Cultivation theory examines the long-term effects of television. "The primary proposition of cultivation theory states that the more time people spend 'living' in the television world, the more likely they are to believe social reality portrayed on television." Under this umbrella, perceptions of the world are heavily influenced by the images and ideological messages transmitted through popular television media.
Cultivation theory suggests that exposure to television, over time, subtly "cultivates" viewers' perceptions of reality.
Cultivation theory is underscored by three core assumptions. The first assumption highlights the medium, the second—the audience, and the final assumption deals with the functionality of the medium on its larger audience.
- Television is fundamentally different from other forms of mass media.
- Gerbner, Gross, Morgan, & Signorielli argued that while religion or education had previously been greater influences on social trends, now "[t]elevision is the source of the most broadly shared images and messages in history...Television cultivates from infancy the very predispositions and preferences that used to be acquired from other primary sources ... The repetitive pattern of television's mass-produced messages and images forms the mainstream of a common symbolic environment."
- Television, unline print media, due largely to literacy, and film, due to financial, accessibility has a lower threshold for consumption. According to Gerbner, television has become the "central cultural arm of our society."
- Television shapes the way individuals within society think and relate to each other.
- Gerbner and Gross write that “the substance of the consciousness cultivated by TV is not so much specific attitudes and opinions as more basic assumptions about the facts of life and standards of judgment on which conclusions are based." Simply put, the realities created by television are not based on real facts but on speculations.
- Gerbner observed that television reaches people, on average, more than seven hours a day. While watching, television offers “a centralized system of story-telling”. Gerbner asserts that television's major cultural function is to stabilize social patterns and to cultivate resistance to change. We live in terms of the stories we tell and television tells these stories through news, drama, and advertising to almost everybody most of the time.
- Television's effects are limited.
- The dichotomy of assumption three asserts that television if a part of a larger sociocultural system. Therefore, although the effects of watching television may be increased or decrease at any point in time, it's impact is consistently present.
- Gerbner’s ice age analogy states that “just as an average temperature shift of a few degrees can lead to an ice age or the outcomes of elections can be determined by slight margins, so too can a relatively small but pervasive influence make a crucial difference. The size of an effect is far less critical than the direction of its steady contribution."