This is the Way the World “Friends”: Social Network Site Usage and Cultivation Effects

Marc A. Sestir


Social network sites (SNSs) such as Facebook and Twitter have become a primary means of communication over the past decade. Prior research (e.g. Gerbner, Gross, Morgan & Signorielli, 1980) has indicated that recurring themes in media can make those themes chronically available in consumers, altering interpersonal attitudes and overall worldview. Previous research demonstrated primarily negative impacts of chronic television consumption, with increased perceptions of the frequency of violent crime, infidelity in romantic relationships, and personal vulnerability to both, dubbed “Mean World Syndrome.” However, if SNS use continually primes users with social connection, then more positive, trusting social attitudes may result instead. An initial study showed a positive correlation between intensity of SNS use and endorsement of trusting social attitudes; a follow-up study demonstrated a causal effect for SNS primes on the same broad attitudes. These findings suggest frequent, intense SNS use may create a “Friendly World Syndrome” that mirrors established cultivation effects for television. Implications for SNS use, potential mechanistic explanations, and future directions of inquiry are discussed.


social network sites; online interaction; social attitudes; cultivation

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