The Theory of Crop: how does the screen influence us? - psychology - 2023



If you've ever stopped to think about the daily hours that most people can spend watching television or surfing the Internet, you may have asked yourself this question: How does what we see on a screen influence our thinking?

This is one of the questions that from the social sciences It has been tried to answer from what is known as Theory of Cultivation.

What is the Theory of Cultivation?

Although its name may be confusing at first, in its origins the Theory of Cultivation it was basically a theory of communication that served as a starting point for study the effects that prolonged exposure to television had on the way society is interpreted and imagined.

Specifically, the premise from which the Crop Theory first operated was that the more time you spend watching television, the more you come to believe that society is as it is reflected on the screen. In other words, the fact of getting used to a certain kind of television content makes it assumed that what is being shown to us is representative of the world in which we live.

Although it was formulated in the 70s, currently the Theory of Cultivation is still valid, although with a small variation. It no longer focuses solely on television effects, but rather It also tries to address digital media such as video games and content that can be found on the Internet.

Vicarious learning and digital media

In psychology there is a concept that is very useful to understand what the Crop Theory is based on: vicarious learning, exposed by Albert Bandura in the late 70s through his Theory of Social Learning.

This type of learning is, fundamentally, learning by observation; We do not need to perform an action to judge the results of this and decide if it is useful or not. We can simply see what others are doing and learn indirectly from their successes and mistakes.

The same thing can happen with television, video games and the Internet. Through the screen we observe how various characters make decisions and how these decisions translate into good and bad consequences.These processes not only tell us about whether certain actions are desirable or not, they also communicate aspects about how the universe works in which these decisions are made, and this is where the Theory of Cultivation comes in.

For example, from the series Game of Thrones it can be drawn the conclusion that piety is not an attitude that others assume as normal, but it can also be concluded that the most naive or innocent people are often manipulated and abused by others. It can also be concluded that altruism hardly exists, and that even signs of friendship are guided by political or economic interests.

On the one hand, vicarious learning makes us put ourselves in the shoes of certain characters and judge their failures and achievements just as we would if they were ours. On the other hand, the fact of having analyzed the results of an action from the point of view of that person makes us draw a conclusion about the functioning of society and the power it has over the individual.

The possible bad influence of television

One of the focuses of attention that has been deepened from the Theory of Cultivation is in the study of what happens when we see a lot of violent content across the screens. This is a topic that often comes to us through alarmist headlines, for example when one begins to explore the biography of teenage murderers and comes to the (hasty) conclusion that they committed their crimes under the influence of a video game or a series of TV.

But the truth is that the amount of violence that young people are exposed to through a screen is a relevant issue for behavioral sciences; not in vain childhood and adolescence are stages of life in which one is very sensitive to the subtle teachings that are revealed by the environment.

And, if it is assumed that television and digital media in general have the power to make viewers act in a "desirable" way, being influenced by awareness campaigns or assuming the normality of homosexuality by watching the Modern Family series, it is not unreasonable to think that the opposite could happen: that these same means make us more prone to reproduce undesirable behaviors, such as violent actions.

And it is these risky elements, rather than the beneficial potential of the media, that generate the most interest. At the end of the day, there is always time to discover the good part of digital media, but the dangers must be detected as soon as possible.

Thus, it would be perfectly possible that television and the Internet were a strong mark on the mentality of young people, and the possibilities that this influence is good are the same that it is bad, since it is not based only on the conclusions that are expressed directly in the dialogues, but it is an implicit learning. It is not necessary for a character to pronounce that he clearly believes in the superiority of white people for it to be assumed through his actions that he is racist.

Violence and the Theory of Cultivation

Nevertheless, It would be a mistake to assume that according to the Theory of Cultivation, televised violence makes us more violent. The effect that this would have would be, in any case, to assume more or less unconsciously the idea that violence is an essential and very common component in society (or in a certain type of society).

This can make us start to be more violent because "everyone is doing it", but it can also have the opposite effect: since we believe that most people are aggressive, we feel good about not having the need to harm others and for standing out in that aspect, which makes us more resistant to falling into this type of behavior.


The Theory of Cultivation is not based on an absolute and spectacular statement of the style of "seeing a lot of racist people on television makes you start discriminating against blacks", but is based on a much more subtle and humble idea: that Exposing ourselves to certain media makes us confuse social reality with the society shown in those media.

This phenomenon can carry many risks, but also opportunities; this depends on many other variables related to the characteristics of the viewers and the content transmitted in question.