Academic journal article Communication Studies

Cultivation and the Elaboration Likelihood Model: A Test of the Learning and Construction and Availability Heuristic Models

Academic journal article Communication Studies

Cultivation and the Elaboration Likelihood Model: A Test of the Learning and Construction and Availability Heuristic Models

Article excerpt

As a unique medium, television transports viewers to explore people, places, and events. Exposure to these visual images provides viewers with information about society and is a significant source of secondary socialization (Pfau et al., 1998). Originally, Gerbner et al. (1977) proposed that people are socialized by television through extensively viewing television's distorted portrayal of society resulting in powerful cultivation effects such as a perception of a mean and scary world. This theory of cultivation rests on two foundational assumptions: (a) uniform messages and (b) habitual viewing (Gerbner et al., 1977) and does not account for psychological processes.

To date, though, only a weak cultivation effect has been documented in the literature. In fact, for the last two decades researchers have been arguing against the foundations of cultivation, claiming "the problem is, without evidence of psychological processes, the cultivation hypothesis stands on a tenuous foundation" (Hawkins & Pingree, 1980, pp. 35-36). Initially only a few studies (i.e., Hawkins, Pingree, & Adler, 1987; Pingree, 1983; Potter, 1991a; Shapiro, 1991) tested psychological processes as an explanation for cultivation effects and the results set the foundation for a new direction for cultivation theory. Shrum and O'Guinn (1993) provided evidence that psychological processes are inherent in inference judgments about social reality and replicated the results (Shrum, 1996). Potter (1991a) found support for an active, learning and construction model, whereas Shrum and O'Guinn documented a passive, availability heuristic model of cultivation. The major difference between the two models is the extent that people cognitively rationalize judgments regarding social reality (Mares, 1996). The learning and construction model defines cultivation processes as active, encompassing greater cognitive rationalizing, whereas the availability heuristic model defines cultivation processes as passive, encompassing little cognitive rationalizing.

This study seeks to address inconsistencies in the cultivation literature that proposes both the active, learning and construction model and the passive, availability heuristic model. The current study tests how psychological processes and cognitive mechanisms operate within a paradigm that incorporates both the active, learning and construction and passive, availability heuristic models of cultivation. The purpose of the study is to (a) challenge cultivation's foundational assumptions in order to pursue this new perspective of cultivation consisting of cognitive and psychological processes; and (b) offer a more substantial explanation of how cultivation occurs by testing cultivation within a paradigm that accounts for both the active, learning and construction, as well as the passive, availability heuristic models of cultivation. The results of this study will provide a better understanding of the process by which people cultivate conceptions of reality by consuming television.

Challenging Cultivation's Foundational Assumptions

The current literature, as well as dated literature, provides evidence that active media behavior as well as passive, habitual media behavior, affects social reality beliefs (i.e., Perse, 1986; Perse, Ferguson, & McLeod, 1994; Rubin, Perse, & Taylor, 1988; Snyder & Rouse, 1995). The literature also suggests that messages are not uniform (Chiricos, Eschholz, & Gertz, 1997; Doob & MacDonald, 1979; Hirsch, 1980; Hughes, 1980; Potter, 1986; Wakshlag, Vial, & Tamborini, 1983). Thus, both the habitual viewing and uniform message assumptions are weak theoretical foundations for cultivation that should be abandoned.

Abandoning cultivation's foundational assumptions and proposing cultivation as a process theory is a relatively new perspective of cultivation (i.e., Fujioka, 1999) and suggests that cultivation may be much more complex than a direct correlational link between television exposure and fears of society (Morgan & Signorielli, 1990; Potter, 1991a). …

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