Skip to main content

Television News and the Cultivation of Fear of Crime



Why has the public persisted in believing that violent crime is a widespread national problem in the U.S. despite declining trends in crime and the fact that crime is concentrated in urban locations? Cultivation theory suggests that widespread fear of crime is fueled in part by heavy exposure to violent dramatic programming on prime-time television. Here we explore a related hypothesis: that fear of crime is in part a by-product of exposure to crime-saturated local television news. To test this, as well as related and competing hypotheses, we analyzed the results of a recent national survey of perceived risk; a 5-year span of the General Social Survey (1990–1994); and the results of a recent survey of over 2,300 Philadelphia residents. The results indicate that across a wide spectrum of the population and independent of local crime rates, viewing local television news is related to increased fear of and concern about crime. These results support cultivation theory’s predicted effects of television on the public.