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Executive Summary

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on April 24, 2008 at 8:46:45 pm

In the 1960, civil unrest, and the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. convinced many people to study the effect that television affects people. Among this group was George Gerbner, dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, and Professor Larry Gross, director of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California, whom derived cultivation theory form several large-scale projects which studied the effects of television on the attitudes and behaviors of the public.

Cultivation Theory, to put it in simple terms, states that television viewing, over time, cultivates the viewer’s perception of reality. Cultivation Theory is not necessarily focused on the direct effects of television, such as a child watching a superhero flying which causes the child to jump out the window thinking he can fly; rather it deals with the long term effect of how one views the world. As an example of cultivation theory, if one watches a lot of violent crimes on television, either in news or shows, eventually they start to believe that violent crimes such as those occur on a regular basis in the real world, and thus starts being afraid of those crimes happening against them. Cultivation Theory also affects people who are not heavy watchers of television, since heavy television watchers tend to have an impact on culture.

There are several parts to cultivation theory. The first step is content analysis, which is studying the subject matter on television. The second step is the cultural indicators analysis, which studies people’s beliefs of what the world is like. The final step is cultivation analysis in which light television and heavy television viewers are compared, and if the heavy television viewers answer questions more in line with the findings of the content analysis, then researchers have support for cultivation theory.

In our research, we found several articles which show studies supporting cultivation theory. In a study done by the American Academy of Pediatrics, now television viewers were subjected to two hours of television watching a day. The study showed that while watching television helped these new viewers function in and understand social situations better, it also reported that watching television makes people mimic the violence and sexual behavior of those portrayed on shows and news (Hammermeister, et al, 2005). Another study focused on local television news in and around Philadelphia, the inner city and its suburbs. This study was conducted at a time when national crime rates were dropping, yet the local news was showing more and more crimes in its programming. The study showed that even though the crime rates were dropping the public still considered crime to be the biggest problem in the city, and showed an increase in the fear of crimes being committed against them (Romer, Jamieson, Aday 2003). Both of these studies attributed their results to cultivation theory.

The major criticism against cultivation theory is that it focuses on qualitative research rather than quantitative. Paul Hirsch, who has been one of the major opponents of cultivation theory, states that while content analysis deals in pure numbers and cannot be argued, the findings of the cultural indicator analysis cannot be thought of as the same. The way viewers interpret what they see on television has other factors such as culture, race, wealth, and age influence what each person sees on television and how they may react to it. These factors can also influence what each individual thinks of the world, and thus it cannot be attributed to just television.

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