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Gerbner’s Cultivation Theory and the CSI Effect on Jurors Essay

The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office presented a study in 2005 in which it examined the impact of the so-called “CSI effect” to its jurors. The data was gathered by means of surveying prosecutors who had jury trial experience, and from there, the study assessed the samples’ perceptions as to whether the “CSI effect” had played a part in the decision of some juries. Interestingly, although the “CSI effect” may be deemed an unlikely factor, the study showed that the “CSI effect” is real and may affect jury behavior (Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, 2005).

Television watching, as some media theories have discussed, can create a psychological impact to its viewers especially as it can inevitably serve as an educational source; however, the problem lies in what television can actually teach (Condry, 1989). The presence of the “CSI effect” in justice and legal systems can be deemed significant especially as to how this may affect the judgment of the members of the jury.

The idea that certain television genres, especially along the lines of the highly popular crime drama Crime Scene Investigation (CSI), can affect certain trial outcomes may seem outrageous, but the “CSI effect” has been established as a ground that connects the real-life justice and legal systems and products of media and entertainment (Smith, Patry and Stinson, 2008; Stevens, 2008; Mardis, 2006). As the effectiveness of the justice system also relies on the effectiveness of its jurors, the impact of the media and entertainment products towards people in this context may be deemed problematic (Stevens, 2008).

This is why it is important to evaluate the impact of the “CSI effect” because of its implications thereby highlighting the relationship between the law and mass communications. The term “CSI effect” is based on the popular television show Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) and other shows that present the following basic premise: the ability of an (fictional) authoritative group in crime and justice that can expose the truth based on their systematic and sophisticated processes. However, since these shows are made for televisions, it is inevitable that these processes are glamorized and may not be realistic at all.

The “CSI effect” therefore pertains to the influence of such television programs to the perceptions and behavior of the people, especially in relation to the justice and legal systems (Smith, Patry and Stinson, 2008). Stevens (2008) further explains that the “CSI effect” is based on fictionalized accounts as to what forensic science can do but, due to the twisted conceptions of reality of some viewers, there is the inescapable belief that these components of the shows are something happens in real life.

Among the media and communication theories that can serve as fundamental framework of this assessment is Gerbner’s Cultivation Theory. The theory suggests that information sources such as television contribute to the cultivation of the individual and the social environment; therefore, conceptions of reality are formed (Gerbner & Gross, 1976; Gerbner, 1998). This theory can then be based on the concept that stories, as projected, tends to reflect a certain extent of reality, therefore, they animate a society’s cultural environment.

As Gerbner (1999, ix) explained the functions of stories, they “illuminate the all-important but invisible relationships and hidden dynamics of life”; as these stories represent a degree of shared beliefs, the cultivation of these tales and representations therefore create a significant input to the perceived reality of individuals. The Cultivation Theory is also further supported by several studies conducted by Gerber and his colleagues with a focus on the impact of television to real world perceptions.

This brings an interesting premise as the projected reality is based on fictional work; the impact of the cultivation thereby leads to behavioral effects. Television shows, as Gerbner (1998) pointed out, are important marketing tools that have affected not only the people’s perceptions but also their identity and expectations from the society. The validity of television can be based on its function, being a source of information and spectacle representing the shared images and history across many societies (Gerbner, 1998).

This paper therefore aims to evaluate the relationship of Gerbner’s Cultivation Theory with the “CSI effect”, especially as to how this has affected and may affect juror perceptions and judgments. This study addresses this thesis by conducting a review of a series of related literatures that are deemed integral to a better and cohesive understanding between this phenomenon and the theory of cultivation. The findings and implications discuss the degree of impact of the “CSI effect” and whether this is something that the justice system should seriously consider and devote effort to.

Furthermore, approaches towards the Cultivation Theory are also addressed especially in terms of its applicability to the “CSI effect” and juror behavior. The study then concludes with an analysis on how the findings may actually help in the formulation of a more effective jury screening process. Review of Literature Gerbner’s Cultivation Theory, the Media, and the Television A series of studies conducted by Gerbner and his colleagues tackled the effect of the television and its contribution to the formation of reality among its viewers which are, interestingly, found to be similar to the world in these television shows.

Functioning under the umbrella of the Cultivation Theory, the studies also initiated cultivation analyses and the identification of cultural indicators that were also deemed to contribute to reality- and perception-formation among television viewers. As Gerbner (1998) explained these processes, the activity was spawned from the previous examinations on how stories, in general, may be formed for the purpose of manufacturing and marketing purposes. Television is therefore seen as an important medium in story-telling, especially how technological innovations seem to have continuously supported the role of the television in the society.

As Gerbner’s studies (1998, 1999; Gerbner & Gross, 1984; Gerbner, Gross, Morgan & Signorelli, 1984) have emphasized the role and importance of television, the origins of cultivation found its venue in this particular technology and social tool. This is because media messages can be easily accessed through television, therefore the cultivation of social reality may be based on what the media feeds its viewers. However, as Gerbner (1998) noted, although the television may be an important tool, it merely plays an integral aspect in the overall dynamics of information processes and conception-formation.

This is to say that, for instance, a person may be a huge fan of CSI because of its entertainment value, but the same person is also well-aware that what he or she is appreciating is fiction and not necessarily real and factual. Hence, it can be gathered from the cultivation theory that although television plays an integral role, its effect is not absolute as people are continuously exposed to many channels of information and messages (Gerbner, 1998).

The cultivation, on one hand, is seen to be more effective is the viewer is experiences a repeated exposure to particular television images (Gerbner & Gross, 1976). The definition of cultivation is thereby defined as “the independent contributions television viewing makes to viewer conceptions of social reality. The ‘cultivation differential’ is the margin of difference in conceptions of reality between light and heavy viewers in the same demographic sub-groups” (Gerbner, Gross, Morgan and Signorielli, 1994, 23).

An analysis towards Gebner’s theory is presented by Hughes (1980) who presented some shortcomings in the studies presented by the former and his colleagues in the context of the effect of violence in television to the perceived reality. The initial cultivation theory studies conducted by Gerbner in the1970s generally made use of the following controls: age, sex and education. Hughes pointed out that there were more factors that could affect the responses of the sample that participated in the General Social Survey such as race and income.

This shows that the applicability of the cultivation theory is limited; hence, how television content may cultivate certain conceptions among individuals may be more minimal impact than expected. One of the studies that applied the notion of cultivation theory is a study conducted by Shrum (1999) where the author measured attitude strength and attitude extremity as implications of Gerbner’s cultivation theory. Shrum’s initial approach to the study was to weigh in theories along the lines of Gerbner’s work and its critics such as those presented by Hughes (1980).

Basically, the author agreed with the identified shortcomings of Gerbner’s work although the criticisms were mostly based on the process Gerbner and his team used. Shrum also pointed out that one of the probable weaknesses of Gerbner’s work was the identification of the two main categories of samples in addition to the previously identified controls of age, sex and education: participants who were heavy television viewers and those who were light television viewers. The main purpose of Shrum’s study was to evaluate the impact of television towards the attitudes demonstrated.

Although Shrum showed that what could limit Gerbner’s work was the issue on the lack of efficient design, the author approached the study in a similar manner — by comparing the results between heavy and light viewers — as a means to identify differences. The categorization between the heavy and the light viewers would prove to be simplistic yet substantial in the author’s approach especially as the samples he used fell in the same demographic categories which were students.

The study’s result showed that it reflected Gerbner’s cultivation theory; apparently, heavy television watchers were found to have the tendency to perceive a “television world” as compared to the light television watchers. The study examined students who watched soap operas, hence, from the results, the sampled heavy viewers were found to have the tendency to experience more distrust and possibly, more marital problems. Shrum (1999) utilized regression approaches and analyses in order to come up with this conclusion.

A similar study can be also found in Quick’s (2009) assessment of variation among patient response as based on whether they watch the medical drama Grey’s Anatomy. The study found that patients who heavily watched the show are most likely to have positive associations in terms of their perceptions towards doctors. The perception, according to this study, is not necessarily based on the positive portrayal of the doctors but rather the show was seen as a credible reference to what happens in the hospitals and how doctors can be expected to behave in this space.

Hence, despite the presence of both positive and negative portrayals of medical professionals, heavy viewers of this particular show count the courageous and compassionate aspects of the fictional characters, hence, the study found that these patient-viewers have a positive perception towards their physicians. Quick (2009) mentioned, however, that although this context does not necessarily provide harm, the problem is that the sensationalization of the show may further cultivate wrong or high expectations from patients.

Quick (2009) further mentioned that the implications of such results can be used to communicate accurate depictions such as, in the case of Grey’s Anatomy, conveying important health-related information. In a sense, by using the fictional channel such as television, viewers are able to be more informed in important issues. This is discussed by Appel (2008) in which the television plays an integral role in just-world beliefs; as Appel mentioned, the cultivation of beliefs can be specially affective among those who heavily watch television.

Appel (2008) supported this posit by conducting a comparison study between Austrian and German television viewers; the main purpose of this research was to determine the degree of just-world beliefs among television viewers. The study showed that fictional narratives can change the perceptions of the people, and interestingly, these narratives usually feature a world that is just. Basically, what can be attributed to this impact can be pointed at the content of the program.

The effectiveness of these messages in the “television world” is due to the following factors: the stimulation of moral evaluation paired with the presence of resolution, and at the same time, the entertainment value of these programs (Appel, 2008). This is why, according to the author, heavy television viewers especially those who watch a lot of fictional narratives demonstrate a strong belief in a just-world as compared to viewers of infotainment and non-fiction where belief in the mean-world is seen to be more emphasized.

From this, content evidently plays a role in the amount of influence to the viewers, but from this study, the fictional programs are seen to be a more effective venue in changing the beliefs of the viewers. When it comes to content, genre plays a very important role. An important point raised by Cohen and Weinmann (2000) is that the viewers themselves unconsciously “cultivate” themselves through television because the viewers choose which shows to watch.

The selection can be based on many factors, from age, education, sex, personality and even life experiences. Since genres vary as based on content and certain plot norms, it can be gathered that social realities in these contexts also differ. Which is why, according to the authors, the view and representations on the world are not similar, and at the same time, these program contents may also present conflicting perspectives.

Hence, in the aspect of cultivation, different attitudes and world-views can be formed; Shrum’s (1999) and Quick’s (2009) studies are only therefore applicable to the specific genres they focused on (soap operas and Grey’s Anatomy, respectively) and the results towards attitudes and viewer response may be different if the study evaluated viewer response towards different shows. Cultivation Theory and the Crime TV Genre

When it comes to the cultivation impact in crime genres in television, Dominick (1973) examined Gerbner’s theory specifically his studies in cultivation when it comes to crime- or violence-related shows. Dominick mentioned that prior to Gerbner’s study published in 1972, there were already past studies as to the presence of crime-related shows as found on television. In fact, as the author mentioned, it was found that even in the majority of the television shows in the 1950s demonstrated many programs of this genre, and that law enforcers were already highly stereotyped.

Dominick (1973) cited Gerbner’s previous study as a stepping stone to further analyze crime and violence on television; according to the author, Gerbner’s studies, which covered television shows in the later half of the 1960s, showed a significant amount of violence and crime on television yet, in reality, there was the noted decrease in violence among criminals but the law enforcers maintained a certain degree of violence. In reflection, Dominick noted that on television, the law enforcers were seen as the main authoritative figure that always saves the day.

Hence, in agreeing with Gerbner’s study, Dominick’s analysis lead to further contribution as to the role of cultivation theory especially as to how the audiences are influenced on their stereotype perceptions, especially in crime- and violence-related shows. Stereotyping seems to be a common element in television crime shows especially as this genre play up certain norms when it comes to the supposed social reality of crime. What is interesting is that racial elements were found to be contributory to these portrayals.

For instance, in a study by Dixon (2007), the author noted that responses from heavy television viewers of crime-related programs are most likely the ones to reflect a racial bias in the identification of the perpetrator and the police officer. This shows that even though fact-based programs such as the news present reality, as also adapted in fictional programs, there is the aspect of racialized portrayals. Hence, cultivation in this context has led to certain media imageries that have become a social reality based on the collective perception towards crime racial stereotypes.

However, what challenges this is presented by a study conducted by Grabe and Drew (2007) in which the authors examined how crime in the media would actually successfully cultivate specific crime orientations. According to the authors, the study of crime in the media has been a prominent subject in studying cultivation. Grabe and Drew conducted a study among 505 selected adults located in Indiana, and from this, the study concluded that there was a significant variance depending on the many media genres and channels.

Hence, the study showed that crime orientation among individuals may not be as strongly influenced by the media especially as viewers have different personal orientations that may affect their own worldviews. This is also reflected by a study executed by Diefenbach and West (2001) in which the authors tested the effect of cultivation theory when it comes to perceptions on violence and crime as seen on television. However, Diefenbach and West also showed results which point at the influence of light versus heavy viewers perceptions. The study showed that projections on crime rates are higher among heavy television viewers.

On one hand, it should be also noted that in this study, as the authors pointed out, the samples were limited among the participants from a small North Carolina town with crime rates below the national average. The background of the participants can then be said to factor into perceptions, which is to say, for instance, that projections from samples from a small town may differ from those from the city who have a greater exposure to criminal incidences in their communities. Another variation of a study applying the cultivation theory in crime television is conducted by Heath and Petraitis (1987).

According to the study, adapted perceptions projected from the “television world” were believed to be mostly realistic in distant settings and not in their immediate environment. The study concluded that the fear viewers feel towards crime are more apparent among viewers who see the possibility of such incidents in a distant urban setting rather than in their neighborhood. Basically, based on these applications of the cultivation theory in the crime genre, it can be observed that the varying results are due to the different impacts of many factors.

It is evident that one of the crime genre norms is the utilization of stereotyped portrayals which, in the end, does lead the viewers to make certain conclusions thereby affecting their crime orientations. On one hand, other studies further look at the derivatives at the actual effect of crime television exposure among the viewers, and this shows that the cultivation theory is applicable only up to a certain extent. The validity of Gerbner’s cultivation theory still has to rely on the background of the viewers, the relevance of the show’s content to the viewers’ reality, and the amount of media exposure a viewer may have.

Hence, it is possible that some viewers demonstrate a quintessential example or a manifestation of Gerbner’s cultivation theory, but as time went on and as can be seen in the more recent cited studies on audience response towards crime television, perceptions in this context are not homogenous. The impact of television towards perception and behavior can then be regarded on a case-to-case basis, especially as audience exposure is no longer limited to the offerings of television, in addition to the fact that there has been also the emergence of sub-genres among many other shows.

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