Part I – Cultivation Theory: Its Humble Beginnings and New Reinterpretations

Eric McInnis

Professor Lisa Holderman

Senior Seminar I

13 November 2019


Cultivation theory focuses on television and the long-term effects the medium has on viewers. More specifically, the idea on cultivation theory is that television’s programs, whether they be news, reality or even scripted, have drastic, long-term effects on how viewers interpret the reality around them. The more time people spend watching and engrossing themselves in the world of television, whether it be scripted primetime dramas or comedies, or breaking news programs detailing what is happening in the world, or even their own neighborhood, the more likely people will have their social realities warped by the reality portrayed and showcased on television.

Cultivation theory was founded and coined by famed communication professor George Gerbner, who became one of the first people to truly analyze the effects of television at a time when the medium was only a couple decades old. Gerbner took his studies and noted how the perceptions of violence and representation impacted and effected viewers socially. Since then, cultivation theory has been reworked and retooled by other communication professors, experts and scientists.

The journal Theory and Research in Mass Communication from authors Jennings Bryant and Dorina Miron noted cultivation theory as the third most used theory in a sample they analyzed all about mass communication theory. Such modern examples of cultivation theory and study includes other ways television can impact viewers, as well as new mediums that have emerged since Gerbner’s original study, such as video games and social media.

George Gerbner and Origins

Born in Budapest in 1919, George Gerbner first began developing cultivation theory in the 1960s through the Cultural Indicators Research Project. But in the 1970s, Gerbner published the journal Living with Television: The Dynamics of the Cultivation Process, where he saw his claim to fame, and the introduction of cultivation theory as a concept.

Gerbner started this for two reasons: a lack of reporting on television, and, more importantly, the growing usage of television as a medium used by and accepted by almost everyone. With television only just now out of its infancy, as well as institutional resistance, there was a lack of references and prior studies about the affects of television. However, with television looking to become bigger and bigger every year, it was almost inevitable somebody in the communication community would analyze television viewing and its long-term effects.

Says Gerbner, “as the number of people who have never lived without television continues to grow, the medium is increasingly taken for granted as an appliance, a piece of furniture, a storyteller, a member of the family…the mass ritual that is television signs of weakening its hold over the common symbolic environment into which our children are born and in which we all live out our lives” (“Living with Television”). Society became more dependent on television in both entertainment and delivering news, and it was clear the coming years wasn’t going to change any time soon. Therefore, it was time for somebody to develop some form of theory or study about the impact of television and the elements that make the medium so unique.

Gerbner’s main focus on his idea of cultivation theory, at least when it comes to an origin for Living with Television, is with violence. Gerbner noted that primetime shows feature ten times more crime than in real life, with about five or six acts committed per hour on television programs. Said acts also feature certain demographic differences. The victimizers are often white men, while the victims are either women, youths, or minorities. Through these demographics, and analyzing television content as a message system, Gerbner is able to “view these acts in context as representing social relationships and the distribution (as well as symbolic enforcement) of the structure of power according to television” (“Living with Television”). Even more interesting is the fact that despite over half of all major television characters get involved in some form of violence each week, FBI statistics mention that less than one percent of people in the US each year are victims of criminal violence. It again shows the division of power, as it implies the violence given to by women, minorities and youths is much more common than it actually is (although all three demographics are still much more likely to be victims of criminal violence compared to the dominant white man demographic)

Through studying television from a social reality perspective, Gerbner found many illuminating pieces of evidence, specifically from a diversity perspective. Despite people over 65 growing to be the most common demographic at the time of the study’s release, they were severely underrepresented on television dramas, making it seem, to television viewers, that senior citizens are a dying breed. Women and their image also get harmed by cultivation theory. Because men are the dominant sex when it comes to lead characters on television, while women’s daily experiences and existence in society aren’t ignored, the idea that women have limited interests and abilities compared to men is seeped in, due to a lack of representation.

Better yet, going back to the issue of minority victims, because of how much violence permeates in television, not only do viewers start to have trust issues in a world where it seems like it’s every man for himself, Gerbner says there is evidence that women and minorities develop greater insecurities due to the violence inflicted on them through television.

Gerbner’s work points to the idea that television is not just a tool that has long-term effects on people’s minds, but one of the most powerful tools in shaping people’s viewpoints from a social perspective. Television has become a mainstream tool to the point where, by the time of this journal’s publication, there’s now multiple generations who have grown up with a television in their lives and said generation will continue to live with television as an omnipresent item. This of course makes learning about these effects so important, and Gerbner has plenty of compelling evidence that there are long-term effects of television viewing.

Gerbner would pass away in 2005, but his work would continue to be studied and worked on for decades. Not only have people looked into the idea of television and cultivation theory in a more modern context, with new television programs as well as measuring how it has changed through the years, cultivation theory has been applied to new mediums created after the birth of television and through different lenses and cross-referencing other theories. This includes studying cultivation theory through music videos, sports and video games, analyzing cultivation theory and how it impacts children, as well as how it relates to gender, sexuality, race, politics, and other subjects and theories.

Cultivation Theory and New Genres and Mediums

Since Gerbner’s initial journal, more and more mediums have begun to arise. Reality television didn’t even exist until more than a decade after Gerbner’s initial writing and has since become a dominant part of television real estate, with entire cable networks like The Learning Channel dedicating themselves to such programming. But more importantly, the birth of music videos and video games have created two new mediums with new forms of interactivity and in result new forms of cultivation and cultivation theory.

            Returning to the topic of reality shows, one of the most prominent subgenres is with docusoaps, which essentially take unscripted footage and edit the footage in a way that constructs a dramatic narrative. Notable examples include Keeping Up with the Kardashians and The Real Housewives. Many docusoaps boast strong popularity, especially with younger audiences, and are also known for their fisticuffs and brawls, in programs like Jersey Shore or the aforementioned Real Housewives. Authors Erica Scharrer and Greg Blackburn studied how viewing these docusoap realities cultivated the ideas of aggression and people’s approval of it.

            The types of aggression, and how they were viewed between demographics varied. When it comes to gender in particular, many eye-opening items were unveiled in Scharrer’s and Blackburn’s studies. “First, the means were higher for the approval of female-perpetrated compared with male-perpetrated physical and verbal aggression items in the current study, indicating more acceptance of females engaging in these forms than of males doing so. Yet the current results also find that male respondents tended to accept aggression as a normative aspect of behavior more so than females in the sample did…There is indication, then, that men tend to approve of aggression enacted by both members of their own gender and by women more so than women do, an important finding for its potential implications for the enactment of aggression” (“Is Reality TV a Bad Girls Club?”). While the effects of docusoaps and reality television do depend on other variables, the study shows Gerbner’s practice in a modern lens.

Video games is one of the most infamous mediums when it came to cultivation theory. Largely due to their violent content personalized experiences, as players are in control of the virtual avatar, the medium has went under heavy scrutiny and theorists have dissected the content found in games through a media studies lens. One of the first studies about video games and their cultivation effect was in 2006 by theorist Dmitri Williams. Through a month-long process, participants were graded and analyzed on the game that was played, and the reactions to the content and the real world. Much of the evidence was somewhat rudimentary, due to being one of the first instances of the cultivation effect of video games. But what was shown was that participants had their minds and perceptions changed when it comes to real-world danger and tragedy, believing it to be more common after playing such games. However, said dangers correlated with events and situations found within the game. The actual game used was not specified.

Music videos, which exploded in popularity thanks to the rise of the cable channel MTV, also has went through dissection by media theorists. Music videos are infamous for exploiting women and praising the consumption of drugs and alcohol, especially when many of these videos target adolescents and teenagers, a very influenceable demographic. A study from theorists Kathleen Beullens, Keith Roe and Jan Van den Bulck have looked at music videos that feature alcoholic content and see if it influences adolescents to drink while under the influence. From that perspective, again, there seems to be a correlation. “More music video viewing was positively related to the attitudes toward drunk driving. More positive attitudes toward this form of risk behavior were associated with the intention to exhibit risky driving in the future, which in turn was a direct marker of the actual driving after the consumption of alcohol 2 years later” (“Music Video Viewing as a Marker of Driving”).

It’s through these new reinterpretations and modernization of Gerbner’s work cultivation theory has lasted so long. And by doing so, theorists have reinterpreted the formula and reignited interest in how other mediums and new developments in the television landscape can create unique long-term effects on viewers and the general population.

Cultivation Theory and Children

One of the biggest demographics when it comes to television viewing are children. There are entire cable networks dedicated to children’s programming, several high-rated television programs encourage child-parent co-viewing, and in the current world of streaming content, companies like YouTube and Netflix dedicate a large chunk of their time and work to gaining young eyeballs to their content. This not only includes streaming platforms dedicated to kids, such as the recent service Disney+, but applications like YouTube and Netflix have sections dedicated to content that exclusively appeals to young children and attempts to hide any content that may be seen as inappropriate to a preschool or elementary school demographic.

There have been plenty of studies about how children’s programming and viewing habits apply to cultivation theory, as youth is where the long-term effects of cultivation theory truly take hold. It’s especially true with streaming television and the ability to download content for offline viewing, as children can now watch television content at any time. One of the more notable studies is from Karyn Riddle in 2009 with Cultivation Theory Revisited: The Impact of Childhood Television Viewing Levels on Social Reality Beliefs and Construct Accessibility in Adulthood.

Riddle surveyed 207 young adults and analyzed their television viewing habits as children. More specifically, violent television, whether it be in fictional scripted television shows, or news programming. The study was meant to look at how these young adults have had their social realities warped, due to these violent images from their youth. While most analyze current television viewings, very few focused on television viewing from years ago, and how those effects have truly cultivated.

Through Riddle’s methods and measurement, one of the most unique aspects of these findings comes to the division of television content. Watching fictional violence, such as in crime dramas or courtroom dramas, during childhood had little to no relation to current social reality beliefs in adulthood. However, when it comes to childhood viewing of violence during news broadcasts, whether local or national, it has a much larger effect on social reality beliefs to these viewers in their current adulthood.

There are plenty of other ways theorists have studied cultivation theory through the lens of childhood viewing. Much of these studies will be discussed in this very journal. But television is an integral aspect of children’s lives, and with children being at the point in their live where they are growing the most physically, emotionally, and mentally, it only makes sense to recognize how these effects play into the most effective moment in their lives.

Cultivation Theory and Social Politics

One of the main reasons why cultivation theory is so popular and utilized in media studies is its versatility and importance in the current modern landscape. Not just because it can be used for different mediums, but also because of the importance of television, both in terms of broadcasting news and information, as well as displaying content that plays into social politics and other media theories. Therefore, many other theorists have developed cultivation theory and how it relates to certain topics, including race, gender and sexuality.

Perhaps most interesting is how cultivation theory not only studies and analyzes most, if not all facets of social politics, but also within children’s programming. As stated before, television viewing is massive with younger audiences, as shown through the wide variety of children’s programming available on both cable television and online streaming. Considering how influential children are when it comes to their growing and developing minds, it makes sense why so many media theorists have dedicated their resources into studying and analyzing children’s television from a cultivation perspective, as well as a racial or gender perspective.

2011 saw a dissection of two different types of tween programming. “Teen scene” shows that marketed themselves to girls, and action-adventure shows targeted towards boys. Across four cable networks, Disney XD and Channel, Cartoon Network, and Nickelodeon, the main focus on this study were gender roles, including attractiveness, representation, and stereotypes.

Boys outnumbered girls in tween programs in general, while girls were generally considered to be portrayed as having more attractive bodies and faces compared to boys. Girls also often had their looks being discussed and commented on much more compared to boys, where it was almost non-existent. To authors Ashton Gerding and Nancy Signorelli, this can be considered problematic. “The consistent focus on beauty and attractiveness for female characters might lead to tween viewers having conceptions that girls must be pretty and attractive as well as be very competent in other areas of their lives” (“Gender Roles in Tween Television Programming”). To the audience of children that watch these tween shows and likely will look up to these characters, these effects can really be detrimental when it comes to their conceptions of gender, men, women, and beauty.

            Race and how it is depicted on children’s television can also have long-term effects on the viewers watching, in particular when it comes to self-esteem. Studied by Nicole Martins and Kristen Harrison, through a 1-year process, the evidence found that when it comes to television exposure to kids, there was a notable decrease in self-esteem for white girls, black boys, and black girls. Only white boys did not see a decrease. This is explained by Martins and Harrison through several ways. Black characters and girl characters are often portrayed negatively, and kids who watch more television may find themselves projected onto the television screen more than those who watch less. But on the former perspective, the clear division between all demographics except white boys can be apparent by the effects of seeing negative stereotypes. “Males are portrayed as powerful, strong, and rational whereas females are portrayed as frail, emotional, and sensitive. Black male characters are disproportionately shown as buffoons, or as menacing and unruly youths, and Black female characters are typically shown as exotic and sexually available” (“Racial and Gender Differences”). By saying to these kids that they are flawed and wrong, they are creating a negative image upon themselves for who they are as people. While it could be a short-term issue, it is still something that needs to be in heavy consideration and has serious ramifications for the future of children.


            While George Gerbner’s cultivation theory has its benefits, its main role is showing how television, as well as any and all mediums that have major influence on the people, can truly affect people’s real life. To quote George Gerbner, the architect himself, “Exploring [television’s] dynamics can help develop an understanding of the forces of social cohesion, cultural dependence, and resistance to change, as well as the requirements of developing alternatives and independence essential for self-direction and self-government in the television age” (“Cultivation Analysis: An Overview”)

Part II – Cultivation Theory in the Social Media Age and Current Quarantine

Eric McInnis

Professor Lisa Holderman

Senior Seminar II

15 April 2020

Upon its initial conception, cultivation theory focused on specific medium: television. More specifically, cultivation theory is based on the idea of television and its long-term effects on viewers. Whether news, reality television, or scripted programs like procedural dramas or sitcoms, cultivation theory argues that such shows have important long-lasting effects on how viewers interpret the reality around them, especially if they are used in a heavy amount.

Cultivation theory was founded and coined by famed communication professor George Gerbner, out of an interest in analyzing television one of the first people to truly analyze the effects of television at a time when it was only a couple decades old and got little attention from scholars and media theorists. In his studies, he noted how the perceptions of violence and representation seemed to create perceptions for viewers from a sociological perspective. Since then, cultivation theory has grown to become one of the most used and studied theories in mass communication.

Television of course has always been studied through this lens, but other new media formats have garnered attention under this theory. Music videos were created due to the advent of cable television networks like MTV and are still popular thanks to YouTube and have been under heavy scrutiny through a cultivation theory lens. Video games are also a popular medium in the cultivation theory and mass communication theory community for the past couple decades, especially considering it is the most interactive medium, asking players to make decisions on how to play the game itself. But one that has also seen attention as of late is social media.

In this day and age, just about everybody uses at least one social media platform. Whether it be to connect with friends and family, to check up on news, or even just for entertainment purposes, Internet sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are immensely popular, harboring millions, if not billions of active users. Naturally, with such large user bases and their importance in terms of creating conversations and relaying information to people, social media is no stranger to cultivation theory and scholars and experts and scientists analyzing the potential effects, both good and bad.

Perhaps the most fascinating group to study when it comes to this theory and this medium is with young adults, specifically within my own age range of 18-30 years old. There have been plenty of studies focused on children, teens, and young adults within the context of cultivation theory. Much of this is because youth is arguably where the long-term effects of cultivation theory truly take hold. These are the most formative years of a person’s life, and so the images and footage displayed in entertainment and the news, whether it be movies, music videos, video games, television, or social media.

And while there have been studies in the way of television, social media has only recently started to gain attention. Much of it comes down to the fact that it is still a medium very much in its infancy. In a way, this current generation is the first to have grown up with social media through a significant facet of their life. MySpace began in 2003, while Facebook started to gain popularity a year later. Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and countless others would be developed in the following years, resulting in millions, if not billions of users. And with the advancement in smartphone technology, people can use social media anytime and anywhere. And at this point, just about every adult online, especially younger demographics, use these platforms.

The Pew Research Center found in 2016 that about eight in 10 online Americans use Facebook regularly. Online ages 18-29 in particular make up a significant bulk of the platform, as 9 out of 10 members of that demographic use Facebook. Other platforms like Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Pinterest see a significant amount of 18-29 aged users. Pew also found that three-quarters of Facebook users, one half of Instagram users and two-fifths of Twitter users use their respective platforms daily. These platforms are major domains for younger generations. And it’s precisely because of such early, but lengthy experience it is important to analyze such effects, at least in the short term.

For better or for worse, just about everyone in the young adult demographic (18-30) has had at least some experience in at least one social media universe. And despite how young social media is, there’s still plenty of discussion about its long-term effects on its users. Social media is one of the biggest sources for news, with news websites using Facebook and Twitter to help share new articles and information. In many ways, the site has become the biggest domain in terms of breaking news. Pew found in 2018 that about sixty-eight percent of U.S. adults get their news on social media, with 20% stating they get news often.

With its importance in spreading news and information, one of the major concerns come from how social media can exacerbate and create a scenario where crime and bad news seems more widespread than reality indicates. In 2015, it was estimated by the U.S. Department of Justice only one percent of people age 12 or under have experienced at least one violent crime. And yet, according to a Gallup poll the same year, seventy-three percent of adults were reported to worry “a great deal” or “a fair amount” about crime and violence. Of course, this is not a direct correlation. But as previous cultivation theory studies have shown, the long-term effects on the news, especially ones that allow an easy ability to share negative or clickbait news articles and studies, can develop long-term effects, and not always in a positive manner.

As of this writing, the world is attacked by the COVID-19 pandemic. Billions are currently stuck in quarantine, avoiding any and all close contact with others through social distancing, all in an attempt to flatten the curve and avoid increasing the potential amount of cases. Within the past month, the coronavirus has become the biggest talking point in the news. And with such a big talking point, just about everything people are talking about, especially online is linked in some way to the coronavirus. There’s the socioeconomic disruption, with record unemployment levels. There’s the bigotry and racist attacks toward citizens of Asian or Chinese descent. There’s the pressure on people’s mental health, forcing people to social distance and be away from friends or family. And in a social media age, where breaking news arrive every few hours, one has to wonder how places like Facebook and Twitter cultivate and develop people’s emotions in these confusing times.

As said before, social media is the one place where people find news and information and even entertainment. With people stuck at home, it’s fair to say many are using their devices to scroll through Facebook to be up to date on all the information related to the pandemic, or are looking to go on Twitter to discuss their time living in quarantine or share hilarious videos and Internet memes related to social distancing. And as said before, there’s a sense that the negativity that infests these services, especially from the news media, can really impact people’s mental health and feelings toward such a pandemic, only making an already frustrating and emotionally draining situation even worse than it currently is.

And through my own surveying and analysis, I am looking to find at least a sense of the effects of social media since people have been stuck in quarantine. The process of my study went as follows: through a discussion board on my university’s Canvas page, I asked some of my fellow classmates about their social media activity. Specifically, how they have used it during this crisis, and how it has cultivated and developed their thoughts on the pandemic. Said thoughts could be positive, negative, or a mixture of many emotions.


What I was hoping to gain from this was an understanding on how people, particularly my fellow seniors, have been coping with being stuck in quarantine, and how social media has cultivated and created such effects. Perhaps I can see how social media and COVID-19 is impacting people’s mental health, at least in the short term.

Reading through the responses generated, the most interesting detail was how, in spite of the larger free time granted due to quarantine and being unable to work, social media activity with these respondents has largely stayed constant from before the pandemic hit the United States. There are exceptions of course. Three respondents have mentioned they have used social media more often, as a way to kill time, and as a way, oddly enough, to find positivity. Two also mentioned they have cut down on their social media activity as a way to avoid the negativity that has come with the virus and its societal destruction. But as a whole, social media activity for most of the respondents has been about the same, although none of them specified how much time they are on social media platforms.

There can be a good number of reasons why social media activity has stayed the same. Entertainment can also be found through video games, television, and streaming platforms. People can find news and information elsewhere, such as live television or radio broadcasts. At the very least, there is a sense that these young respondents are not going overboard or obsessing over these platforms, by trying to avoid getting sucked into the constant 24/7 news cycle.

The two respondents who mentioned a decline in social media usage had similar reasonings: its draining on their mental health, especially because of the constant news media coverage. Says one respondent: “I see many articles and news updates about the virus and pandemic that I am starting to have a hard time determining if it is real or fake news. Small news outlets, written articles and larger corporations have been pushing out so much information regarding the coronavirus and pandemic that it is just clogging my social media feed. Other worldly happenings are being shadowed by this pandemic to the point where I don’t know what else is happening in the world. The media has found gold within this pandemic, writing articles and putting so much energy into this pandemic that it is getting overwhelming for me.”

That response is a perfect example on how many scholars and experts argue social media amplifies the issues of the world. Every news site, from big to small, is trying to capitalize on this fear and push for it on platforms that are used by almost everybody. And with so many different sources, information can often be conflicting and confusing. Another issue when it comes to so many news sources is dealing with conflicting or just flat-out false information. One respondent mentioned how they see so many different sources giving different timelines to how long the pandemic will last and when things can go back to normal, while another mentioned seeing social media posts promoting false information about coronavirus prevention. It creates an environment that unnecessarily complicates the situation and can possibly lead to dangerous repercussions for the ongoing pandemic.

Another repercussion of social media during this time of crisis are the political divisions emerging between Republican and Democratic users. Going back to Pew’s 2018 social media dissertation mentioned previously, what users deem believable or trustworthy is wildly different from each political party. “Among Republican social media news consumers, 72% say they expect the news they see there to be inaccurate, compared with 46% of Democrats and 52% of independents. And while 42% of those Democrats who get news on social media say it has helped their understanding of current events, fewer Republicans (24%) say the same” (Shearer, Eva Matsa 2018). Bias has always been an issue in the world of news and journalism, and social media has given a voice that allows people to confidently say they don’t trust a publication’s sources, even if they are as highly accredited and acclaimed as, say, The Washington Post or The New York Times.

This is important to bring up, because one respondent mentioned their older relatives, 55 and older and apparently leaning conservative in their politics. Their relatives’ reaction toward the coronavirus pandemic paints a complicated picture that does not take the threat as seriously as it should. “My older relatives who are in the 55+ range [on Facebook] who have stable jobs with paid time off…who are not monetarily affected by having to miss work post hideous things about the virus. Their posts typically talk about the virus being a “conspiracy” “liberal hoax” or a “welfare cash grab” (welfare cash grab referring to the Corona $1,200 stimulus checks.) I think the pandemic is REALLY bringing out sides of people we have never seen before, and making family/friend tensions even worse when these are times we need and should be relying on each other.”

It’s another instance of social media making things more hostile. The information that has been spread on the platform develops frustration and anger, much of it because of how politically charged this pandemic has become. Figures like Donald Trump and Boris Johnson have been called out for their mishandling of the pandemic, whether it be a lack of testing, pushing for potentially dangerous tactics such as herd immunity, or for not realizing how serious COVID-19 was going to be on their nations before it was too late. With so many hospitalizations and cases rising over the past couple weeks, one can argue, while it would not have been stopped permanently, there would have been a prevention over the mass cases currently happening at the moment.

Political tensions have gotten worse and worse over the past few years, and this is only making the issue worse. News media has oft been critiqued over being biased, and now that they are consistently shared on social media, there’s the idea that what’s being propped up, especially when a publication’s ideologies are different from the reader, of being false, a hoax, or just to push a conspiracy or a political agenda. And when it comes to families, all of whom will have wildly different political leanings, that can cause frustration when somebody’s uncle is reporting a conspiratorial article on Facebook. People are being forced to see family members they love and care for not take these issues seriously, and that’s bound to create tension between family members, even after a vaccine is developed and approved.

However, at least to this small sample, social media has been used as a source of positivity at these times. Services like Instagram and TikTok, which don’t see much in the way of political messaging and conflict, has seen plenty of apolitical or positive trends or challenges to help give people a relief from a stressful situation.

Even on Facebook or Twitter, where pessimism thrives and people share news stories about COVID-19 every other minute, respondents say they have noticed users are attempting to make things more lighthearted, with selfie challenges and positivity trends. One of my fellow students mentioned they were trying to avoid the constant news feeds the best they can, by actively searching for material that moves away from the 24/7 COVID-19 news cycle. That is not to say these respondents aren’t in the know, or do not pay attention. But they have used social media, platforms full of negative news stories, and have diverted away from them in favor of feel-good, apolitical entertainment, or have migrated to places that free themselves from negativity and confusion.

These responses still leave some issues up in the air and holes in the studying that should still be addressed. As said before, I have no idea what the social media activity is like for these respondents in terms of hours. There’s also the issue that this study was done during the pandemic, so it’s hard to look at how these effects will work long-term. Several cultivation theory studies utilize years of research and several instances of viewings and usages in order to draw a strong conclusion. But at least when looking at the current situation, social media has definitely cultivated plenty of strong emotions, and a good majority of it leans negative.

While social media has been used as a beacon of positivity and fun at a time of stress and concern, the constant barrage of news coverage shows how fragile and frustrating the news cycle can be at points. There’s so many sources giving their own information, that it can be very difficult to figure out what’s the actual truth, and there’s questions about how reliable and effective these sources really are. And with the political tensions that come from such a pandemic, it’s bound to create even more division than there has been in the past few years.

COVID-19 is bound to be one of the most defining moments of the 21st century. And while social media is not going to be the answer to all of the pandemic’s problems, both during and after the outbreaks, it has definitely started to morph public perception, and will cultivate the feelings and emotions of young adults trying to make it in the world for decades to come.

Scholarly Sources

Riddle, Karyn. “Cultivation Theory Revisited: The Impact of Childhood Television Viewing Levels on Social Reality Beliefs and Construct Accessibility in Adulthood” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association, Marriott, Chicago, IL, May 21, 2009 <Not Available>. 2017-09-11

Gerbner, George. Living with Television: the Dynamics of the Cultivation Process. Publisher Not Identified, 1975.

Gerding, Ashton, and Nancy Signorielli. “Gender Roles in Tween Television Programming: A Content Analysis of Two Genres.” Sex Roles, vol. 70, no. 1-2, 2013, pp. 43–56., doi:10.1007/s11199-013-0330-z.

Martins, Nicole, and Kristen Harrison. “Racial and Gender Differences in the Relationship Between Children’s Television Use and Self-Esteem.” Communication Research, vol. 39, no. 3, 2011, pp. 338–357., doi:10.1177/0093650211401376.

Wilson, Barbara J., et al. “Children’s and Parents’ Fright Reactions to Kidnapping Stories in the News.” Communication Monographs, vol. 72, no. 1, 2005, pp. 46–70., doi:10.1080/0363775052000342526.

Zohoori, Ali Reza. “A Cross‐Cultural Analysis of Children’s Television Use.” Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, vol. 32, no. 1, 1988, pp. 105–113., doi:10.1080/08838158809386687.

Bryant, Jennings, and Dorina Miron. “Theory and Research in Mass Communication.” Journal of Communication, vol. 54, no. 4, 2004, pp. 662–704., doi:10.1093/joc/54.4.662.

Gerbner, George. “Cultivation Analysis: An Overview.” Refining Milestone Mass Communications Theories for the 21st Century, 2017, pp. 16–35., doi:10.4324/9781315679402-3.

Williams, Dmitri. “Virtual Cultivation: Online Worlds, Offline Perceptions.” Journal of Communication, vol. 56, no. 1, 2006, pp. 69–87., doi:10.1111/j.1460-2466.2006.00004.x.

Beullens, Kathleen, et al. “Music Video Viewing as a Marker of Driving After the Consumption of Alcohol.” Substance Use & Misuse, vol. 47, no. 2, 2012, pp. 155–165., doi:10.3109/10826084.2012.637449.

Intravia, Jonathan, et al. “Investigating the Relationship between Social Media Consumption and Fear of Crime: A Partial Analysis of Mostly Young Adults.” Computers in Human Behavior, vol. 77, 2017, pp. 158–168., doi:10.1016/j.chb.2017.08.047.

Truman, Jennifer L., and Rachel E. Morgan. “Criminal Victimization, 2015.” Bureau of Justice Statistics, Office of Justice Programs, 22 Mar. 2018,

Gallup. “Crime.”, Gallup, 30 Mar. 2020,

Greenwood, Shannon, et al. “Demographics of Social Media Users in 2016.” Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech, Pew Research Center, 31 Dec. 2019,

Shearer, Elisa, and Katerina Eva Matsa. “News Use Across Social Media Platforms 2018.” Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project, 31 Dec. 2019,