The purpose of this paper is to analyze if and how television affects peoples’ perception of society. Social learning theory and cultivation theory are introduced as two possible reasons why television can have such an influence over its viewers. This report analyzes how body image, stereotypes, and job glorification are affected by what is shown on television. An online survey was taken by twenty-two people in order to see if the amount of television people watched affected television’s influence over its viewers. The questions attempted to analyze how television affected their perceptions of themselves, others, and the professions of doctors, lawyers, and police officers. Although the sample size was rather small the results showed that reality television was affected by the frequency one watched television. However, more studies should be conducted to analyze if realism or frequency plays a more predominant role in the effects of television.
Key terms: Body image, Cultivation theory, Job glorification, Social learning theory, Stereotypes, Television influence
Problem Statement

On average Americans, spend 2.8 hours watching television every day (American Time Use Survey Summary). Television shows can be very influential to people, they have the ability to move, inspire, and educate them. However, this may be causing people to believe that television is always an accurate portrayal of real life. The belief that television shows are always factual has the potential to affect one’s judgments, which could lead to body image issues, increased stereotyping, job glorification and more. “In addition to exposure to television, the extent to which individuals perceive content as realistic is related to their social judgments”



(Busselle 47). This paper will analyze if and how, through the factors set forth in the social learning and cultivation theories, television affects peoples’ perception of society.
Literature Review

In 1939 television first started being broadcasted, and ever since the effects television has on its viewers has been the focus of many debates and concerns. The censorship of television shows has greatly decreased since its early days. “In the 1950s and 1960s, networks and advertisers imposed strict controls on what could be show on television” (Hanson 329). In the early days of television, content was highly regulated and there were a lot of rules about what was acceptable to show on television. For example, Laura and Rob Petrie, from the Dick Van Dyke show, had to sleep in separate beds even though they were married. Even Lucille Balls’s pregnancy caused great concern (Hanson 329). In the 1950s and 1960s, married couples were shown sleeping separately; however, today it is commonplace to find unmarried couples sharing a bed on television. Although the rules and regulations about what is appropriate to be shown on television have been greatly relaxed, concerns are just as high about how television is influencing society. This literature review will address the importance of television’s effects and the theories of cultivation and social learning will be discussed as possible causes. Along with this, body image issues, stereotyping and job glorification will be presented as possible effects of television viewership.

Importance of Television Effects

Television has become an integral part of peoples’ lives; not only is it a form of entertainment, but it is also educates people. The popularity of television and the massive number of television shows available to the public has also increased the concern.”The extent of

TV viewing in most [Western societies] has led leaders, politicians, and educators to express their concern and worries regarding the effects of such viewing on society and its youngsters”(Cohen and Weimann 99). As the role that television plays in peoples’ lives increases, so does the concern over how exactly television is affecting its viewers. The more people watch and value television, the more it will influence and shape peoples’ views, beliefs and expectations.
The reality portrayed on television is influenced by stories and the actors portraying them; however, the real world, life outside these influences, is not always the same as what is depicted on television. Television shows and their creators have the ability to create a reality that people may ultimately believe to be an accurate portrayal of the real world.
The mass production and rapid distribution of messages create new symbolic environments that reflect the structure and functions of the institutions that transmit them. These institutional processes of the mass-production messages short-circuit other networks of social communication and superimpose their own forms of collective consciousness-their own publics-upon other social relationships. (Gerbner 69)
The images that one sees on television portray how the writers, producers, directors, etc. see the world. As one sees the messages repeatedly on the screen, they begin to creep into the minds of the viewers, altering and shaping their views. “The notion is that living in a symbolic environment in which certain types of institutions with certain types of objectives create certain types of messages, tends to cultivate (support, sustain, and nourish) certain types of collective consciousness” (Morgan and Shanahan 339). As one continuously sees the same images, events, and realities portrayed on the screen, they become expected. For example, those who watch a lot of news programming may believe that crime rates are higher than they actually are. This is

because acts of crime are frequently reported on the news. The repetitiveness of television affects the way people view society; as one sees these images play out over and over again on television they become the norm.

Cultivation Theory and Social Learning Theory

There has been a lot of research done on the different effects that television can have on its viewers. According to research done by Bryant and Miron, cultivation and social learning theory are two of the most popular theories in mass communication (Bryant and Miron 673).
Cultivation theory states that, the more television someone watches, the more they will experience its affects. “The most familiar version of the cultivation hypothesis is that those who spend more time watching television are more likely to perceive the real world in ways that reflect the most common and recurrent messages of the world of fictional television” (Morgan and Shanahan 337). The main idea behind cultivation theory is that the more television one watches, the more likely they will perceive the real world to be like they see on television. Social learning theory states that people learn by example. “People’s behaviors are learned through observation and modeling” (Jeffres et al. 104). People learn by watching and then they emulate what they see. Cultivation theory and social learning theory are two main theories used to explain the effects of television.
George Gerbner, who introduced cultivation, was one of the first people to do research on the effects of [mass communication] which he described as, “large message systems” (Gerbner 71). Television is an example of mass communication since it allows for an exorbitant amount of information to be sent rapidly to millions of people. When Gerbner first started to do his research, television and the effects it could have were relatively new. He eventually introduced

several theories, including cultivation theory, as reasons for how television and mass media would forever change public views.
Mass communication, including television, often shows people a singular view of the world. The same views and ideas are shown repeatedly on different television shows every day. “The rise of mass communication is a profound change in the management of information, and in the creation of the common symbolic environment that gives public direction and meaning to human activity” (Gerbner, 70-1). As one sees and hears the same views everyday, they become accepted as the norm. The television shows that are watched every night have given people the foundation for what goes on in the real world.
Although social learning theory is not quite as popular as cultivation theory it still offers profound insights into the effects of television viewing; social learning theory was created by Albert Bandura. Humans in general are very visual and learn best through examples. “We are able to learn by observing what others do and the consequences they face” (Hanson 60). Humans learn from examples, children try to copy their parents, teenagers try to be like their friends or that one person they wish they were. People learn from others’ mistakes and try to recreate their successes. Television provides people with a wealth of mistakes and success stories that can be emulated.

Effects of Television

The effect television viewing can have on body image is often criticized. The use of “thin-ideal media” on television is one of the main causes for this concern (Van Vonderen and
Kinnally 42). Thin-ideal media is media that constantly uses thin female characters and promotes thinness as a desirable attribute that often leads to the most success (Van Vonderen and Kinnally

43). When one turns on the television, they are exposed to images of beautiful men and women. These beautiful actors on television are causing people, especially women, to desire to look the same way. “In 1972, 23 percent of U.S. women said that they were dissatisfied with their overall appearance. By 1996 that figure had grown to 48 percent” (Hanson 170). Women see these actresses on television as having the perfect body and they become unhappy with their own bodies, lowering their self-esteem. This increase in body dissatisfaction is causing more women to be affected by eating disorders. “It is no secret that a significant number of girls and young women suffer from eating disorders as their quest to find to find beauty through thinness” (Hanson 170). As the obsession with being thin grows more and more, young girls are becoming anorexic or bulimic in an effort to get thinner. These actors on television are seen as role models, which is causing the desire to be thin, in order to be just like them, to grow rapidly.
The more people watch television and are exposed to thin-ideal media the more likely they will see these bodies as normal. “Women who are exposed to heavy amounts of thin ideal media are likely to accept this as the norm” (Van Vonderen and Kinnally 43). The more women see these thin actresses on television, the more likely they will be to see this as the normal and ideal body weight. When women see these women with perfect bodies, they feel as though their bodies should look just like theirs. However, actors such as, “the much-photographed Jennifer Aniston is an impossible (for most women) size zero” (Hanson 170). It does not matter that most women will never be able to be a size zero, it is still what many women hope to be.
There has not always been this obsession with thinness. “The body size of women portrayed in mass media has been steadily getting smaller” (Van Vonderen and Kinnally 42). Today, many of the biggest actresses are super thin; however, this is more of a recent phenomenon. In fact, according to today’s standards [Marilyn Monroe] would be considered a

plus-sized model (Hanson 170). What was once considered the perfect body is now a body many people would be ashamed of. The fact that the size of the perfect body has decreased, along with the average size of actresses, supports the idea of cultivation; that what one sees on television is seen as normal. Not only can television affect one’s image of themself, but it can also affect how they view others.
The way that televisions aids in the formation of stereotypes is another concern for many people. Television can play a role in the formation of both gender and racial stereotypes. “Aside from the problem that people on television comedies and dramas are not only attractive and funny but, also resolve problems in less than an hour, there are complaints that television presents a world that is overwhelmingly white, male, and middle class” (Hanson 320). The demographics on television are not representative of society; oftentimes, women and minorities are pushed to the side. Not only are minorities under represented; they are often portrayed in a less favorable light. “Minority groups argue that the media serve up stereotypic images that conflict with reality” (Jeffres et al. 105). In general minorities feel that the images presented on television are overtly stereotypical and clash with the real world. The way people are portrayed on television can lead to people believing that this is an accurate description of how people truly act. “According to Bandura, people’s behaviors are learned through observation and modeling; thus exposure to media images leads to the formation of social stereotypes” (Jeffres et al. 104). Television offers people a glimpse into worlds they would otherwise be unfamiliar with; however, what they take away from it may not always be accurate and can lead to misguided assumptions about others.
Television does not only affect peoples’ perception of other people, it also affects how they see certain professions. There are hundreds of shows about police officers, doctors, and

lawyers all over television. In half an hour to an hour’s time, a television show tries to depict the daily lives of these various professions. In one hour a doctor identifies a rare disease and cures it, a lawyer is able to win a huge case, and a crime is solved from start to finish. These over exaggerations of events on television may lead the public to believe these inaccuracies are the truth. “Cultivation theory posits that frequent viewing of these distortions of reality will increasingly result in the perception that these distortions reflect reality” (Shrum 511). People that frequently watch these shows with an exaggerated reality may truly believe that what they are watching reflects what really goes on in the life of a doctor, lawyer, or police officer. These distorted realities could lead to complications in the real world as people try to apply what they see on television to the real world.
Shows that involve the medical profession are very popular amongst television viewers; however, what is seen on these shows is not always realistic. Medical dramas offer people insights into the world of medicine and are where they get a lot of their information. “Numerous studies have noted the popularity of medical dramas, as well as the ways in which viewers use entertainment programs as a basis for their knowledge about medicine” (Strauman and Goodier 32). Just as most shows, the hero always saves the day, in medical shows, the doctor is the hero and has all the answers. However, there is “concern from physicians that overly positive representations set unrealistic expectations for patients” (Strauman and Goodier 33). In real life doctors cannot save every patient and they definitely do not have all the answers. These television shows that constantly portray the heroic doctors may lead people to expect more from their doctors than is actually possible. Although the writers try to be as accurate as possible by having experts in the field available for consultation it does not mean that certain aspects are not exaggerated or always feasible.

Lawyers are also predominant fixtures on television. One can turn on the television and somewhere they can find a show that involves lawyers. People learn a lot about lawyers from what they see on these television shows. A study conducted by Pfau, Mullen, Diedrich and Garrow found that, “television’s portrayals of attorneys influence the public’s perceptions of attorneys” (Pfau and Mullen). Many people have not had a lot of experience with lawyers, so almost all of their information comes from what they see on television. The lack of overall experience with lawyers, combined with frequent viewing of legal shows, may lead to viewers having an exaggerated view of lawyers.
Along with the medical and legal fields, the forensics field is also a popular and misrepresented career. Many times in shows, like CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, viewers will see characters do things that cannot actually be done. “The inaccuracies in these shows have to do with stretching the science beyond what normally occurs, or taking computer graphics and making science do something it can’t” (qtd. in Stanton). The main goal of a television show is to entertain and these shows take a lot of creative liberties when writing. Although these shows often exaggerate what science can actually do, sometimes the science depicted does actually exist. However, most labs would not have access to the tools needed to make use of the procedures. According to Kathy Reichs, a forensic anthropologist and producer on the television show Bones, “some of the things that we use, does any crime lab that I’ve ever seen have them? No, because it is too expensive, but they do exist”( Sometimes the science does exist; however, the cost of the using it is too high for most labs. The exaggerations of these forensic shows have also even been known to influence jurors on criminal cases.
In 2003, the CSI Effect was introduced to demonstrate the effect that shows like CSI can have on jurors. “The CSI Effect is the notion that crime show viewing influences jurors to have

unrealistic expectations of forensic evidence, which then affects their trial decisions” (Hayes and Levett 216). Viewing television shows that revolve around criminal investigation could lead the jurors to expect things that are just not realistic. For example, they may always want forensic evidence, which is not always possible (Hayes and Levett 216-17). When no forensic evidence is available, doubts in the prosecution may arise in the minds of jurors. In shows like CSI they always find all the answers and there is always that smoking gun that points them directly to the bad guy. However, in the real world, evidence just does not work that way.
As these examples show, television plays a major part in a lot of people’s lives and it is important to understand what the effects television viewing can have. The theories of cultivation and social learning introduce reasons for why television can have such an impact on someone.
People watch a good amount of television everyday and they get a lot of information about areas that they would not otherwise be familiar. The information gained from watching television can cause people to develop an unrealistic perception of themselves, others, or even a potential career. The effects that television can have should not be taken lightly and they are important to understand in order to limit the negative effects that they could potentially have on someone’s life.
The purpose of this study is to determine how cultivation and social learning theory affect people’s perception of society. Other research has studied how television viewing can influence certain things such as body image and stereotypes. However, not a lot of research has been done on whether or not those who watch more television are likely to believe what they see on television, causing them to be more affected by its content. Those who watch more television have a higher exposure to the images and messages presented on television, which should result in them believing these portrayals to be accurate. They will also have more opportunities to learn

from the examples set forth by these shows. Based on research, the hypothesis for this study is that those who watch more television will be more likely to accept what is shown on television as the truth and be more susceptible to the affects of television.

An online survey was conducted of adults ages eighteen to forty-nine. The reason this survey targeted those between the ages of eighteen and forty-nine is because this demographic is seen as the most valuable among television networks because it brings in the most money from advertisers. The revenue, from advertising, that can be brought in from this age group often causes television networks to cater their shows towards them (Pomerantz 40). This survey was purposive in focusing on a targeted age group; however, the survey was not random and thus cannot be representative of a population. The survey also uses a rating scale so participants were not able to explain why they chose the answers they did.
The participants were asked a series of questions designed to show how their perceptions were affected by television. They were asked questions pertaining to four specific areas: realism, body image, stereotypes, and job glorification. The questions in the realism section were designed to measure how accurate and realistic people believe television shows to be. Some of these questions were based on questions asked in earlier research, specifically Busselle’s article “Television Exposure, Perceived Realism, and Exemplar Accessibility in the Social Judgment Process”. The body image section asked people to think about how television affected the perceptions of their own bodies as well as others. The questions pertaining stereotypes were designed to see how people felt their race and gender were portrayed on television. It also attempts to see if people assume certain people will act a certain way based on what they see on

television. Finally, the questions on job glorification were designed to get a sense of the participants’ perceptions of different careers, specifically doctors, lawyers, and police officers.


A total of twenty-two people took the online survey, 55 percent of them were female and 45 percent male. A majority, 59 percent of the participants, were between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five, 18 percent were twenty-six to thirty-three, 9 percent were thirty-four to forty- one, and 14 percent were forty-two to forty-nine. Most of the participants would be considered light to moderate television viewers, with 32 percent watching less than one hour of television a day and 45 percent watching one to two hours daily. Only 18 percent reported watching three to four hours and 5 percent said they watch four or more hours of television a day.
Participants were asked to rank the order in which they watched certain genres, one being the most frequently and six being the least frequent. The genres that were ranked one to three were considered the most frequently watched. The top three genres watched were comedies, crime dramas, and reality.







Based on the data received from the survey, all of the participants understand that television does take creative liberties. Four questions were asked pertaining to the accuracy and realism of television shows and none of the participants strongly agreed with any of the questions regarding televisions accuracy or realism. Fifty-five percent of the participants agreed that the crime shown on television is similar to the crime in the real world, 36 percent disagreed and 9 percent strongly disagreed. However, the participants that reported watching crime dramas the most frequently were less likely to agree with the accuracy of the crime on television. Only 42 percent agreed, 50 percent disagreed, and 8 percent strongly disagreed.
Most of the participants did not believe that the illnesses and procedures shown on medical dramas were common in the real world, 33 percent of the participants agreed, 59 percent disagreed, and 9 percent strongly disagreed. None of the participants that reported medical dramas as one of their most frequently watched genres agreed that the illnesses and procedures were common, 60 percent disagreed and 40 percent strongly disagreed.
Most of the participants, 68 percent, felt that the portrayal of cops was somewhat accurate and 32 percent believed it was not accurate. Of the participants that watched the most crime dramas, 58 percent believed that the portrayal of cops was somewhat accurate and 42 percent felt it was not accurate.
Participants’ feelings towards the accuracy of television did not increase with the amount of television that they watched. Overall most participants, 82 percent, felt that television shows were somewhat accurate. Eighty percent of the participants who watched the most television, three or more hours a day, considered television shows to be somewhat accurate and 82 percent of those who watched two hours or less felt that television shows are somewhat accurate.















Body Image

It is clear from the results that females are more likely to believe that actors and actresses have the ideal body, 83 percent of females agreed, 8 percent strongly agreed and 8 percent disagreed. However, men were split over actors and actresses having the ideal body. Fifty percent of them agreed but 40 percent disagreed, 10 percent strongly disagreed, and no men strongly agreed.
Females were also more likely to compare themselves to those on television. 41 percent of females agreed or strongly agreed that they often compare themselves to those on television while 30 percent of men said they compare themselves to those on television. Most participants said that they did not compare members of the opposite sex to people on television, only 18 percent agreed, 25 percent of females and 10 percent of males.


Those that watch reality television shows the most frequently are not as comfortable with how their race or their gender is being portrayed on television. None of the participants who said they watched reality television less frequently than other genres felt uncomfortable with how their race or gender is portrayed. However, 27 percent of those that most frequently watched

reality television did not feel comfortable with how their race was portrayed. Also, 63 percent said they disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement: I feel comfortable with how my gender is portrayed on television.














Only 32 percent of participants felt their values were similar to those shown on television, while 45 percent disagreed and 23 percent strongly disagreed. Most participants, 59 percent, either disagreed or strongly disagreed, that reality television is a true representation of how people act while only 41 percent agreed. However, most did believe that reality television did increase stereotyping, 95 percent agreed or strongly agreed.

Job Glorification

The survey analyzed how the participants felt the position of doctors, lawyers, and police officers are portrayed on television. Most participants felt that each of these professions were

over glamorized on television. At 77 percent, the position of a doctor received the highest number of participants believing that it was over glamorized, followed by lawyers at 68 percent, and finally police officers at 64 percent.

With all of the television people consume it is important to understand how what is shown on television affects peoples’ lives and how they perceive the world. The purpose of this study was to determine if those who watched the most television were more susceptible to its effects. This study analyzed the amount of television the participants watched and how frequently they viewed certain genres: crime dramas, medical dramas, and reality and how it affected their perceptions. The study focused on how television affected peoples’ views on body image, stereotypes and job glorification. Despite the research the findings of this study did not fully support the hypothesis that the more television one watches the more they will be affected by it.
This study only included people between the ages of eighteen and forty-nine. However, a study of younger people may have resulted television having a greater influence. “It is generally assumed that younger children are more susceptible to media effects because they are less able to evaluate content critically”(Cohen and Weiman 112). Younger people are more susceptible to what they see on television, which is ultimately what leads to influence. If someone believes what he or she see on television as the truth, it should have more of an influence on him or her.
The more realistic one believes a television show to be should translate into how its content affects them. “Perceived realism may affect social judgments or, as Potter argued, it may interact with exposure to influence social perceptions” (Busselle 47). The more realistic a person believes a show to be, the more likely it is to influence their perceptions of the real world. In this

study the majority of participants believed television shows to be only somewhat accurate and none of them believed television to be very accurate. This suggests that the participants are aware of television’s …

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