Theories of Media and Society
Agenda Setting Function
 Authors:
McCombs & Shaw:
1967 Presidential election
 Main (original) idea:
Media influence what we
think about—not what we
 Not persuasion—but
importance of issues
Agenda Setting Theory:
The Core Proposition
Agenda setting is the
“process whereby the
news media lead the
public in assigning
importance to various
public issues” by giving
more space and time to
an issue.
Agenda Setting Theory
Types of agendas:
 Media agenda (topics covered by media)
 Public agenda (topics public believes to be
 Policy agenda (issues that decision makers
believe are important)
 Agenda Setting Theory in the comm. discipline
has concentrated on the relationship between
the media agenda and the public agenda
Figure 15.1
Personal exper. & comm. among elites and other individuals
news events
Real world indicators of the importance of an agenda
issue or event
Agenda Setting Theory
The researchers first conducted a content
analysis of newspaper and television
coverage of the campaign
 The researchers then interviewed undecided
voters about what issues were important (timelag study)
 These two agendas (media and public) were
virtually identical, with media focus preceding
public focus
Example ASF study: time-lag study
Agenda Setting Theory:
Establishing Causality
The correlation found between the media
agenda and the public agenda could be
interpreted two ways
 Does the media agenda cause the public
agenda, or vice versa?
 Further research suggests that the major
causal direction is from media to public
(though there is some “mutual” influence)
Agenda Setting Theory:
Theoretical Developments
Contingency factors
 Audience need for orientation
 high
interest in issue and high uncertainty
 Also
education level and political interest
Issue Obtrusiveness
 more
obtrusive if audience has experience
with issue and less obtrusive (unobtrusive) if not
 media effects greater for unobtrusive issues
Agenda Setting Theory:
Theoretical Developments
Contingency factors
How do types of Media influence public
 newspaper
 Broadcast
vs. television
quicker influence; print longer lasting
 But very complex issue
Agenda Setting Theory:
Theoretical Developments
Second-Level Agenda Setting
First-level agenda setting--the issues (objects) in
the media
 Second-level agenda setting tells audience what
to think about these issues
 Framing--process through which media
emphasize some aspects of reality and
downplay others creating interpretive schema
(e.g., by subtopics, placement, tone, narrative
form, details, etc.)
Agenda Setting Theory:
Theoretical Developments
 effects of previous
context on retrieval and
interpretation of
subsequent information
 particularly when it is
Spiral of Silence Theory
Spiral of Silence Theory (SOS) was
developed by Noelle-Neumann as
an “all-encompassing” theory of
public opinion (began with her
affiliation to Nazi party in the
1930s and 1940s—Americans’ view
of Germans)
 SOS relates several levels of
analysis: psychological processes,
interpersonal communication, and
mass media
Spiral of Silence Theory:
Key Concepts (Tenants Tenets of Theory)
People have a fear of isolation
 Individuals also assess the nature of public
opinion through a quasi-statistical sense
which is influenced (biased) by media’s
constant presence.
 When individuals believe public opinion is
against them, they will thus be unwilling to
speak out
 The Train Test
View of Public Attitude
Fear of Isolation
Silence regarding
“public opinion”
Spiral of Silence
4 aspects of media:
 Ubiquity
 Consonance
 Cumulative
 Accessible
Spiral of Silence Theory:
The Spiral Process
As these three factors work together,
public opinion will spiral down and
reflect dominant perceptions
 The spiral of silence will be mitigated by
several factors:
 The
spiral only applies to moral issues
 “Hard core” advocates will always speak
 The educated and affluent will more often
Spiral of Silence Theory:
Evidence and Extensions
Evidence for SOS has been relatively weak;
thus extensions have been proposed
 First, some suggest that the spiral of silence will
work only with regard to valued reference
 Second, some have looked at other factors that
will predict an individual’s willingness to “speak
out”—e.g., self-efficacy
 Has been critiqued for assumptions that media
are liberal and people are powerless
Media & World View
Cultivation Theory (or Analysis)
Author: George Gerbner:
National Commission on the
Causes & Prevention of
Violence (1967)
Scientific Advisory Committee
on Television and Social
Behavior (1972)
Cultural Indicators
Project/Cultural Environment
Main Point: Media creates
(cultivates) in audience a
way of seeing the world
Cultivation Theory
(Gerbner—advent of television)
CT concentrates on one medium: Television
CT considers the ways in which television
influences our socially constructed views of
reality (not just topics or issues)
What about video games?
Cultivation Theory
Assumptions about the Nature of Viewing
 We do not watch particular shows or
genres of shows, but we view by the clock
 TV becomes like a “member of the family,”
like a “religion” (heavy v. light viewers,
the ‘TV type’)
 Do you agree with Gerbner et al.’s claim
from 1986 that although television has
changed since the 1950’s, these assumptions
still hold?
Cultivation Theory:
The Cultivation Effect
Given these assumptions about
television and viewing:
Cultivation describes the
long-term and
cumulative impact of
television on our views
of reality—the nature
of the world and people
within that world.
Cultivation Theory:
Methods for Testing
Content Analysis: The “television
world” is assessed through content
analysis (e.g., ethnic groups, crimes,
 Cultural Indicators: Viewers’
perceptions of the world are
assessed through survey
 In comparing light viewers with
heavy viewers, researchers find that
heavy viewers’ perceptions of
reality are most in line with the
“television world” view
Cultivation Theory
Key Terms:
Violence: Any actual or
threat of physical harm
 Violence Index: Analysis
of week of violence
 “Ice-age analogy”
(cumulative effect)
 Mean World Syndrome:
Belief that the world is a
“mean and scary place”
Cultivation Theory
Violence in the media
Prime time crime 10x that
in real world (1982)
 8K murders, 100K acts of
violence by end of
elementary school
 13K deaths by end of
High School
 2/3 characters involved in
 1 Day: (1997)
Assaults: 389 serious, 73
362 uses of guns
273 punches
TV Viewing (Hs/Day)
Light: < 2 hours/day
Heavy: >4 hours/day
Mean World
(racial &
Views of …..
“The repetitive pattern of
television’s mass-produced
messages and images forms
the mainstream of the common
symbolic environment that
cultivates the most widely
shared conceptions of reality”
Cultivation Theory:
Critiques and Extensions
Major critique: The cultivation effect is generally
found to be very small (esp. after controlling for
demographic variables)
 Response to critique: First, any effect on views of
reality is important. Second, other factors can be
added to enhance predictive value of theory:
 Mainstreaming (homogenization of views for
heavy viewers)
 Resonance (more effect for viewers who have
had related experiences)
Cultivation Theory:
Critiques and Extensions (cont.)
Cultivation Theory has also been criticized
with regard to assumptions about television
and viewing
 These critiques are especially relevant in
view of changing technology
 Cable
and satellite offerings might mitigate
assumption of coherence
 Video-recording technology might mitigate
assumption of viewing by the clock
Cultivation Theory:
Critiques and Extensions (cont.)
Extension has been proposed to distinguish
between first-order and second-order
cultivation effects
 First-order
effect: Statistical descriptions of the
 Second-order effect: General nature of the world
Extension has been proposed to evaluate nature
of cultivation relationship
 ??Why are there no theories of cultivation
based on music???
Final Paper
(1) Summarize the theory (history, key components,
fundamental assumptions or propositions, etc. )
—Is it primarily interpretive, critical, post-pos.?
 (2) Critique the worth of the theory according to
Miller’s criteria (accuracy, consistency, scope,
parsimonious, heuristic)
 (3) Identify and integrate a minimum of five to
eight research studies motivated by the theory
 Some
studies will test the theory and some will simply
apply it
Final Paper
(4) Analyze current state of the theory based
on the research applications (Has the theory
been appropriately/sufficiently tested? has it
been applied to the appropriate contexts?, etc.)
 You
will refer primarily to the articles you reviewed
in the paper; however, you should also mention
applications or tests that may have been beyond the
parameters you set for your summary section.
(5) propose what should be done with the
theory in the future (e.g., what direction should
future research take? What elements need to
be added to the theory? etc.).