Uses and Gratification Theory

The Uses and Gratification Theory propounded by Elihu Katz, Jay Blumler and Michael Gurevitch in 1974 was used. Uses and Gratifications approach prevailed between the 1950s and 1970s when television gained high acceptability. Some basic assumptions of the approach were proposed when it was rediscovered during that era. The basic assumptions are, Active audience, Audience choice, Competitive choice and Suspend value-judgement. Among the group of scholars who focus on Uses and Gratifications research is Elihu Katz. He is one of the most well-known that contributed greatly to establishing the structure of the approach. Elihu Katz has served both as a sociologist and as a communication researcher. Katz‘s mentor in Columbia University is Paul Lazarsfeld, who is one of the pioneers of gratifications research. Their cooperating work produced important outgrowths that connect the concept of gratifications with the functional theory model. Later, Katz introduced Uses and Gratification approach when he came up with the notion that people use the media to their benefit. In a study Katz, Gurevitch & Haas (1973), the Uses and Gratifications research was explored. They viewed the mass media as a means by which individuals connect or disconnect themselves with others and found that people bend the media to their needs more readily than the media overpower them. Katz & Blumler (1974) published a collection of essays on gratifications in 1974 which were entitled.

The Uses of Mass Communication.

They took a more humanistic approach to looking at media use. They suggest that media users seek out a medium source that best fulfills the needs of the user and they have alternate choices to satisfy their need. (Blumler & Katz, 1974). They also discovered that media served the functions of surveillance, correlation, entertainment and cultural transmission for both society and individuals (Blumler and Katz, 1974). It is asserted that the emergence of computer-mediated communication has revived the significance of uses and gratifications. They asserted that Uses and Gratifications have always provided a cutting-edge theoretical approach in the initial stages of each new mass communications medium: newspapers, radio and television, and now the Internet. Although scientists are likely to continue using traditional tools and typologies to answer questions about media use, there must be deliberate effort to expand current theoretical models of uses and gratifications.

According to McQuail, (1994) what mass communication scholars today refer to as the Uses and Gratifications (U&G) approach is generally recognized to be a sub-tradition of media effects research. Early in the history of communications research, an approach was developed to study the gratifications that attract and hold audiences to the kinds of media and the types of content that satisfy their social and psychological needs (Cantril, 1942). Much early effects research adopted the experimental or quasi-experimental approach, in which communication conditions were manipulated in search of general lessons about how better to communicate, or about the unintended consequences of messages (Klapper, 1960). Other media effects research sought to discover motives and selection patterns of audiences for the new mass media. Examples include Cantril & Allport (1935) on the radio audience; Waples et al (1940) on reading; Herzog (1940, 1944) on quiz programs and the gratifications from radio daytime serials; Suchman & Thorson (1999) on the motives for listening to serious music; Wolfe & Fiske (1949) on children‘s interest in comics; Berelson (1949) on the functions of newspaper reading; and Lazarsfeld & Stanton (1942, 1944, 1949) on different media genres. Each of these studies formulated a list of functions served either by some specific content or by the medium itself: To match one‘s wits against others, to get information and advice for daily living, to provide a framework for one‘s day, to prepare oneself culturally for the demands of upward mobility, or to be reassured about the dignity and usefulness of one‘s role (Katz, Blumler, & Gurevitch, 1974). This latter focus of research, conducted in a social-psychological mode, and audience-based, crystallized into the Uses and Gratifications approach (McQuail, 1994).

Most of the theories on media explain the effects media have on people. According to Uses and Gratifications theory, people make use of the media for their specific needs contradictory to the magic bullet theory which states the passiveness of media audiences. This theory can be said to have a user/audience-centered approach .Even for communication (say inter-personal) people refer to the media for the topic they discuss with themselves. They gain more knowledge implying that knowledge is got by using media for reference. It is the theory which explains how people use media for their need and gratification. According to Lowery & Nabila (1999) this theory states what people do with media rather than what media do to people. There are several needs and gratification for people which are categorized into five namely, Cognitive needs, Affective needs, Personal Integrative needs, Social Integrative needs and Tension-free needs.

It should however be noted that needs are individual in nature, and how those needs are satisfied is individualistic. For example, some watch news to relax and some get more tension by watching news. Program is same but people use it for different needs. Taking TV today, most people watch reality shows because it is more realistic, entertaining, interesting, enriched with new concepts (different from other programs), participatory, controversial, emotional and enriched with lots of fun.

Blumler and Katz‘s Uses and Gratification Theory suggests that media users play an active role in choosing and using the media. Users take an active part in the communication process and are goal-oriented in their media use. The theorists say that a media user seeks out a media source that best fulfills the needs of the user. Uses and Gratifications assume that the user has alternate choices to satisfy their need.

Uses and Gratifications theory takes a more humanistic approach to looking at media use. Blumler and Katz believe that there is not merely one way that the populace uses media. Instead, they believe there are as many reasons for using the media, as there are media users. According to the theory, media consumers have a free will to decide how they will use the media and how it will affect them. Blumler and Katz values are clearly seen by the fact that they believe that media consumers can choose the influence media has on them as well as the idea that users choose media alternatives merely as a means to an end. Uses and Gratification is the optimist‘s view of the media. The theory takes out the possibility that the media can have an unconscious influence over our lives and how we view the world. The idea that we simply use the media to satisfy a given need does not seem to fully recognize the power of the media in today‘s society. Uses and Gratification theory can be seen in cases such as personal music selection. We select music not only to fit a particular mood but also in attempts to show empowerment or other socially conscience motives. There are many different types of music and we choose from them to fulfill a particular need.

Uses and Gratifications approach is an influential tradition in media research. The original conception of the approach was based on the research for explaining the great appeal of certain media contents. The core question of such research is: Why do people use media and what do they use them for? (McQuail, 1983). There exists a basic idea in this approach: audience members know media content and which media they can use to meet their needs.

In the mass communication process, Uses and Gratifications approach puts the function of linking need gratifications and media choice clearly on the side of audience members. It suggests that people‘s needs influence what media they would choose, how they use certain media and what gratifications the media give them. This approach differs from other theoretical perspectives in that it regards audiences as active media users as opposed to passive receivers of information. In contrast to traditional media effects theories which focus on ―what media do to people‖ and assume audiences are homogeneous, Uses and Gratifications approach is more concerned with ―what people do with media‖ (Katz, 1959). It allows audiences personal needs to use media and respond to the media, which is determined by their social and psychological background. The approach emphasizes audiences‘ choice by assessing their reasons for using a certain media to the disregard of others, as well as the various gratifications obtained from the media, based on individual social and psychological requirements (Severin & Tankard, 1997). As a broader perspective among communication researches, it provides a framework for understanding the processes by which media participants seek information or content selectively, commensurate with their needs and interests (Katz et al, 1974). Audience members then incorporate the content to fulfill their needs or to satisfy their interests (Lowery, 1999).

Origin of Uses and Gratification Theory

Functional theory influenced studies on communication from the 1920s to the 1940s. After that, a shift which rediscovered the relationship between media and people occurred and led to establishment of Uses and Gratifications approach. The exploration of gratifications that motivate people to be attracted to certain media is almost as old as empirical mass communication research itself (McQuail, 1983). Dating back to the 1940s, researchers became interested in the reasons for listening to different radio programmes, such as soap operas and quizzes, as well as daily newspaper (Lazrsfeld & Stanton, 1944, 1949; Herzog, 1944; Warner & Henry, 1948.) In these studies, researchers discovered a list of functions served either by some specific content or by the medium itself (Katz et al., 1974). For instance, radio soap operas were found to satisfy their listeners with advice, support, or occasions for emotional release (Herzog, 1944; Warner and Henry, 1948); rather than just offering information, newspaper was also discovered to be important to give readers a sense of security, shared topics of conversation and a structure to the daily routine (Berelson, 1949). For these diverse dimensions of usage satisfaction, psychologist Herzog (1944) marked them with the term ―gratifications.‖

Uses and Gratifications approach became prevailing in the late 1950s till 1970s when television had advanced. Some basic assumptions of the approach were proposed when it was rediscovered during that era. Among the group of scholars who focus on Uses and Gratifications research, Katz is one of the most well-known and contributed greatly to establishing the structure of the approach. The studies of Katz and his colleagues laid a theoretical foundation of building the Uses and Gratifications approach. Since then, the research on this subject has been strengthened and extended. The current status of uses and gratifications is still based on Katz‘s first analysis, particularly as new media forms have emerged in such an electronic information age when people have more options of media use.

Katz, Blumler, & Gurevitch (1974) provided a framework for understanding the correlation between media and audience under five basic assumptions as follows:

  1. Active Audience: This idea focuses around the assumption that the viewers are goal-oriented and attempt to achieve their goals through the media source.
  2. Audience choice: In the mass communication process, much initiative in linking need gratification and media choice lies with the audience member. This is encompassing the idea that people use the media to their advantage more often than the media use them. The receiver determines what is going to be absorbed and does not allow the media to influence him otherwise.
  3. Competitive market: The media compete with other sources of need satisfaction. This focuses on the idea that each individual has several needs. In response to this, they have created a wide range of choices that will meet these needs. The strongest rival to media-based sources include face-to-face communication. This can often help an individual cope with circumstances surrounding them most effectively. Therefore, mass communication must compete strongly with non-media-related sources and help create a need for itself as well as a proper balance between the two.
  4. Many of the goals of media use can be derived from data supplied by the individual audience members themselves. This idea claims that people are very aware of their motives and choices and are able to explain them verbally, if necessary.
  5. Suspend value-judgments: Value judgements about cultural significance of mass communication should be suspended while audience operations are explored on their own terms. The theorists believe that the audience can only determine the value of the media content. It is the individual audience members who make the decision to view the media; therefore, they place the value on it by their individual decision to view it. This belongs to the indirect effect theory. It is concerned with what people do with the mass media, instead of what the mass media do to the people. The assumption is that the people influence the effects that the mass media have on them.

The people are not just passive receivers of the messages, but active influences of the message effect. This is because they selectively choose, attend to, perceive and retain the media messages on the basis of their needs and beliefs, among others.

The Uses and Gratifications theory is one of the most influential theories in the field of communication research. The theory indicates what the audience can do with a particular mass media which is a primary strength. The media cannot manipulate the audience thereby making them independent in selection of information. Media audiences also make their own meanings from the content of the media without being forced to think in a certain way.

Also, this theory allows researchers to study mediated communication situations ―via a single or multiple sets of psychological needs, psychological motives, communication channels, communication content, and psychological gratifications within a particular or cross-cultural context‘‘ (Blumler & Katz, 1974).

However, the Uses and Gratification Theory relies heavily on self-reports, which is a common criticism. People who are asked to accurately report their last source of news information and what motivated them to choose the medium they got the news from could easily provide researchers with inaccurate data. A chance of receiving factual data about one‘s motivation to choosing a particular medium improves with how recent the behavior being questioned is. One might be able to report what motivated them to choose a particular medium at a time, but perhaps not what motivated them to choose that medium five weeks prior, therefore providing an assumption of a motivational behavior.

Uses and Gratifications has, almost since its inception, been viewed by some as the Pluto of communication theory, which is to say critics argue that it does not meet the standards necessary

to be theory. Critics argue that it is more of an approach to analysis or a data-collecting strategy.

Among the criticism most commonly raised are:

  • Gratifications are more dependent on input by researchers than on decisions made by research subjects
  • Early research required participants to identify gratifications associated with specific channels of communication, raising the possibility that they would conflate gratifications and channels, this could ―substantially overestimate‖ the number of gratifications
  • Audiences of different ages likely have different motivations for using identical media, and also likely have different gratifications
  • Due to the individualistic nature of uses and gratifications, it is difficult to take the information that is collected in studies. Most research relies on pure recollection of memory rather than data. This makes self-reports complicated and immeasurable
  • The theory has been denounced by media hegemony advocates who say it goes too far in claiming that people are free to choose the media and the interpretations they desire
  • Audience interpret the media in their own terms and any debate for or against this can be argued, and depending on the circumstances, won by either side. Each individual‘s actions and effects on those actions will depend solely on the situation. Each individual has unique uses to which the media attempts to meet such gratifications. It also is focused too narrowly on the individual and neglects the social structure and place of the media in

that structure

Blumler (1979) and other critics have argued that the line between gratification and satisfaction is blurred, and Blumler wrote that “the nature of the theory underlying uses and gratifications research is not totally clear.‖

Despite such criticism, contemporary thought suggests that Uses and Gratifications as theory may be in the process of gaining new life as a result of new communication technology. While it was easy to question the agency of media consumers who had three television networks from which to choose, it‘s much harder to argue that a consumer who now has 100 cable channels and Internet-streaming video is not making his own decisions. Blumler (1979) also wrote that what had been called the ―audience‖ is now referred to as ―users,‖ and ―usage implies volitional action, not simply passive reception.

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