An Empirical Encounter of Cultural Orientation and Cultivation Theory: Factors of Perception of Materialistic Realities and Dealing with Materialism of University Students in South Korea
Yuri Cha, Yeji Kwon
Asian Journal for Public Opinion Research. 2019. November, 7(4): 226-250
The purpose of this study is to explore whether the perceptions of materialistic realities of South Korean university students can be explained by individual experience and media use. We examined: 1) relative consequences of awareness of discrimination experience and amounts of time spent on genre-specific media on perceptions of materialistic realities, 2) whether cultural orientation (allocentrism, self-monitoring, and masculinity) influences explanatory factors of awareness of discrimination experience, 3) conditions of countervailing responses to materialistic reality. As a result of analyzing the online survey data of 330 university students in Seoul, the amount of time spent on the beauty or fashion genre and awareness of discrimination experience explained the perceptions of materialist reality in Korean society. Although the perceptions that affected the accommodative response did not affect countervailing response, innovativeness had an interaction effect with perceptions of materialist reality in only countervailing response. Finally, the implications of these findings were discussed.
cultural orientation; cultivation theory; awareness of discrimination experience; genre-specific media; accommodative-countervailing responseMaterialism is a consciousness that judges success based on the quantity and quality of material possessions and considers the possession of material objects as happiness (Richins & Dawson, 1992). South Korea is a country with strong materialism among the OECD countries ( Inglehart et al., 2014 ). According to research by Song, Song, Kim, and Jang (2017), based on an empirical data from the World Values Survey wave 5 (2010-2014), 86% of South Koreans would be considered materialists, while the proportions of materialists in Sweden, USA, and Japan ranges from 48.68% to 57.05%. The wave of materialism is a problem that cannot be overlooked at the societal or individual mental health level since materialism is related to lookism—which refers to cultural preferences for attractiveness, to preferential treatment given to those who are considered to have physical characteristics consistent with an ideal type, and to harm those who do not match the ideal type (McDermott, 2017). Materialism also leads to sexism ( Friedricks, 2014 ) which leads to unequal opportunities (Tietje & Cresap, 2005). In South Korea, job applicants have been discriminated against by recruiters in corporations who apply certain appearance standards ( News1, 2017 ). Materialism causes employment inequality, which deprives individuals of employment opportunities ( Kim, 1994 ). In this context, university students who are about to seek jobs frequently perceive problems of opportunity deprivation (Lee, 2017). Mass media, which portrays materialism positively, is one of the main drivers of materialism in society ( Harmon, 2001 ). For instance, it is easy to promote materialist values through an entertainment program where spectacularly decorated entertainers appear (Yang, 2006). In this context, previous researchers have used cultivation theory to examine how reality perception changes according to the use-time of a single medium. Cultivation theory ( Gerbner, 1969 ; Gerbner et al., 1986 ) is useful as a representative theory that explains the kinds of ideological effects of media on the group consciousness of media users (Saito, 2007). It assumes that those who heavily use media are more likely to see the real world in a way that reflects media portrayals of the world. While cultivation theory has been the basis for verifying attitudes and perceptions of violence or crime, it has also been widely applied to a variety of topics such as gender roles ( Breuer et al., 2015 ; Saito, 2007), materialist values ( Ho, Shin, & Lwin, 2017 ), and consumption ( Eisend & Möller, 2007 ; Kwak, Zinkhan, & Dominick, 2002 ). Cultivation, in the original theory, occurs in two ways—mainstreaming and resonance. Mainstreaming is a process that refers to theoretical explanations and empirical validation of a common view of television viewing ( Bryant & Oliver, 2009 ). Mainstreaming takes place when heavy television viewers across different backgrounds share similar perception or attitudes on an issue, whereas light viewers’ attitudes tend to diverge depending on their demographic attributes or social backgrounds (Shanahan & Morgan,1999). Resonance has been known to take place when real-world events support a distorted image depicted on TV, amplifying the cultivation effect. Furthermore, recently it has been found that the structure of each genre is different (Morgan, Shanahan, & Signorielli, 2014; Na & Kim, 2012; Woo & Dominick, 2001), so there is a possibility that genre as well as the spent time on its contents probably affects the cultivation effect. Additionally, cultivation effects are not free from the psychological tendencies of individual users ( Ho et al., 2017 ). Users are active and can selectively focus on information according to its relevance at a certain time (Zillmann & Bryant, 1994). Despite users’ activity, Gerbner and his colleagues have never explicitly stated the user's level of activity-passivity (Morgan, Shanahan, & Signorielli, 2015; Shanahan & Morgan, 1999); they are concerned about the way the users process information in messages (Potter, 2014). To understand the cultivation effect with regards to materialist perception, taking into account the background of South Korean society, a new approach to cultivation theory is required. Thus, we look at the mainstreaming effects occurring amongst university students, focusing on genre-specific media usage time. We consider that it makes sense to focus on the media content use-time by genre rather than the cultivation effect of TV itself, especially for young people today who don't watch much TV. Internet platforms such as YouTube offer TV content that is categorized into a variety of genres. We also examine the resonance effect, which is the main way of inducing cultivation for users, but note that resonance may vary due to not only external factors but also internal psychological factors. Finally, we explore the effects of individuals' orientations and cognition on their response of coping with materialism.
- Reality Perceptions of Materialism in Cultivation TheoryMainstreaming effect of media use-time according to genre. Media exposure is recognized as a major factor in promoting materialism in viewers ( Behal & Soni, 2018 ; Opree, 2019; Voorveld, Fakkert, & van Reijmersdal, 2017). Television programs often depict a higher proportion of characters who have professional jobs or who can afford to consume more than the average person than exist in reality (Yang & Kang, 2005). In an analysis of drama programs of three broadcasters, aired for three years in the early 2000s, 20% of the characters were professionals, and the percentage of chaebol, that is, Korea’s wealthy elite who control the major conglomerates, and large-enterprise managers was 10% (Yang & Kang, 2005). This situation is not unique to South Korea. In the United States, too, those who appear in the media are often high-income or professional practitioners (Lichter, Lichter, & Rothman, 1994). The entertainment programs enjoyed by the younger generation include celebrity-decorated entertainers, which imply goods consumption and appearance management (Yang, 2006). The more the television drama is watched, the more likely the viewer is to accept the standard of appearance required by society, such as trying to follow the appearance of the characters (Roh & Kim,2011). Likewise, the universal mainstream values created by the mass media can be considered to exist ( Cuddy et al., 2015 ; Leavitt, Covarrubias, Perez, & Fryberg, 2015). First, the cultivation effect through entertainment programs has been revealed (Yang, 2006). Traditional information programs are known not to cultivate materialism, but most of the viewers have had experience purchasing products that appeared in the program after watching a beauty program (Lee & Kim, 2015). The beauty and fashion information programs allow viewers to perceive the information in the program as a trend, and viewers are willing to follow fashion (Yoo & Song, 2008). Viewers may not be able to recognize indirect advertising (Lee, 2014), many of those who watch these contents feel dissatisfied with their appearance ( Eisend & Möller, 2007 ; Jang & Kim, 2006 ) or strengthen the values of materialism including lookism (Shim, 2007). By recognizing materialism as an important value in society, people can sensitively appreciate the feelings of deprivation and discrimination about materialism related to lookism and sexism when they fail to meet materialistic standards. This kind of cultivation effect study is limited not only to time spent watching TV but it is also necessary to access contents by genre. Genre has an inherent narrative structure and influence on content (Morgan et al., 2014; Woo & Dominick, 2003), so the genre of a particular program may have a differential impact on viewers ( Grabe & Drew, 2007 ). The genre approach reflects today’s media environment, where a large number of users actively choose with purpose rather than habitually consuming content (Hwang, 2015). The research has continued to accumulate in recent years supporting the idea that the media can affect not only the materialism of children, but also of adult users (Lewallen, Miller, & Behm-Morawitz, 2016; Rai, Chauhan, & Cheng, 2018). The generational materialistic value differences in Korean materialism are similar to those in other countries ( Korean Women’s Development Institute, 2017 ). The younger they are, the smaller the proportion of people with materialistic values (In the teens: 80%, in the 20s: 89.1%, in the 30s: 90%, in the 40s, 91.6%, and in the 50s: 94.2%). However, recent studies of older youth, such as university students are difficult to find, unlike studies of media exposure effects on children in Asia (Vandana & Lenka, 2014, Rashid & Rashid, 2019). Therefore, this study goes a step beyond the viewpoint of classical cultivation theory and explores cultivation effect by genre. In order to verify the mainstreaming effect of media on the perceptions of materialist reality in South Korea, we will examine how South Korean university students watch programs of a certain genre, rather than them simply “watching TV.” Resonance effect with discrimination experience. The experience of the merging of the media world with the real world amplifies the media’s cultivation effect and makes the media’s worldview, values, and beliefs more intense, as if they are the real world ( Bryant & Oliver, 2009 ). We assume that resonance regarding materialism will occur when individuals are actually aware of materialist discrimination as experienced in reality. The experiences of discrimination can be divided into objective and subjective. However, the study of epistemological approaches from the perspective of cultivation theory is relatively insufficient (Son & Lee, 2012) and leads to the following research question: RQ 1: How does the amount of time spent on genre-specific media and awareness of discrimination experience affect the perceptions of materialist reality in South Korean university students?
- Cultural Orientation as an Influence Factor on Awareness of Discrimination Experience
- The Effect of User Orientation and Perceptions of Materialist Reality in Dealing with MaterialismThe level of perceptions of materialist reality generated by the cultivation effect can affect whether the problem should be solved and how to solve it, since the first step in problem-solving is to recognize the problem itself ( Lazarus & Folkman, 1984 ; Holroyd & Lazarus, 1982 ). Stress occurs in the process of recognizing an individual situation or reality as a problem and coping with it ( Holroyd & Lazarus, 1982 ). Problem recognition is a stress appraisal, a process of recognizing problems and evaluating the environmental and personal resources that can be used to eliminate the losses or harm that are occurring. Problem solving is a sort of stress coping, which refers to efforts to address the environment, internal needs, and the conflicts surrounding the problem ( Holroyd & Lazarus, 1982 ). In cases of stress, the individual first makes a cognitive determination whether stress is present or not, and then makes a secondary cognitive assessment of the problems that one can control ( Lazarus & Folkman, 1984 ). The problem-solving method appears in various ways—problem-focused coping to solve problems by active effort and intervention, emotion-focused coping with the aim of avoiding negative emotions caused by stress rather than solving problems ( Lazarus & Folkman, 1984 ), and attentive-confrontative coping (Suls & Fletcher, 1985). We raise the possibility that innovativeness may have some influence on the process of perceptions of materialist reality and problem solving. Innovativeness refers to "the degree to which an individual is relatively earlier in adopting an innovation than other members of his social system" (Rogers & Shoemaker, 1971, p. 27). It is primarily a concept used in the domain of consumption, but its starting point lies in a theory that explains innovative behavior that is formed during social processes, as part of interpersonal relationships (Rogers & Shoemaker, 1971). The concept is also applicable to communication as a whole because it measures the willingness of individuals to change ( Hurt, Joseph, & Cook, 1977 ). Innovativeness affects not only the classification of thinking and emotion but also problem-recognition and -solving process ( Bariya, Chhodvadia, Patel, Parmar, & Vyas, 2017 ; Rogers & Shoemaker, 1971). We regard innovativeness as an orientation to adopt attempts to renew old customs and conventions of society in keeping with global dimensions of innovativeness, which is related to personal characteristics and refers to the willingness to try new things ( Goldsmith & Foxall, 2003 ). The more people are open to change, the more likely they are to recognize a problem and remedy it. If people with higher innovativeness consider lookism and sexism as negative phenomena, we can expect that they will pursue change, because innovativeness leads to new ideas and to the practice and adoption of new ways ( Fagerberg, 2006 ; Porter, 1990). Therefore, we will examine individual innovativeness by taking into consideration overall innovativeness as a personal characteristic related to materialism, and consumer innovativeness about purchasing a new object. The research question raised is as follows: RQ3: What influence does innovativeness have on the relationship between the perceptions of materialist reality and the response of South Korean university students?
MethodsThe population of this study is composed of residents of Seoul who were attending universities in Korea, aged 20-29. Market Link, a professional online research company was in charge of quota sampling and conducting an online survey. E-mails were sent to 3,000 people belonging to the survey-only panel, which has proven its reliability and has is by about 100 companies in Korea and abroad, from March 16-20, 2017. Nine-hundred-seventy-nine responses were collected, for a response rate of 32.6%. Three-hundred-thirty respondents met the age and gender quotas. The mean age of the targeted respondents (
- Moderated Variable: InnovativenessThis refers to the tendency to change the old customs of society. Two questions asking for a typical response to discrimination experience (McLaughlin et al., 2010) and three questions about shopping innovativeness ( Bush & Gilbert, 2002 ) that are closely related to materialism ("When I am treated unfairly, I try to do something without considering it as an inevitable reality," “When I am treated unfairly, I tell this to others,” etc.). The Cronbach’s alpha value was .73. The five items were arithmetically averaged and used for analysis.
ResultsPrior to finding the answer to RQ1, we conducted regression analysis using Amos 24. The average monthly household income, sex, and age were included as control variables. The influence of these variables on perceptions of materialist realities was not significant. The perceptions of materialist realities explained the accommodative response at a meaningful level (
- Media and User Effects on Perceptions of Materialist Realities in South Korean SocietyTo select the representative variables of the amounts of time spent (ATS) in genre-specific media related to the media effect for RQ 1, we first performed a correlation analysis between the perceptions of materialist realities and ATS in each genre. As a result, the perceptions of materialist realities had a meaningful correlation with the ATS in seven genres: a) survival competition, b) beauty or fashion information, c) romantic drama, d) social critical drama, e) general music show, f) general comedy show, g) investigative reporting. No significant relationship was found for ATS in the other three genres of media: a) other culture or living information/documentary, b) news, and c) other realistic entertainment. When the variables of ATS showing significant correlation values as above were used as independent variables in the regression analysis of perceptions of South Korean materialist realities, only the variable of ATS in beauty or fashion genre media showed a meaningful value (
- Cultural Factors on Awareness of Discrimination ExperienceWe investigated the effect of Korean cultural orientation on awareness of discrimination experience through multiple regression analysis for RQ 2 ( Table 1 ). As a result of the correlation analysis conducted at the preceding stage, masculinity (hostile heterosexuality, competitive gender differentiation), except for the dominant sexism and dominant male-subordination, allocentrism, and self-monitoring, showed a significant correlation with the awareness of discrimination experience. Contrary to hostile heterosexuality and other factors, competitive constitution showed a negative correlation. Regression analysis showed that allocentrism had the strongest influence, followed by self-monitoring, and competitive gender differentiation. Hostile heterosexuality had no significant effect.
Cultural Factors on Awareness of Discrimination Experience
- Countervailing Response Against Materialism According to the Level of Perceptions of Materialist Reality and InnovativenessThe result of ANOVA on RQ 3 was statistically significant (
Countervailing Response against Materialism according to level of Perceptions of Materialist Reality and Innovativeness
DiscussionToday individuals’ perceptions can be influenced by the Internet and many other factors than TV. This study is not an attempt to explain the cultivation effect of TV, but rather to show what kind of cultivation effects exist in Korean society now. We started from the viewpoint of cultivation theory that media use-time and individual experience may affect the perceptions of materialist reality among South Korean university students. However, the previous studies of cultivation theory from the traditional point of view have only explained that the cultivation effect is amplified when the world presented on media is similar with real-life experience. We set up three research questions taking into account today’s media users and the media environment: 1) to investigate the relative consequences of ATS in genre-specific media and the awareness of discrimination experience on the perceptions of materialist reality, 2) to determine whether cultural orientation can explain the awareness of discrimination experience, which is a factor explaining the perceptions of materialist reality, 3) to explore the conditions of response to materialist reality in the problem-coping tendency of university students. The findings are summarized, as follows. First, we found that consumption of certain genres of media is suitable for explaining the mainstreaming aspect of the cultivation effect. Resonance can be amplified due to individual experiences. Specifically, the influence of awareness of discrimination experience and media use-time were similar, but the latter was greater. The awareness has a correlation with the use-time of seven genres (survival entertainment, beauty/fashion information, romantic/melodrama, social criticism/accusative drama, general music shows, general comedy shows, and exploration). The ATS in beauty fashion information genre had the highest correlation value and was used as an independent variable for media usage time. Consequently, the use-time in the beauty/fashion genre and the awareness of discrimination explained the perceptions of materialist reality. Of course, these results are not evidence of the simple, direct, and unidirectional impact of media on media users today. However, the reason, other than personal preference, for why respondents spent a certain amount of time viewing certain genres of media may also be related to awareness of discrimination experience. Therefore, it is necessary to be careful in interpreting the findings regarding media impact. Moreover, the results of this study, which focused on college students as an early adult group distinct from the children's group, suggests that adults are not free from the influence of the media. Yet, this early adult group cannot be representative of adults of all ages, thus replication studies considering various age groups are necessary. Secondly, we found through regression analysis that these cultural orientations exert different influences on the awareness of discrimination experiences. The awareness increased as allocentrism and self–monitoring was higher and competitive gender differentiation was lower. This is a reasonable result, as it tends to explain the effect of social pressure and norms in individuals with high allocentrism, who are likely to censor themselves in order to give others a good impression, if they have strong self-monitoring. The paradoxical implication of this result is that the awareness of discrimination experience is not deteriorated by cultural orientation favoring materialism, rather strengthening it. In other words, it suggests that the university students in South Korea today may be able to carry out normalized consent rather than actively agreeing with materialism. Thus, this is a clue that the acceptance of social pressures about materialism cannot be explained as young people not feeling the unfairness of materialism. Only the competitive gender differentiation showed statistically significant negative values among masculinity factors for the awareness of discrimination experience. Since competitive gender differentiation is about men's superiority in power, it is likely that discrimination is not discrimination but something cultural. Awareness is needed because as men and women move away from each other toward hostile and competitive schemes, the culture may be unable to recognize discrimination even as discrimination becomes more widespread. Finally, this research shows the need to view the concept of resonance from a flexible and multifaceted approach by first discovering the influence of cultural orientation on the awareness of the experience of discrimination. It suggests that cultural orientation should be considered when designing media education plans for university students. Materialist reality perception did not show a significant influence on the countervailing response, unlike in the case of the accommodative response. We found that the perception of materialist reality does not explain the countervailing response. However, we found that as we can strongly perceive the real problem of materialism and the individual's innovativeness improves, a countervailing response becomes possible. It shows an interaction effect between innovativeness of university students and the perceptions of materialist reality on countervailing response. Ultimately, the issue of materialism could be overcome by those who perceive the problem and respond with their innovativeness.
Future ResearchThe results of this study do not merely confirm Gerbner’s (1969) thesis; rather we attempt to validate it in extended form, which may have different meanings. Nevertheless, this study has the following limitations. First, we did not test specifically a kind of priming effect because we first observed the influence of cultural orientation on awareness of discrimination experience at the level of exploratory research. In order to prioritize identifying the cultural orientation variables appropriate for future research, we focused on exploring the explanatory power of various cultural orientations and limited the variable that was influenced by cultural orientation to the perceptions of the experience of discrimination. We did not address the possibility that awareness of discrimination experience plays a role in controlling the mainstreaming. This is because, although we agree with the assertion that cultivation is a constant, dynamic, ongoing relationship (Morgan et al., 2015), the exploratory study was designed to be a preparatory work for examining the feasibility of more intensive studies ( Babbie, 2007 ). Thus, future studies may be carried out to clarify how cultural orientation affects media use-time and how the awareness of experience moderately affects the perceptions of materialist reality. Finally, the validity of measurements concerning countervailing response should also be addressed. We measured how respondents expressed certain opinions in online or offline situations, and so on. However, a countervailing response may appear in various ways; for example, from deliberation to positive action, which can lead to social change. We expect that future research will be conducted on the scale of countervailing response against materialism.
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