In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Cultivation

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Content Studies
  • Key Critiques
  • New Directions

Communication Cultivation
Erica Scharrer
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 February 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 February 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0019


Seminal scholar George Gerbner introduced cultivation theory in the 1960s as a means of examining the long-term, cumulative implications of growing up with and being immersed in the messages conveyed on television. The theory is still very much active today, and has inspired hundreds of studies examining its central premises and corollaries in many different contexts. The theory’s Cultural Indicators Project is an umbrella term that calls for analysis at three interrelated levels: media institutions and why and how they function as they do (institutional process analysis), television content and the themes that appear in programming regardless of program type or time of day (message system analysis), and individuals’ perceptions of the social world and the attendant behaviors they engage in as a result of those perceptions (cultivation). Important concepts of the theory include the “mean world syndrome,” which describes the consequences of cumulative exposure to violence on television, and “mainstreaming,” which entails the ability of the television influence to overcome differences in perceptions typically attributed to individuals’ backgrounds.

General Overviews

Gerbner 1998 provides a detailed and informative overview of the theory in this article-length piece. Signorielli and Morgan 1990 provides an edited collection of chapters on key elements of the theory from some of the foremost scholars in the field. Morgan and Shanahan 1997 and Shanahan and Morgan 1999 both add the additional appeal of meta-analysis results from decades of cultivation findings together with an extensive discussion of the evolution of the theory over time. Finally, Gerbner 2002 widens the lens by showcasing selected works of Gerbner himself on the theory as well as on additional topics.

  • Gerbner, George. 1998. Cultivation analysis: An overview. Mass Communication & Society 1.3–4: 175–195.

    In a later piece in the remarkable career of Gerbner, the rationale and methodology behind cultivation research is explained and a review is provided of the decades of data in support of the cultivation hypotheses. A very useful piece for orientation to the theory and the body of evidence surrounding it.

  • Gerbner, George. 2002. Against the mainstream: Selected writings of George Gerbner. Edited by Michael Morgan. New York: Peter Lang.

    An outstanding resource on one of the most influential thinkers in communication research, featuring forty-five selections from the work of George Gerbner. The volume provides an excellent overview of cultivation theory from the writings of the master theorist himself but also extends beyond the theory to other topics and contributions of Gerbner.

  • Morgan, Michael, and James Shanahan. 1997. Two decades of cultivation research: An appraisal and meta-analysis. In Communication Yearbook. Vol. 20. Edited by B. R. Burleson, 1–45. Newbury Park, CA: SAGE.

    Using the technique of meta-analysis to aggregate over five thousand research findings, Morgan and Shanahan find a significant though small effect size between amount of television viewing and conceptions of social reality in many contexts and for many topics, including violence. An excellent source for an overview in addition to a quantitative aggregation of prior studies.

  • Morgan, Michael, and James Shanahan. 2010. The state of cultivation. Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media 54.2: 337–355.

    DOI: 10.1080/08838151003735018

    An invited essay that assesses the state of the theory in light of the present (large and still growing) body of research. Recent extensions and applications such as genre-specific investigations of television influence and cognitive processing are included, and the case is made for paradigmatic status.

  • Morgan, Michael, James Shanahan, and Nancy Signorielli. 2009. Growing up with television: Cultivation processes. In Media effects: Advances in theory and research. 3d ed. Edited by Jennings Bryant and Mary Beth Oliver, 34–49. New York: Routledge.

    A chapter-length treatment of the major elements of the theory, summary of various studies in support of the theory, and the ways in which the theory has evolved since its inception. Provides an extensive and insightful discussion.

  • Shanahan, James, and Michael Morgan. 1999. Television and its viewers: Cultivation theory and research. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511488924

    Beginning with the history of the project, and then tracing through the early studies, key critiques, and main methodological techniques, this book by two scholars at the forefront of contemporary cultivation research provides a first-rate account of the main contributions of the theory and offers a meta-analysis of twenty-plus years of cultivation research findings.

  • Signorielli, Nancy, and Michael Morgan, eds. 1990. Cultivation analysis: New directions in media effects research. Newbury Park, CA: SAGE.

    Chapters are on psychological processes behind cultivation theory, on evidence from international data sets, and on particular topics and genres (specifically religion, pornography, and the news) as well as particular ways of watching television (time shifting and the use of VCRs). A useful, if somewhat dated, compendium of review chapters.

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