Theories of Communication MCM 511
USES AND GRATIFICATIONS THEORY
The uses and gratification perspectives takes the view of the media consumer. It examines how people
use the media and the gratification they seek and receive from their media behaviors. Uses and
gratification researchers assume that audience that audience members are aware of and can articulate
their reasons for consuming various media content.
The uses and gratifications approach has its roots in the 1940s when researchers became interested in
why people engaged in various forms of media behaviour, such as radio listening or newspaper reading.
These early studies were primarily descriptive, seeking to classify the responses of audience members
into meaningful categories. For example, Herzog in 1944 identified three types of gratification
associated with listening to radio soap, operas: emotional release, wishful thinking and obtaining advice.
Berelson in 1949 took advantage of a New York news paper strike to ask people why they read the
paper, the responses fell into five major categories: reading for information, reading for social prestige,
reading for escape, reading as a tool for daily living, and reading for a social context. These early
studies had little theoretical coherence; in fact many were inspired by the practical needs of newspaper
publishers and radio broadcasters to know the motivations of their audience in order to serve them more
The next step in the development of this research began during the late 1950s and continued during into
the 1960s, in this phase the emphasis was on identifying and operationalizing the many social and
psychological variables that were presumed to the antecedents of different patterns of consumption and
Wilbur Schramm in 1954 asked the question, `what determines which offerings of mass communication
will be selected by a given individual?' the answer he offered is called the fraction of selection, and it
Expectation of reward
His point was that people weigh the level of reward they expect from medium or message against how
much effort they must make to secure that reward.
His argument is we all make decisions about which content we choose based on our expectations of
having some need met, even if that decision is to not make a choice. (When you have to decide between
two comedy programs and the you don't have a remote control, you might satisfy yourself with one, as
all that you wanted was some change and background music)
For example, Schramm, Lyle, and Parker in 1961, in their extensive study found that children's use of
televison was influenced by individual mental ability and relationship with parents and peers, among
Gerson in 1966 concluded that race was important in predicting how adolescent use the media. These
studies and many more conducted during this period reflected a shift from the traditional effects model
of mass media research to the functional perspective.
According to Windhal 1981, a primary difference between the traditional effects approach and the uses
and gratifications approach is that a media effect researcher usually examines mass communication
from the perspective of the communicator, whereas the uses a d gratification researcher uses the
audience members as a point of departure. Windhal argues for a synthesis of the two approaches,
believing that it is more beneficial to emphasize their similarities than to stress differences. He has
coined the term conseffects of media content and use to categorize observations that are partly results of
content used in it and partly results of content mediated by use.
Theories of Communication MCM 511
Windhal's perspective links the earlier uses and gratifications approach to the third phase in its
development. Recently, uses and gratification research has become more conceptual and theoretical as
investigators have offered data to explain the connections between audience motives, media
gratifications and outcomes.
Rubin in 1985 notes several typologies of mass media motives and functions have been formulated to
conceptualize the seeking of gratifications as variables that intervene before media effects.
He found a significant positive correlation between the viewing of television to learn something and the
perceived reality of television content: those who used television as a learning device thought television
content was more true to life.
These and many other recent studies have revealed that a variety of audience gratifications are related to
a wide range of media effects. The new uses and effects studies have bridged the gap between the
traditional effects approach and the uses and gratifications perspective.
In the last few years the uses and gratifications approach has been used to explore the impact of new
technologies on the audience. For example Lin in 1993 posited that audience activity planning viewing,
discussing content, remembering the program would be an important intervening variable in the
gratification-seeking process because of the viewing options opened up by cable, VCRs and remote
controls. Her results supported her hypothesis; viewers who were most active had a greater expectation
of gratification and also reported obtaining greater satisfaction. They found that broadcast TV was the
most diverse in serving the cognitive gratifications of the audience, whereas cable TV and the VCR
were the most effective in meeting needs related to feeling and emotional states.
The advent of internet has spurred a renaissance in uses and gratifications research as investigators
describe internet motivations and compare and contrast their results with the uses and gratifications
from traditional media.
To illustrate researchers found that internet use among their sample of 8 to 13 years olds was most
related to an enjoyment of using computers and finding information
Other researchers have found the World Wide Web as a functional alternative to TV and discovered that
many of the motivations for using web were similar to those for viewing television. Finally researcher
came up with a set of five motivations for using the internet: utility, passing time, seeking information,
convenience, and entertainment.
So what the uses and gratifications approach really does then is, provide a framework for understanding
when and how different media consumers become more or less active and what the consequences of the
increased or decreased involvement might be.
The classic articulation of this framework remains that offered by Katz, Blumler and Gurevitch in 1974.
These theorists described five elements of basic assumptions of the uses and gratification model.
1. The audience is active and its media use is a goal oriented. We have some confusion about
exactly what is meant by active, by clearly, various audience members bring various levels of
activity to their consumption.
2. The initiative in linking his or her need gratification to a specific media choice rests with the
3. The media compete with other sources for need satisfaction. Simply put, the media and their
audiences do not exist in a vacuum. They are part of the larger society and obviously the
relationship between media and audiences is influenced by events in that environment. If all
your needs for information and entertainment are being satisfied by conversations with your
friends, then you are much less likely to turn on a television set or go online for news. When
students enter college, their media use tends to sharply decline. In this new environment, media
don't compete as well.
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4. People are self- aware enough of their own media use, interests and motives to be able to
provide researchers with an accurate picture of that use.
5. Value a judgment of the audience's linking its needs to specific media or content should be
suspended. For example, the harmful effects of consumer product advertising on our culture.
This synopsis of the perspective's basic assumptions raises several questions, what factors affect an
audience member's level of activeness or her or his awareness of media use? What other things in the
environment influence the creation or maintenance of the audience's needs and their judgments of
which media use will best meet those needs.
The three scholars Katz, Blumler and Gurevitch in 1974 argued the social situations that people find
themselves in can be involved in the generation of media related needs in any of the following ways.
1. Social situations can produce tensions and conflicts, leading to pressure for their easement
through media consumption.(party)
2. Social situations can create an awareness of problems that demand attention information about
which might be sought in the media. (fashion)
3. Social situations can deprive real-life opportunities to satisfy certain needs. And the media can
serve as substitutes or supplements. (show-biz channels or fashion channels)
4. Social situations often elicit specific values, and their affirmation and reinforcement can be
facilitated by the consumption of related media materials.(keep on watching the fashion
channels to get reinforcement)
5. Social situations can provide realms of expectations of familiarity with media, which must be
met to sustain membership in specific social groups. (to be in the in group one should know the
Uses and gratifications researchers have relied heavily on the survey method to collect their data , as a
first step, researchers have conducted focus groups or have asked respondents to write essays about their
reasons for media consumption.
This technique assumes that the audience is aware of its reasons and can report them when asked. The
method also assumes that and active audience with goal-directed media behavior; expectations for
media use that are produced from individual predisposition, social interaction, and environmental
factors; and media selection initiated by the individual.
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