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Cultivation theory is an approach that evaluates the long-term effects of television on the viewer’s attitude. This theory was formulated by professor George Gerbner in the mid-1960s. The main aim of his research was to examine how and whether watching television may alter the perspective of everyday life. This theory stipulates that watching television has indirect, minute, and gradual effects that accumulate with time and eventually can alter one’s perspective in life (Gerbner 172). Gerbner’s study focused on the impact on the attitude while disregarding change in behavior. He, therefore, sought to identify and track the cultivated effects of the media on users/viewers.
Cultivation theory is based on three major assumptions. First, the theory assumes that televisions are in essence dissimilar from other types of media. Gerbner outlines that television plays a major role in shaping the messages and the images shared across the board. In other words, television’s impact ranges the development of preferences and inclination that used to be acquired through other sources. This is basically because television is accessible and available to a greater percentage of the entire global population. Secondly, cultivation theory presumes that television plays a major role in determining the social relations and thoughts. In his study, Gerbner established that watching television reaches averagely eight hours per day. This is mainly because the time for watching is often the best time for telling stories. In this scenario, television sets the stage for social trends in which it essentially causes resistance to change. The last assumption is that the effects of television are limited in scope. With these assumptions, cultivation theory proposes that long-term exposure to television tends to ‘cultivate’ the viewers’ perception of reality (Gerbner 180).
Cultivation theory suggests that the effects of television on users can be categorized in two groups: the first order effects and second order effects. First order effects refer to general view that one holds about life. Second order effect refers to the specific attitudes that one acquires as a result of exposure. Heavy viewing of television is perceived as ‘cultivating’ attitudes which have high correlation to life presented on the television rather than the actual occurrences of everyday life. In other words, the more time a person spends watching television, the more likely he or she will believe in the social realities presented in the media. Television tends to create a general mentality about sexuality and violence which in essence may induce such deviant behavior on the viewers.
Heavy viewers of television often believe that the world presented in the media is a depiction of the actual reality. Cultivation theory also suggests that watching television for an extended period of time is likely to induce certain attitudes towards sexuality and violence. The viewers cultivate such attitudes based on the existing societal attitudes. However, the media re-package attitudes so as catch the attention of the audience. It is sad that many viewers are ignorant of the extent to which they absorb the attitudes presented in the media. They may perceive themselves as moderate viewers yet in essence they are heavy viewers/users. The more a person absorbs the notion of the media, the more he/she get influenced. The media and television in particular have a significant impact on shaping the beliefs and the attitudes in the society.
Viewing of television has a strong correlation with the conceptions that a person holds in regard to issues of life. Heavy viewers tend to have more convergent opinions than light viewers. For instance, heavy viewers of incidences of violence tend to believe that the world is insecure while light viewers may not believe it.