Graduation Year

2008

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

M.A.

Degree Granting Department

Mass Communications

Major Professor

Kenneth C. Killebrew, Ph.D.

Keywords

Media effects, Elderly, Aging, Accessibility model, Priming

Abstract

Cultivation theory (Gerbner & Gross, 1976) suggests that the cumulative effect of heavy exposure to television's underrepresentation and negative portrayal of people 65+ as sexless, insignificant, and comical can cause people to assume such television-like perceptions of the age group in the real world. This study's purpose was to explore not only television's cultivation effect on viewers' perceptions of the number and nature of people 65+, but also the psychological processes that are expected to mediate this effect. As an extension of Shrum, Wyer, and O'Guinn's (1998) study on the role of source discounting in cultivation, this quasi-experiment employed three experimental conditions-no-priming, source-priming, and relation-priming-to manipulate participants' awareness of television as the source of the information they retrieve to make judgments about people 65+.

The experimental conditions were expected to moderate the cultivation effect like they did in Shrum, Wyer, and O'Guinn's (1998) study; in the no-priming condition, but not in the source-priming or relation-priming conditions, heavy viewers were to report more television-like perceptions of people 65+ than light viewers.

The results of this study revealed six major findings: first, heavy television viewing does not cultivate viewers to underestimate the 65+ population in the U.S.; second, heavy television viewing cultivates viewers to perceive people 65+ as sexless (specifically, "not sexually attractive" and "not sexually passionate") and comical (specifically, "unintentionally funny"); third, priming is not necessary to induce source discounting of television information for judgment-making about the number and nature of the elderly in the real world; fourth, whether people are prompted to recognize television as an information source, they will discount television information when making judgments about the number of people 65+, and they will count television information when making judgments about the nature of people 65+; fifth, high perceived reality of television encourages heavy viewers to perceive people 65+ as "comical"; sixth, high direct experience with people 65+ discourages heavy viewers

to perceive people 65+ as "insignificant in society."

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