The Cultivation Theory

Cultivation theory seeks to examine the long-term impacts of the television on people’s lives. It came up after the television media developed immense popularity becoming the most preferred leisure tools.  People spend a substantial amount of their time glued on the television that makes it necessary to investigate the impacts the television has on people’s lives.   Young people spend a substantial portion of their time   consuming television media that clearly shows that the device has major impact on people’s lives.  Researchers have over the years portrayed interest in investigating the impacts of different types of media on people’s lives.  Television media has attracted many studies that have led to the creation of vast theories explaining television interactions and their impacts on people’s lives. Emphasis has been put on both the negative and positive impacts of the television. The television technology has been experiencing changes aimed at enhancing the viewer’s experience.  The new features in the television media continues to attract more viewers due to the increased satisfaction that is caused by the advanced features. The cultivation theory is one of the most widely accepted theories relating to television entertainment and implications for people’s lives.

The theory suggests that exposure to the television over a long period influences the way people perceive the reality. Television is considered a powerful socialization tool that has far reaching implications on people’s lives.  It is used for inculcating values in the viewers that affect their beliefs and behaviors.  Originally the theory was composed by G. Gerbner but later subjected to intensive revision by (Gerbner & Gross Mass Communication Theory, nd).  According to the theorists, heavy viewership of television makes the viewers assume that the messages conveyed through the television are real and valid.  Most   of the events portrayed through the television are simulated and are therefore far from the truth. It therefore implies that people who are heavy consumers of the television media develop an illusion of the reality that   impacts them negatively.  A considerable portion of the programs aired on television involve violence that makes people develop a violent nature. Such individuals assume that the world is violent that needs them to become violent to enable them fit well in the current world’s nature.

The theory is based on three main assumptions. The first assumption is that television shapes interactions among individuals in the society. According to research, people spend an average of seven hours interacting with the television media (Berger,2000). It implies that no time is left for social interactions that play a crucial role in socialization.  The television therefore replaces the role of storytelling and other interpersonal interactions that have traditionally shaped people’s lives.  As a result, people develop unsocial behaviors. The second assumption is that television is substantially different from other media platforms.  The other platforms that can be compared to the television media are radio broadcast and print media. Radio broadcast fails to make a substantial impact due to absence of the visual impact. Television is also preferred to print media due to some factors that compromises unlimited access to the print media. The cost of accessing the print media is one of the main factors that make people prefer television entertainment since one is not charged for viewing television.  The literacy level also compromises accessibility of the print media since a specific level of literacy is required for one to enjoy the print media without restrictions (Potter,2014).. The last assumption is that the effects of a television are limited.  Consumption of the television media is not steady as watching television does not imply you are actively consuming the contents.  Television consumption keeps on varying since one can be in a room with a television set but fail to consume the content. This reality is quite different from the print media because one actively looks for the print object and consumes the media actively.

Cultivation theory has some key terms.  Cultivation differentia is one of the key concepts used in cultivation theory which is the delta between heavy and light viewers. In other words, it is the difference in the impacts of television between people consuming a lot of television and the light consumers. Mainstreaming is another core concept that means blending, bending, and blurring process through which disparate heavy viewers develop a similar view of the world. Resonance is a cultivation theory concept that occurs when things viewed through the television are in line with the reality.  The term heavy viewers as used in the cultivation theory refer to individuals who spend a considerable duration glued on television. In other words, they are heavy television consumers.  Dramatic violence is also another term heavily utilized in cultivation theory that means overt expression of physical violence in a scheme.

The history of the cultivation theory can be dated back to the year 1976 when Larry Gross and George Gerbner engaged in a project known as Cultural Indicators.  This project was made of different large scale projects that were directed towards addressing social issues facing the American society.  Specific projects within the Culture Indicators projects provided a sound basis for the formation of the cultivation theory. The Culture Indicators project was commissioned by Lyndon B. Johnson to investigate the causes of increasing violence in the American society. In fact, the project was meant to be used by National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence, a body charged with the responsibility of studying and preventing crime. One of the main interests in the project was investigating the impacts of television violence on the viewers’ behaviors. Surgeon General’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Television and Social Behavior was created by the Congress aimed at facilitating the funding of studies relating to television violence. The Cultural Indicators is one of the projects that benefited from the committee’s funding.  Access to funds enabled Gerbner to complete the project leading to the development of the cultivation theory .

Cultivation theory provides the best perspective of explaining the implications of television on people’s lives.     In the 1970 the American government committed enormous resources to investigate whether television violence has impacts on the physical violence (Potter, 2014). It was clear the violence recorded by the security agencies had correlation with plotted violence portrayed on televisions. Television programs are characterized by violence making it possible for such violence to influence people’s behaviors. The virtual violent environment created by the television makes viewers develop a violent illusion of the actual environment.

In conclusion, the cultivation theory suggests that suggests that exposure to the television over a long period influences the way people perceive the reality. The theory has three assumptions that provide a basis for understanding how the theory functions.  Cultivation theory was developed in the 1970 when there was increased interest of investigating the impacts of television on social problems.  The theory remains one of the most effective perspectives of explaining the impacts of television on people’s lives.



Berger, A. A. (2000). Television in society. New Brunswick, U.S.A: Transaction Books.

Haans, D. (2000). Television and Its Viewers: Cultivation Theory and Research.Sociological Research Online.,5(1), 34-4

Mass Communication Theory(nd) Cultivation Theory. retrieved from

Morgan, M., Shanahan, J., & Signorielli, N. (2012). Living with television now: Advances in cultivation theory & research. New York: Peter Lang.

Potter, W. J. (2014). A Critical Analysis of Cultivation Theory. Journal of Communication64(6), 1015-1036.



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