The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office presented a study in 2005 in which it examined the impact of the so-called “CSI effect” to its jurors. The data was gathered by means of surveying prosecutors who had jury trial experience, and from there, the study assessed the samples’ perceptions as to whether the “CSI effect” had played a part in the decision of some juries. Interestingly, although the “CSI effect” may be deemed an unlikely factor, the study showed that the “CSI effect” is real and may affect jury behavior (Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, 2005).
Television watching, as some media theories have discussed, can create a psychological impact to its viewers especially as it can inevitably serve as an educational source; however, the problem lies in what television can actually teach (Condry, 1989). The presence of the “CSI effect” in justice and legal systems can be deemed significant especially as to how this may affect the judgment of the members of the jury.
The idea that certain television genres, especially along the lines of the highly popular crime drama Crime Scene Investigation (CSI), can affect certain trial outcomes may seem outrageous, but the “CSI effect” has been established as a ground that connects the real-life justice and legal systems and products of media and entertainment (Smith, Patry and Stinson, 2008; Stevens, 2008; Mardis, 2006). As the effectiveness of the justice system also relies on the effectiveness of its jurors, the impact of the media and entertainment products towards people in this context may be deemed problematic (Stevens, 2008).
This is why it is important to evaluate the impact of the “CSI effect” because of its implications thereby highlighting the relationship between the law and mass communications. The term “CSI effect” is based on the popular television show Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) and other shows that present the following basic premise: the ability of an (fictional) authoritative group in crime and justice that can expose the truth based on their systematic and sophisticated processes. However, since these shows are made for televisions, it is inevitable that these processes are glamorized and may not be realistic at all.
The “CSI effect” therefore pertains to the influence of such television programs to the perceptions and behavior of the people, especially in relation to the justice and legal systems (Smith, Patry and Stinson, 2008). Stevens (2008) further explains that the “CSI effect” is based on fictionalized accounts as to what forensic science can do but, due to the twisted conceptions of reality of some viewers, there is the inescapable belief that these components of the shows are something happens in real life.
Among the media and communication theories that can serve as fundamental framework of this assessment is Gerbner’s Cultivation Theory. The theory suggests that information sources such as television contribute to the cultivation of the individual and the social environment; therefore, conceptions of reality are formed (Gerbner & Gross, 1976; Gerbner, 1998). This theory can then be based on the concept that stories, as projected, tends to reflect a certain extent of reality, therefore, they animate a society’s cultural environment.
As Gerbner (1999, ix) explained the functions of stories, they “illuminate the all-important but invisible relationships and hidden dynamics of life”; as these stories represent a degree of shared beliefs, the cultivation of these tales and representations therefore create a significant input to the perceived reality of individuals. The Cultivation Theory is also further supported by several studies conducted by Gerber and his colleagues with a focus on the impact of television to real world perceptions.
This brings an interesting premise as the projected reality is based on fictional work; the impact of the cultivation thereby leads to behavioral effects. Television shows, as Gerbner (1998) pointed out, are important marketing tools that have affected not only the people’s perceptions but also their identity and expectations from the society. The validity of television can be based on its function, being a source of information and spectacle representing the shared images and history across many societies (Gerbner, 1998).