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The Theory of Cultivation: how does the screen influence us?

The Theory of Cultivation: how does the screen influence us?

April 5, 2024

If you have ever stopped to think about the daily hours that most people can get to watch TV or surf the Internet, you may have asked yourself this question: How does what we see on a screen influence our way of thinking?

This is one of the questions that from the social sciences it has tried to respond from what is known as Cultivation Theory .

What is the Theory of Cultivation?

Although its name may be confusing at first, in its origins the Theory of Cultivation it was basically a theory of communication that served as a starting point for study the effects that the prolonged exposure to television had on the way in which it is interpreted and imagines what society is .

In particular, the premise from which the Crop Theory operated at the beginning was that the more time you spend watching television, the more you come to believe that society is as it is reflected on the screen . In other words, the fact that getting used to a certain kind of television content means that it is assumed that what is being shown to us is representative of the world in which we live.

Although it was formulated in the 70s, currently the Theory of Cultivation is still valid, although with a small variation. It no longer focuses only on the effects of television, but rather It also tries to tackle digital media such as video games and the contents that can be found on the Internet .

Vicarious learning and digital media

In psychology there is a concept that is very useful to understand what the Theory of Cultivation is based on: Vicarious learning, exposed by Albert Bandura at the end of the 70s through his Theory of Social Learning.

This type of learning is, fundamentally, learning by observation; we do not need to take an action to judge the results of this and decide if it is useful or not . We can simply see what others do and learn from their successes and their mistakes indirectly.

With television, video games and the Internet, the same can happen. Through the screen we observe how several characters make decisions and how these decisions translate into good and bad consequences. These processes not only tell us about whether certain actions are desirable or not, they also communicate aspects about how the universe works in which these decisions are made , and this is where the Cultivation Theory intervenes.

For example, from the series Game of Thrones the conclusion can be drawn that pity is not an attitude that others assume as normal, but it can also be concluded that the most naive or innocent people are usually manipulated and abused by others. It can also be concluded that altruism barely exists, and that even samples of friendship are guided by political or economic interests.

On the one hand, Vicarious learning causes us to put ourselves in the shoes of certain characters and judge their failures and achievements just as we would if they were ours. On the other hand, the fact of having analyzed the results of an action from the point of view of that person causes us to draw a conclusion about the functioning of society and the power it has over the individual.

The possible bad influence of television

One of the focuses of attention that has been deepened from the Theory of Cultivation is in the study of what happens when we see a lot of violent content through the screens . This is an issue that often comes to us through alarmist headlines, for example when we start to explore the biography of adolescent murderers and we reach the (hasty) conclusion that they committed their crimes under the influence of a video game or a series of TV.

But the truth is that the amount of violence to which young people are exposed through a screen is a relevant issue for behavioral sciences; not in vain childhood and adolescence are stages of life in which you are very sensitive to the subtle teachings that are revealed by the environment .

And, if it is assumed that television and digital media in general have the power to make spectators act in a "desirable" way, being influenced by awareness campaigns or assuming the normality of homosexuality watching the series Modern Family, it is not unreasonable to think that the opposite can happen : that these same means make us more likely to reproduce undesirable behaviors, such as violent actions.

And it is these risky elements, more than the beneficial potential of the media, that generate more interest.At the end of the day, there is always time to discover the good part of digital media, but the dangers must be detected as soon as possible.

So, it would be perfectly possible that television and the Internet were leaving a strong imprint in the mindset of young people , and the chances that this influence is good are the same as it is bad, since it is not based only on the conclusions that are expressed directly in the dialogues, but it is an implicit learning. It is not necessary for a character to say clearly that he believes in the superiority of white people so that he assumes through his actions that he is racist.

Violence and the Theory of Cultivation

But nevertheless, It would be a mistake to assume that, according to the Culture Theory, televised violence makes us more violent . The effect this would have would be, in any case, to assume more or less unconsciously the idea that violence is an essential and very common component in society (or in a certain type of society).

That can make us become more violent because "everyone is doing it", but the opposite effect can also occur: as we believe that most people are aggressive, we feel good because we do not have the need to harm others and to excel in that aspect, which makes us resist more to fall in that type of behavior.


The Theory of Cultivation is not based on an absolute and spectacular affirmation of the style of "seeing many racist people on television makes it begins to discriminate against blacks", but it is based on a much more subtle and humble idea: exposing ourselves to certain media causes us to confuse the social reality with the society shown in those media .

This phenomenon can involve many risks, but also opportunities; that depends on many other variables related to the characteristics of the viewers and the content transmitted in question.

The Mean World Syndrome -- Clip (April 2024).

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