Mean world syndrome

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Mean world syndrome is a term coined by George Gerbner to describe a phenomenon whereby violence-related content of mass media makes viewers believe that the world is more dangerous than it actually is. Mean world syndrome is one of the main conclusions of cultivation theory. Gerbner, a pioneer researcher on the effects of television on society, argued that people who watch television tended to think of the world as an intimidating and unforgiving place. A direct correlation between the amount of television one watches and the amount of fear one harbors about the world has been proven, although the direction of causality remains debatable in that persons fearful of the world may be more likely to retreat from it and in turn spend more time in indoor, solitary activity such as television watching.[1]

The number of opinions, images, and attitudes that viewers tend to form when watching television will have a direct influence on how the viewer perceives the real world. They will reflect and refer to the most common images or recurrent messages thought to have an impact on their own real lives. Gerbner once said: "You know, who tells the stories of a culture really governs human behaviour. It used to be the parent, the school, the church, the community. Now it's a handful of global conglomerates that have nothing to tell, but a great deal to sell."[1][2]

Gerbner says that the spread of the syndrome has become more intense over time. He describes how newer technologies such as VCR, DVD, and cable do not disturb the cultivation theory, but actually allow more complete access and spread of recurrent messages, although widening access to the Internet world of information can counteract that. The 1930s behaviorism models, the Payne Fund Studies, show that the effect that mass media has on our behavior is considerable. This is called the hypodermic needle model: people are injected with appropriate messages and ideas constructed by the mass media.[3] Individuals who watch television infrequently and adolescents who talk to their parents about reality are claimed to have a more accurate view of the real world than those who do not, and they may be able to more accurately assess their vulnerability to violence. They may also tend to have a wider variety of beliefs and attitudes.[4]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 George Gerbner Leaves the Mean World Syndrome Posted by: lex on Sunday, January 08, 2006, Peace, Earth & Justice News
  2. Gerbner, G., Gross, L., Morgan, M., Signorielli, N., & Shanahan, J. (2002) In J. Bryant & D. Zillmann (Eds.), Media effects: Advances in theory and research (2nd ed., pp. 43–67). Mahwah, N J: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
  3. [1] Posted By: University of Twente September 6, 2004
  4. OrgeonLive: "The 'mean-world' syndrome: Despite the horror of child abductions, reality is a less threatening place than the world of television"