What kind of impact does daily exposure to television have on us?
There's certainly no question that we are all television junkies. According to data from a 2014 Nielsen report, Americans watch an average of five hours of television a day and that rises sharply as we grow older. For people over 65, that rises to over seven hours a day and those figures have remained fairly stable over time. For all that we worry about the effect of television watching on children, they actually spend less time watching television than adults do (since they have more outside interests to draw them away from the tube).
According to cultivation theory, the amount of time we spend "living" in the reality shown on television increases our willingness to believe what we are seeing. This implies that television watching "cultivates" how we perceive reality. So, perhaps it's not so hard to believe that "reality television" has become so popular. Cultivation theory was first developed by the late George Gerbner, who also established the Cultural Indicators Research Project in 1968. According to cultivation theory, the power that television has comes from being fundamentally different from all other forms of mass media. You need to know how to read to be influenced by books or newspapers and you need money to see a movie or a play. To go online or play a video game, you need to have a fair degree of technological savvy. With television however, all you need to do it sit there and watch. The universal nature of television means that everyone can watch the same television programs and take in the same kind of media messages. This gives us what Gerbner called "a centralized system of story-telling" and a shared way of seeing the world.
To read more, check out my new Psychology Today blog post.