George Gerbner's cultivation analysis has been called "among the most important
contributions yet made to general public understanding of media effects" by its
supporters (Morgan & Shanahan, 1997, p.2) and little more than "interesting
speculation" by its detractors (e.g. Hirsch, 1981, p.87), but there can be
little doubt that it has certainly spurred its share of research. Researchers
both sympathetic to and critical of Gerbner's initial formulation of cultivation
have examined a wide array of content domains and social reality beliefs to help
support or overturn cultivation's claim to being "good theory." The results of
that research, however, have done little to help quell the debate about whether
cultivation has truly established itself among communication scholars as a good
theory or little more than a good idea in search of theory. This paper examines
the theoretical status of cultivation and argues that a broader
conceptualization of the term "cultivation" is needed to satisfy the
requirements of good theory while maintaining the core sociological point that
Gerbner and his colleagues attempt to make.
It is important to note that this is not necessarily a new idea nor the first
time this call has been made. Many scholars in the field of communication
research seem sympathetic to the overall argument that long-term consumption of
mass media might have particular effects on the social reality beliefs of
viewers in ways that reflect the patterns of that media content. Some of the
earliest critiques of cultivation analysis (e.g. Newcomb, 1978) and a number of
the later ones (e.g. Hawkins & Pingree, 1981; Potter, 1993; 1994) were generally
supportive of Gerbner's main idea even if they didn't support some of its
specifics. Researchers such as Hawkins & Pingree (1990; see also Hawkins,
Pingree & Adler, 1987), Potter (1988; 1991), Shrum (1995; 1996; 1997), and
Tapper (1995) have elucidated some of the psychological processes involved in
cultivation not because they wish to undermine Gerbner's general perspective but
rather to refine and strengthen it. Thus the call for the reconceptualization
of what is meant by "cultivation" is not new.
Recently, however, Gerbner (1998) and his colleagues (e.g. Morgan & Shanahan,
1997) have reiterated their conceptualization of cultivation as the overall
gravitation of beliefs toward a homogenized mainstream based on overall exposure
to a recurrent set of themes. These recent works have again presented
cultivation in its classic form, a conceptualization that includes some
assumptions, such as uniform content and habitual viewing, that sparked much of
the early criticism and research already alluded to. Though intrigued by the
"useful" work involving the cognitive processes of cultivation, Morgan &
Shanahan (1997) suggest that "for the cultivation researcher, the key question
is not necessarily what happens within people's minds, and the focus should not
stray too far from culture or from the institutional structures ...that support
the continued dominance of specific types of message systems" (p. 38). This
seems to be unnecessarily restrictive. It therefore seems necessary to reiterate
the need for a conceptualization of cultivation that can incorporate the
advances in theory and research made over the past two decades while also being
sensitive to the core critical and sociological argument that Gerbner and his
colleagues are trying with make.
The "thin ideal," an assessment of media content that deems beauty the
equivalent of thinness, particularly for women, also has received much attention
by researchers in recent years. Harrison and Cantor (1997) provide an excellent
literature review of both health and mass communication research dealing with
this topic. Harrison and Cantor then take social learning theory as an
appropriate theory to explain the findings of their study of eating-disorder
symptomatology and media use in college students. This paper, however, takes
this "thin ideal" study as a model for applying an expanded version of
cultivation as a more appropriate explanatory theory.
Criteria for an Ideal Theory
Theories are not truths but the products of scientific interpretation conducted
by fallible human beings; thus it stands to reason that any scientist dedicated
to the pursuit of knowledge must envision a theoretical ideal with which to
compare and evaluate her own guiding theories. In a sentence, theories should be
judged according to their: ability to extend beyond a single instance;
organizing, predicting and explaining power; internal consistency; heuristic
value; falsifiability; generalizability; and logical simplicity (Chaffee &
Berger, 1987; Littlejohn, 1992; Woelfel & Fink, 1980). A sentence-long
description of ideal theory, however, hardly suffices as a guiding utopianism.
An ideal theory is the product of several more definitive governing principles.
From its inception, an ideal theory's content concepts are arbitrarily defined
by the researcher but necessarily derived of terms that are consensual enough
within the scientific community to allow for abstraction. This facilitates
agreement within that community regarding standards of comparison and procedure,
further ensuring that observation remains independent of the observer so that
some degree of scientific standardization is maintained. The theory should offer
a means of organizing a body of knowledge, as it relates to a given phenomena,
in a simple and logical fashion. It should necessarily follow that the concepts
and statements under study are observable, verifiable and
accessible/comprehensible to the maximum number of potential observers. To
accomplish this last goal, it is imperative that accompanying explanations
required for intended observation should be at a minimum (Woelfel & Fink, 1980).
The theory should be an attempt to conjoin the known with the unknown,
preferably in a causal relationship with the power to explain why and when the
phenomena occurs (Hanson, 1971).
Sound linkages between the predictory-operational and explanatory-theoretical
concepts are the best facilitators for realizing these guiding principles (Hage,
1972). These linkages must explain how and why the concepts are linked within
the given theory. Specifically, Hage asserts that operational linkages should
indicate the "parameters of the equation...including limits, coefficients and
powers," while the theoretical linkages should indicate reasons for "why the
variables should be linked" in the predicted fashion (1972, p. 86). Oftentimes,
it may be helpful to identify operational linkages in terms of the form,
direction, coefficients and limits of their specific relationships (Hage, 1972).
In addition, the theoretical linkages must delineate any assumptions made about
key concepts, acknowledge intervening concepts and variables, and specify
interrelatedness among all of the concepts. The formulation of ideal theory also
can be aided by understanding what it should not embrace, which includes vague
predictions, multiple predictions, lack of prediction, and post-modification of
the theory itself (Giere, 1984).
The terms used to delineate linkages and demarcate the scope of the theory
itself must be well-defined (or primitive) to ensure against ambiguity. They
must create boundaries, which cannot be accomplished only in terms of
operationals or observables (Hemple, 1952). An ideal theory is not driven by
methodology, it is driven by a need for abstraction. Abstraction is driven by
the logical ordering of statements and linkages so that they may be synthesized
and generalized to a higher level (Hage, 1972). Finally, the theory should be
capable of embracing both peripheral and paradigm cases (Hage, 1972).
Cultivation theory is concerned with the socio-cultural outcomes of
television's proliferation into modern society. It views television as a unique
mass medium that serves as a homogenizing agent for what otherwise may be
divergent cultures. Through the patterned repetition of messages and images,
television creates a unique but shared symbolic environment (Gerbner, 1998).
This cultivation of a shared symbolic environment pulls divergent cultures and
subgroups toward a "mainstream" culture. This mainstreaming effect on thinking
and behavior is believed to occur over time, regardless of variance in
programming and individual content-selection habits (Gerbner, Gross, Morgan &
Signorielli, 1986; 1994).
This effect over time is based on the assumption that television's content
hovers close enough to the mainstream that there is no room for significant
variability in program structure or perspective. It is for this reason that
program content, individual selection and perception should not affect the
mainstreaming effect. Viewer selectivity is assumed to be canceled out due to
the limited choices posed by television (Gerbner et al., 1980). Thus,
cultivation is a stabilizing, homogenizing force in society, which results from
a long-term interaction between the audience and the medium. As such, the theory
predicts that there will be a significant difference between the perceived
reality of heavy and light television viewers. The perceived reality of heavy
viewers is predicted to be more greatly influenced by the "reality" depicted
through television (Gerbner et al., 1994).
If looked at through Hage's (1972, p. 86) outline of the components of a
theoretical statement, cultivation theory's statement and theoretical and
operational linkages would break down as follows:
Verbal statement: The more television is viewed, the more perceived reality
reflects television culture. Heavy television viewers hold more
television-influenced beliefs about cultural reality (as they perceive it) than
do lighter viewers.
Theoretical rationale: All cultures have a dominant set of attitudes, beliefs,
values and practices. Television is a homogenizing agent in society. Divergent
cultures or beliefs are pulled towards a more "mainstream" or dominant
perception of reality. Homogenization occurs over time and is the result of
continuous interactivity between television and its audience. This interaction
is mediated by social, personal and cultural context.
Operational parameters: An increase in television viewing equals an increase in
television-influenced perceptions of cultural reality (Gerbner et al., 1994).
More specifically, the operational linkage for cultivation theory could be
broken down into four basic parts: the form is linear, the direction is
positive, the coefficient is the amount of television viewing, and there are no
limits due to the unilateral proliferation of television into society.
Assessing Cultivation Theory
Unfortunately, the linkages found in cultivation theory are at times
sub-standard. Researchers are greatly inhibited in their ability to control for
spurious relationships - it is believed that television has proliferated in
society to the degree that it is impossible to locate a comparable portion of
the population not affected by it. There is no control group available with
which to compare television viewers. This is not to say that cultivation is not
a valid theory; it simply is limited in its ability to establish boundaries.
In terms of its ability to meet the basic principles of ideal theory covered
above, the classic conceptualization of cultivation does a fair job. The concept
of "amount of viewing" is defined arbitrarily by the researcher, but must meet
some basic minimum criteria to ensure generalizability. It is a relative
concept, meaning that the researcher must first establish the times spent
viewing for the entire sample population, before he or she can split the
population into high, medium and low viewing segments. The theory calls for an
equal, three-way split.
For the concept of "television reality," the researcher must conduct a content
analysis prior to the application of a television-based reality questionnaire to
that audience. This content analysis should be primarily on drama and should
delineate the features and trends of television-depicted reality. The concept of
"cultivation" is then explored with a separate questionnaire that does not
explicitly draw upon television content, but rather the perceived reality of all
viewing segments. Only then can the researcher begin to see if television
viewing is a strong predictor of the cultivation of television reality. These
basic procedures are meant to ensure some degree of standardization and
verifiability. Although the content analysis may be highly subjective, if it is
reliable and valid it should serve its purpose of reflecting current patterns
and trends in television reality. To maintain internal consistency, however, the
content can only be correlated with a timely sample population.
The theory itself offers a means of organizing the knowledge gained from the
above methodological efforts in a way that gives meaning to the television and
audience interaction. The heuristic value of the theory is quite sound as well;
as it stands today, the theory has generated research on cultivation of beliefs
concerning violence, gender, health, science, the family, educational
achievement, politics, religion, and minority and age stereotypes (see Morgan &
Shanahan's 1997 meta-analysis). Unfortunately, the only relationship to be
repeatedly identified using the theory has been that between television viewing
and beliefs that the world is a mean place. This fact may indicate that the
theory does not have the ability to extend reliably beyond the relationship that
may exist between perceptions of violence and television viewing. If this is
the case, the heuristic and explanatory value of the theory would be severely
limited and would bring down the overall value of the theory. And as previously
mentioned, the falsifiability of the theory is limited due to the inability for
researchers in the United States (as well as other countries where this has been
tested to date) to control for cultivation (or lack thereof) in non-viewers.
The research literature also indicates that many researchers have failed to
replicate the content analysis-then-(cultivation) questionnaire ordering in
their methodology. The assumption seems to be that since cultivation occurs over
time and with such magnetic force, variations in content should not matter. The
problem with this assumption is that although content consistently reflects
mainstream culture without much variation, nuances in content can vary enough to
affect research results. In Gerbner, et. al.'s original conceptualization of
cultivation theory, structure and perspective are the only constants in
television content (see Gerbner & Gross, 1978; Gerbner, Gross, Jackson-Beeck,
Jeffries-Fox & Signorielli, 1978). The authors expected that novelty effects of
styles, stars and plots remain variable, even across time. Although this
assumption might have been true in the viewing environment of the 1970s, when
the three networks dominated the television landscape and there was no
competitive pressure to potentially diversify media content, it must clearly be
questioned whether this is the case now (Perse, Ferguson, & McLeod, 1994). Thus
more research is needed that critically examines "uniform content" more fully
before we can determine the actual generalizability of this assumption in
today's media environment.
Another important generalizability issue to be considered is the uniqueness
assumption regarding television as a mass medium. The authors base this
assumption on the sheer fact that due to television's visual and auditory
nature, coupled with its massive usage rates (an average of seven hours per day,
per household, according to Gerbner, 1998), television deserves its own body of
research separate from print and radio. Although television can most likely be
rightfully called the preeminent mass medium, this assumption seems to ignore
the ways in which people actually use mass media - all of them - in their daily
lives. There still remain many areas of research that can embrace these three
segments of the mass media. Thus the uniqueness assumption inhibits cultivation
theory from entering into the broader theoretical territory of the social
sciences in general.
Gerbner and his colleagues summarize their theory as concentrating on the
"enduring and common consequences" of time spent in front of a television
(Gerbner, et. al., 1994, p. 37). In their most recent writings, they acknowledge
some of the shortcomings that were covered above. However, their heavy reliance
on the uniqueness of television, combined with their inability to control for
"life without television," are two very important reasons why this theory cannot
be called an ideal theory -- and perhaps never can be.
These two problems, however, need not be seen as life-threatening for the
concept of cultivation provided one is willing to broaden what is meant by the
term. If "cultivation" is seen in the strict sense that Gerbner and his
colleagues continue to argue for, then the conceptual and methodological
problems outlined here and elsewhere (e.g. Potter, 1993; 1994) may prove fatal.
However, if we broaden the conceptualization of cultivation to include the array
of media available to mass audiences and the psychological processes that are
involved in interacting with and interpreting media messages in the current,
complex media environment, then perhaps "cultivation" can be called "good
Hawkins, Pingree, & Adler (1987), for example, note that Gerbner et al. (1986)
are really talking about two very different kinds of judgments when they ask
people about the percentages of people who work in law enforcement (first-order
beliefs) vs. how mean and scary they think the world is (second-order beliefs).
Hawkins, Pingree, & Adler (1987) note that the latter is assumed to be related
to the former in cultivation research, but that might not necessarily be so.
Indeed, that is what they found: although television viewing seemed to be
related to first-order beliefs, there seemed to be no relation to second order
beliefs. Hawkins & Pingree (1990) suggest that if there is no relation between
first- and second-order beliefs, then perhaps different processes are involved.
That is, perhaps different processes are used to make judgments of the
second-order variety than the first-order kind.
Following Hawkins & Pingree's lead, several researchers have looked at the role
of these psychological processes in the construction of social reality. Shrum &
O'Guinn (1993), for example, looked at the role of construct accessibility in
social reality effects of media. Construct accessibility refers to the idea that
some constructs in our mind are used more frequently than others, and that
tfrequency of use (as well as recency of use) makes these constructs more
accessible. They found not only that heavy TV viewers gave first-order estimates
that were higher than light viewers, they also found that they made their
judgments faster than light viewers. When speed of judgment was controlled for,
cultivation effects fell to nonsignificance, leading the researchers to conclude
that construct accessibility plays a mediating role in cultivation of
first-order beliefs, such that heavy television viewers have more exemplars of
televised first-order situations and that these constructs are therefore more
Shrum (1995) notes that first-order estimates can be considered a type of
set-size judgment, and suggests four processes that might underlie set-size
judgments (differentiated by the amount of processing involved). Set-size
judgments in situations of low-involvement or time pressure might lead to
heuristic processing. He notes that either people think television information
is useful in making social reality judgments, or people don't consider source in
making these judgments. Shrum also notes that in conditions of low involvement,
people generally don't consider the source of their information, and that over
time, source information may become dissociated from the information itself
(Shapiro & Lang, 1991).
Thus, Shrum suggests some interesting processes involved in the construction of
social reality. For one thing, he suggests that the social reality judgments
often asked about in cultivation research may be made under conditions of low
involvement and/or time pressure, leading people to use heuristic processing in
order to produce a response. Given that heuristic processing is generally
unstable (in that the judgments it reaches are susceptible to influences of
priming and construct accessibility as well as based on traces that may not
include their source information), differences in first- and second-order
cultivation effects may indeed be based on different processes. The general
finding of first-order cultivation effects would make sense given the conditions
under which such judgments are made. Second-order cultivation effects, which
have been harder to find conclusively in the literature (Hawkins & Pingree,
1990), might instead be the result of more effortful processing in which source
characteristics are considered. If this is the case, then perhaps people's
television-relevant traces aren't considered as important as other traces.
Tapper (1995) has reviewed the recent work in social reality construction from
media and laid out the steps necessary for television stimuli to lead to
long-term memory traces. What he has done is succintly lay out the framework
that has been implicit in much of the research cultivation. Television texts
are selected by people based on such factors as affective states and motives for
viewing. These texts are interpreted by viewers, whose interpretation reflect
their experiences and life-cycles (Reimer & Rosengren, 1990). These
interpretations, however, are also affected by perceptions of television
realism, chronic affective states, attentional styles, and the context of the
viewing situation. They are therefore encoded as a result of these intersecting
influences, where they become available for subsequent processing requirements.
Thus, what these researchers have done is provide us with a framework for
understanding how cultivation - in the broad sense - might actually occur. But
how can these processes get linked back to the critical approach that Gerbner
and his colleagues feel is so important for cultivation? A recent study of the
"thin ideal" will be examined as a model for exploring how a refined cultivation
theory could contribute to the understanding of mass media effects.
Cultivating the Thin Ideal
The "thin ideal" provides an optimal example of an effect to be considered in a
discussion of the broadening of the conceptualization of cultivation and its
contribution as an explanatory theory. Recently, Harrison and Cantor (1997)
found that "in general, media consumption, especially TDP [thinness-depicting
and thinness-promoting] media, significantly predicted women's eating-disorder
symptomatology and men's attitudes in favor of personal thinness and dieting"
(p. 60). As they hypothesized, magazine reading was a stronger and more
consistent predictor of eating-disorder symptomatology than television
consumption. Interestingly, they found that viewing shows depicting heavy
actresses and reading fashion magazines were significantly related to body
dissatisfaction; the viewing of TV shows depicting thin actresses and reading
fashion magazines were significantly related to the drive for thinness. (Body
dissatisfaction and the drive for thinness are components of eating-disorder
symptomology.) These results were based on their analysis of questionnaires
given to 232 female undergraduates and 190 male undergraduates at a large,
midwestern university in Wisconsin. Harrison and Cantor use Bandura's social
learning theory (1977) to help explain these results.
Although social learning theory as employed by Harrison and Cantor in this
study seems to lay a roadmap for how some women may move from media consumption
(in addition to other powerful influences, such as familial, psychological, and
biological factors) to eating-disorder symptoms, social learning theory does not
account for all their findings. Indeed, social learning theory's explanation
could be aided by groundwork laid by cultivation workers. In particular,
cultivation provides a way of assessing the media's contribution to the
development of one's sociocultural environment (an important factor in
developing eating-disorder symptoms) and it offers a way to understand the
development of certain attitudes, rather than behaviors, in conjunction with
media use (Body dissatisfaction is considered an attitude rather than a
Some explanations provided by social learning theory also could be accounted
for by cultivation. For instance, the development of a "thin ideal" requires an
assumption of cumulative effects, which Harrison and Cantor hint at when they
suggest that a longitudinal study would be necessary in future research. In
addition, relatively small effect sizes found in their study (.05) mirror
typical cultivation effect sizes (.03). Harrison and Cantor seem to be
apologizing for the small effects found in their study as they try to explain
why these effects should still be considered worthwhile. Small effect sizes are
typical findings in cultivation studies. This point is not to herald small
effect sizes, but rather to note another way in which the thin ideal fits a
cultivation explanation. Like some cultivation researchers, Harrison and Cantor
note that small effects may prove important when health issues are involved.
They also suggest that the effect sizes are small because television and
magazines make up only "a relatively minute segment of the body of sociocultural
factors that may contribute to disordered eating" (p. 64). Some media scholars
(e.g. Fiske, 1986) might disagree with Harrison and Cantor, who seem to be
ignoring the media's very large role in transmitting those sociocultural factors
throughout society and around the world. Cultivation (Gerbner, 1999) continues
to attempt to explain the environment in which these study participants live, in
other words, some of the socio-cultural factors, which Harrison and Cantor say
influence eating-disorder symptomology.
Harrison and Cantor (1997) discuss how the prevalence of certain media messages
and incentives ("enticements to perform modeled behavior" [p. 44]) contribute to
modeling behaviors, and they show how both are present in the media (with
directions for restrained eating found more explicitly in women's magazines than
in television). Certainly cultivation takes into account the prevalence of
media messages; content analysis of TV programming to determine message patterns
is the foundation of the approach. Clearly the prevalence of thin women in
television programming has been documented, as Harrison and Cantor note, too.
But while Harrison and Cantor focus on the directions for restrained eating
behaviors located in articles in women's magazines, they ignore the overall
buildup of these thinness-depicting and thinness-promoting messages in
television and other media, such as magazines and billboards. These thinness
messages do not merely represent an image of an ideal; they become cultivated
into a societal expectation, attitude, and ideal as argued in the mainstreaming
effects of a media-based culture. These women and girls are not solely
influenced by watching particular programs or reading certain magazines. They
live within a larger societal framework, which they have learned from for many
years. Young women and girls may indeed turn to fashion and fitness magazines
for more explicit directions on how to achieve this thin ideal, but they have
spent years modeling it in their minds' eyes--or in the development of their
construction of the social reality of body types. Indeed, Harrison and Cantor
seem to be on the brink of discussing this. They suggest "the media help create
a social climate in which the endorsement of eating-disordered attitudes and
behaviors is systematically supported by both sexes" (p. 50); that again is a
reference to a cultivated notion of social reality, one which could be explained
by a broader conceptualization of cultivation as a theory of effects from the
spectrum of mass media, not just television.
Like Perse, Ferguson and McLeod (1994), Harrison and Cantor note that "The
fat-free physical ideal currently appears throughout the visual mass media, most
notably in entertainment and advertising" (p. 47). It is important to recognize
that they are not limiting the "visual mass media" to television and magazines
here. In fact, billboards offer another type of visual medium that deals solely
with advertising and offers patterned of repeated messages featuring
"thin-ideal" characters/models. Both cultivation and social learning theory can
encompass a world made up of multiple media.
Harrison and Cantor (1997) note that perfectionism and ineffectiveness,
"considered to be major risk factors in the development of eating disorders" (p.
48), may not be conceptually related to the modeling of eating behaviors, and
therefore do not fit into the explanation offered by social learning theory for
their study. Cultivation, however, does allow a connection to be made between
media and the notions of perfectionism and ineffectiveness as portrayed in the
media in relation to body type. In addition, Harrison and Cantor point out that
body dissatisfaction is "a set of attitudes, not intentions" (p. 61), and
therefore something that is not in the realm of behaviors to be explained by
social learning theory. Cultivation allows examination of the dimension of body
dissatisfaction, again not a behavior but an attitude, as a result of media use.
Although social learning theory deals only with behaviors based on media use,
cultivation seeks to identify ideas, perceptions, and other forms of social
reality based on media use.
Harrison and Cantor note that TV's programming offers a mixed menu of eating
messages. "Contrary to the findings on television drama, analyses of
advertisements have shown that people are portrayed eating fattening junk foods
with alarming regularity" (1997, p. 45). Yet they ignore what these "people" in
ads look like; they look like the other people on TV: overwhelmingly thin. We
suggest that the true mixed message offered by television fare is that women,
especially, should look like the thin ideal--yet they also should partake of
Doritos, Pringles, Budweiser, and Sprite. Perhaps it is not that the effect
size for the thin ideal is mediated by intentions to eat more products
advertised on TV. Perhaps it is that the ubiquitous patterns of thin-ideal
characters in the media clash with the pervasive patterns of messages
encouraging consumption of food and material goods.
As models of memory processes continue to be developed and refined, they may
help contribute explanations for the cognitive processes underlying cultivation,
which would ultimately expand cultivation's theoretical foundation. Glenberg's
embodiment model (1997) provides a way of thinking about how media may influence
the construction of social reality beliefs, and how an individual audience
member may develop a memory of those messages. According to Glenberg (1997),
our memory for television messages (and other stimuli that enter our perceptual
field) may be represented not by a "two-dimensional" image or recording of our
perceptions, but rather by our "three-dimensional" interactions with the
perceptual environment. As such, after watching a thinness-depicting TV program,
a female viewer would store memories that depict her interaction with the TV
messages in more perceptually salient and embofied ways. If the woman's
responses include thoughts of how she would look if she were that thin, feelings
of disappointment because she is not that thin, and other body dissatisfaction
ideas, these would be stored as part of her memories from that TV-viewing
experience. When asked to describe her relationship to the ideal body type, she
may draw on these memories to shape her answer.
This discussion of how the "thin ideal" results can be viewed as an example of
cultivation also highlights some of the advantages to be gained by broadening
the conceptualiztion of what cultivation means. That women should be thin to be
beautiful is certainly a message that is prevalent in dramatic primetime
television, but it does not reasonably follow that it should be present in all
television content domains. Similarly, the different results Harrison and
Cantor (1997) found for thinness-depicting and promoting television and
magazines suggests that although some of the same themes may be common to these
two media, differences between them may still lead to differences in effects.
This is important since it suggests that content differences, even small ones,
may indeed play a role in differences in cultivation. It further stresses the
importance of not only considering these differences in content, but also in how
individuals may make different interpretations of this content. Gerbner's
strict conceptualization of cultivation would suggest that the presence of
thinness themes in television should be enough to cultivate thin ideal
attitudes, but it would not be able to provide as detailed and compelling an
explanation of how this process in the complex media environment might work as
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A reconceptualization of cultivation as a "good theory"
with help from the "thin ideal"
LeeAnn Kahlor, Bradley W. Gorham and Eileen Gilligan
School of Journalism and Mass Communication
University of Wisconsin-Madison
5115 Vilas Communication Hall
821 University Avenue
Madison, WI 53706
E-mail address: [log in to unmask]
Paper submitted to the Communication Theory & Methodology Division
of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication
1999 convention, New Orleans
A reconceptualization of cultivation as "good theory"
with help from the "thin ideal"
This paper tries to argue for a refinement of cultivation based on critiques
lodged against it for the past 30 years. If a reconceptualization, including an
acknowledgment of varying content and psychological processing, for example, can
be considered, cultivation could fit into the realm of "good theory." The "thin
ideal" is used as a model case for applying this broadened approach to
cultivation as a working, explanatory theory.