processes
(e.g., perceived reality, active vs. passive viewing). Some have
questioned the assumption of relative stability in program content
over time and across genres, and emphasized differential impacts
of exposure to different programs and types. The spread of alternative
delivery systems such as cable and VCRs has been taken into account,
as has the family and social context of exposure. Increasingly complex
and demanding statistical tests have been applied. The paradigm
has been implemented in at least a dozen countries besides the U.S.
literature contains numerous failures to replicate its findings
as well as numerous independent confirmations of its conclusions.
The most common conclusion, supported by meta-analysis, is that
television makes a small but significant contribution to heavy viewers'
beliefs about the world. Given the pervasiveness of television and
even light viewers' cumulative exposure, finding any observable
evidence of effects at all is remarkable. Therefore, the discovery
of a systematic pattern of small but consistent differences between
light and heavy viewers may indicate far-reaching consequences.
sum, cultivation research is concerned with the most general consequences
of long-term exposure to centrally-produced, commercially supported
systems of stories. Cultivation analysis concentrates on the enduring
and common consequences of growing up and living with television:
the cultivation of stable, resistant, and widely shared assumptions
and conceptions reflecting the institutional characteristics and
interests of the medium itself and the larger society. Understanding
the dynamics of cultivation can help develop and maintain a sense
of alternatives essential for self-direction and self-government
in the television age. The cultivation perspective will become even
more important as we face the vast institutional, technological,
and policy-related changes in television the 21st century is sure
to bring. -Michael Morgan
Jennings. "The Road Most Traveled: Yet Another Cultivation Critique."
Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media (Washington, D.C.),
James M. Prime Time Law Enforcement: Crime Show Viewing and Attitudes
Toward the Criminal Justice System. New York: Praeger, 1985.
George. "Toward 'Cultural Indicators': The Analysis of Mass Mediated
Message Systems." Audio Visual Communication Review (Washington,
George. "Communication and Social Environment." Scientific American
(San Francisco, California), 1972.
George. "Cultural Indicators: The Third Voice." In, Gerbner, G.,
L. Gross, and W.H. Melody, editors. Communications Technology
and Social Policy. New York: John Wiley, 1973.
George, and Larry Gross. "Living With Television: The Violence Profile."
Journal of Communication (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 1976.
George, and Larry Gross. "Editorial Response: A Reply to Newcomb's
'Humanistic Critique.'" Communication Research (Beverly Hills,
George, Larry Gross, Michael Morgan, and Nancy Signorielli. "The
'Mainstreaming' of America: Violence Profile No. 11." Journal
of Communication (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 1980.
George, Larry Gross, Michael Morgan, and Nancy Signorielli. "A Curious
Journey Into the Scary World of Paul Hirsch." Communication Research
(Beverly Hills, California), 1981.
George, Larry Gross, Michael Morgan, and Nancy Signorielli. "Charting
the Mainstream: Television's Contributions to Political Orientations."
Journal of Communication (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 1982.
George, Larry Gross, Michael Morgan, and Nancy Signorielli. "Growing
Up With Television: The Cultivation Perspective." In, Bryant, J.
and & D. Zillmann, editors. Media Effects: Advances in Theory
and Research. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1994.
Robert P. and Suzanne Pingree. "Television's Influence on Social
Reality." In, Pearl, D., L. Bouthilet, and J. Lazar, editors. Television
and Behavior: Ten Years of Scientific Progress and Implications
for the 80s: Volume II, Technical Reviews. Rockville, Maryland:
National Institute of Mental Health, 1982.
Paul. "The 'Scary World' of the Nonviewer and Other Anomalies: A
Re-analysis of Gerbner et al.'s Findings of Cultivation Analysis."
Communication Research (Beverly Hills, California), 1980.
Gabriele, Karl Erik Rosengren, and James Stappers, editors. Cultural
Indicators: An International Symposium. Vienna, Austria: Verlag
der Osterreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1984.
Horace. "Assessing the Violence Profile of Gerbner and Gross: A
Humanistic Critique and Suggestion." Communication Research (Beverly
Hills, California), 1978.
Michael, and James Shanahan. Democracy Tango: Television, Adolescents,
and Authoritarian Tensions in Argentina. Cresskill, New Jersey:
Hampton Press, 1995.
Robert M. "Cultivation Analysis: Theory, Methodology, and Current
Research on Television-influenced Constructions of Social Reality."
Mass Comm Review (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 1987.
W. James. "Cultivation Theory and Research: A Conceptual Critique."
Human Communication Research (New Brunswick, New Jersey),
"Cultivation Theory and Research: A Methodological Critique."
Journalism Monographs (Austin, Texas), 1994.
Nancy, and Michael Morgan, editors. Cultivation Analysis: New
Directions in Media Effects Research. Newbury Park, California: