Cultivation research combines descriptive content analyses of television programming with viewer survey data to examine the influence of exposure to television on beliefs about the world. The content analysis portion of the research provides indicators of what television might be teaching viewers. The survey component can then correlate respondents' viewing patterns with their beliefs about the real world. Originally designed to address the issue of media violence (Gerbner & Gross, 1976), cultivation methods have been applied to other issues including gender roles (Preston, 1990; Signorielli, 1990), occupational roles (Carveth & Alexander, 1985; Potts & Martinez, 1994) and health issues (Molitor, 1994; Potter, 1991).
The methodological development of cultivation analysis has had a lively and controversial history (Doob & MacDonald, 1979; Gerbner, Gross, Morgan, & Signorielli, 1981a, 1981b; Hirsch, 1980, 1981; Hughes, 1980). Early methodological concerns in cultivation research have been addressed in many studies and reviews (Hawkins & Pingree, 1982; Morgan & Signorielli, 1990; Potter, 1994; Rubin, Perse, & Taylor, 1988), and there is substantial agreement among researchers that a relationship exists between viewer perceptions of "real-world" violence and the viewing of violent television programming. Questions remain, however, concerning how to best examine this relationship. The present research proposes methodological suggestions for cultivation research, including an approach to data analysis which might better reveal the influence of relevant variables.
This research involves the quantification and statistical analysis of open-ended response measures of viewer beliefs about the world. The present research examines perceptions and actual rates of violent crime using a definition supplied by the U.S. Department of Justice. This operationalization of television violence, which includes explicit definitions of "violent crime," has not been frequently used in media research. The original operationalization of violence offered by Gerbner and Gross for the Annenberg Cultural Indicators project is "the overt expression of physical force against self or other, compelling action against one's will on pain of being hurt or killed, or actually hurting or killing" (Gerbner & Gross, 1976, p. 184). The National Television Violence Study, a large-scale content analysis of television violence, uses a similar definition. Violence is defined as "any overt depiction of a credible threat of physical force or the actual use of such force intended to physically harm an animate or inanimate being or group of beings" (Smith, Wilson, Kunkel, Linz, Potter, Colvin, & Donnerstein, 1998, p. 20). Violence also includes "certain depictions of physically harmful consequences against an animate being that results from unseen violent means" (Smith et al., 1998, p. 20). Other researchers have expanded definitions to be more inclusive and to capture acts such as verbal aggression (Greenberg, Edison, Korzenny, Fernandez-Collado, & Atkin, 1980; Mustonen & Pulkkinen, 1993).
The present research uses a more limited definition of violence. Narrowing the operationalization of violence to include only those acts defined by the U.S. Department of Justice as "violent crimes" (murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault) provides unique opportunities for analysis and comparisons. First, the addition of "violent crime" as a class of television violence will eliminate the potential ambiguity of measures of televised violence cited by some critics of media violence research. By employing a definition used by the Department of Justice for the classification of actual violent crimes, the criticism that definitions of violence used in cultivation research are idiosyncratic is avoided.
Second, the operationalization of television violence using U.S. Department of Justice definitions of violent crime can make the argument that television is violent even stronger. …