Academic Writing, Miscellaneous

Cultivation Theory

George Gerbner first introduced the cultivation theory as a macrolevel system of explanation—an alternative to the micro-focused media research of his time. His approach consisted of three components: the media institutions, mass-produced messages, and the effects they cultivated on people. When first introduced, the theory focused, on a macrolevel, on broadscale institutional practices, widespread meanings, and long-term adoption. In essence, it focused on how mass-produced media messages from media institutions, when widely disseminated, shape public knowledge and belief in the long run.

Gerbner’s team was interested in primetime and children’s weekend morning programming as they analyzed entertainment programming for three commercial TV networks. They considered commercial TV as presenting a “total world of interrelated stories (both drama and news) produced to the same set of market specifications.” They also justified their choices stating that those programs had the most extensive viewership. So, in their view, any widespread meanings across the media landscape would be evident in such a sample. However, over time, researchers started to modify or even move away from certain aspects of Gerbner’s theory. The move towards a micro-focused approach is perhaps one of the most noticeable shifts. Another critical change in usage was the shift in focus from the importance of the media’s dominant meanings to constructing cultivation indicators and then testing which indicators closely relate to heavy TV viewing.

“Watching the rich and famous: the cultivation effect of reality television shows and the mediating role of parasocial experiences” by Jahng, M. R (2019), explores the relationship between reality TV exposure and college students’ beliefs on wealth and materialism. The research found that heavy viewers of reality TV consider wealth (as presented on the show) to be more prevalent and attainable than light viewers. The study also revealed that heavy reality TV viewers hold stronger materialistic beliefs than light viewers, supporting the cultivation theory’s genre-specific effects. The study and a growing number of researchers suggest that cultivation effects should be applied to specific genres rather than applying them broadly across television. The article also examines the impact of media migration by studying viewers’ interactions with reality show casts via social media. I found the article to be extremely engaging and interesting. I have never watched a full episode of reality TV. So, it was interesting to understand how reality TV influences the perceptions of heavy viewers. I also found the cultivation theory’s application to be noteworthy as it deviated from the original widespread media institution approach that Gerbner had proposed.

Social media is not just a secondary media consumption medium anymore. For some, it is the primary medium for news and entertainment—perhaps even replacing TV! Twitter allows users to consume unfiltered content from many sources and provides a hyper-focused experience to users who customize their feeds to keep up with their topics of interest. To study social media usage and its effects on people, the cultivation theory could be applied— exploring the relationship between heavy Twitter use and their beliefs on police brutality, for example. This could give journalists and media professionals more insight into how to rethink their TV content to narrow the polarization of information between audiences.

Social media advertising professionals can narrow their targeting because of the highly detailed personal information collected from social media platforms. Understanding public perceptions on social media privacy and being sensitive to those views is perhaps the best way forward for advertisers—as the ability to track and analyze a user across platforms and connected devices will only increase as more aspects of life become digitized. Most social media users are aware of cookies, tracking, and retargeting. Perhaps understanding how media messages about social media privacy affect user behaviors and perceptions could help social media platforms and advertising professionals to create better explanations of how user data is collected and used.  Macro and microanalyses of the cultivation theory can help advertising professionals garner how social media users feel about using their personal data.

Do you think heavy Twitter users care more and support the need for social justice movements such as BLM, compared to heavy Facebook users? I could rephrase this question by substituting Facebook users with heavy TV users, but I am more interested in users that have adopted new media over traditional media sources.

Citation:

Jahng, M. R. (2019). Watching the rich and famous: the cultivation effect of reality television shows and the mediating role of parasocial experiences. Media Practice & Education, 20(4), 319–333. https://doi-org.libproxy.library.unt.edu/10.1080/25741136.2018.1556544