George Gerbner

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George Gerbner
Born (1919-08-08)August 8, 1919
Budapest, Hungary
Died December 24, 2005(2005-12-24) (aged 86)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.

George Gerbner (August 8, 1919 – December 24, 2005) was a professor of communication and the founder of cultivation theory.

Born in Budapest, Hungary, he emigrated to the United States in late 1939. Gerbner earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley in 1942. He worked briefly for the San Francisco Chronicle as a writer, columnist and assistant financial editor. He joined the US Army in 1943, and later the Office of Strategic Services while serving, and received the Bronze Star. Gerbner was honorably discharged as a First Lieutenant. After the war he worked as a freelance writer and publicist and taught journalism at El Camino College while earning a master's (1951) and doctorate (1955) in communications at the University of Southern California. His dissertation, "Toward a General Theory of Communication," won USC's award for "best dissertation."

He had been Dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania (1964–1989), and presided over the school's growth and influence in Communication Theory in academia. After leaving Annenberg, he became the Bell Atlantic Professor of Telecommunication at Temple University in 1997.

Gerbner established the Cultural Indicators Research Project in 1968 to document trends in television content and how these changes affect viewers' perceptions of the world. He coined the phrase "mean world syndrome" to describe the fact that people who watch large amounts of television are more likely to perceive the world as a dangerous and frightening place.[1]

In the article Science on Television: How It Affects Public Television, Gerbner touched on the fact that prime time television has an abundance of professionals that are portrayed in many broadcast stations. Of all of the professionals, scientists seem to have the short end of the stick and they seem to be portrayed in a slightly more negative light. Scientists are tended to be portrayed as “smarter and stronger than other professionals." While this may not be all bad things, they tend to be unbecoming characteristics that could shed a negative light on the entire profession. Although Gerber does mention that TV did not invent the negative perception of science, it does marginalize the field.

Gerbner testified before a Congressional subcommittee on communications in 1981. He said that "The most general and prevalent association with television viewing is a heightened sense of living in a 'mean world' of violence and danger. Fearful people are more dependent, more easily manipulated and controlled, more susceptible to deceptively simple, strong, tough measures and hard-line postures.... They may accept and even welcome repression if it promises to relieve their insecurities. That is the deeper problem of violence-laden television."[2]

He taught at Temple University, Villanova University, and the University of Pennsylvania. After leaving Penn in 1990, he founded the Cultural Environment movement, an advocacy group promoting greater diversity in communication media.[3]

Gerbner was diagnosed with cancer in late November, 2005, and died on December 24, 2005 at his apartment in center city Philadelphia.

Since 2010, an annual conference on communication, conflict, and aggression has been held in Budapest in honor of the late Dr. Gerbner. The conference is co-organized by Dr. Jolán Róka of Budapest Metropolitan University and Dr. Rebecca M. Chory, currently of Frostburg State University.

Selected publications

  • Against the Mainstream (with M. Morgan, 2002)
  • Invisible Crises (with others, 1996)
  • The Global Media Debate (with others, 1993)
  • Triumph of the Image (with others, 1992)
  • Beyond the Cold War (with others, 1991)
  • The Information Gap (with others, 1989)
  • Violence and Terror in the Mass Media (with N. Signorelli, 1988)


  1. "George Gerbner, 86, Researcher Who Studied Violence on TV, Is Dead". The New York Times. January 3, 2006. Retrieved May 3, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Oliver, Myrna (29 December 2005). "George Gerbner, 86; Educator Researched the Influence of TV Viewing on Perceptions". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 8 October 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


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