Integrating Theoretical Traditions in Media Effects: Using Third-Person Effects to Link Agenda-Setting and Cultivation

Leo W. Jeffres, Cleveland State University
Kimberly A. Neuendorf, Cleveland State university
Cheryl C. Bracken, Cleveland State University
David Atkin


In an earlier period of mass communication research, scholars were more adventuresome in advancing “new” theories and less hesitant to “create” theory. The 1970s, in particular, bore witness to the emergence of several such theories—from the knowledge gap and agenda-setting to cultivation. Scholars have generated substantial literatures elaborating work in these and other traditions. Those contributions are now sufficiently robust that it is time to direct some of our energies toward synthesizing theories. This article nominates third-person perception as a candidate for such integration. Several prominent theories of media effects in the mass communication literature are selected to illustrate how the theories can or have been integrated. Results from three surveys provided evidence that the theories of third-person perception, agenda-setting and cultivation can be interrelated. The proposition examined here can serve as a model for further integration of other media theories. This integration attempt harkened back to the times when theory building in media effects was more common and perhaps more optimistic about explaining processes of influence.