Uses and Gratifications Theory

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Author: Kate Peirce
Date: 2007
Encyclopedia of Children, Adolescents, and the Media
Publisher: Sage Publications, Inc.
Document Type: Topic overview
Pages: 3
Content Level: (Level 4)

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Uses and Gratifications Theory

Uses and gratifications theory is based on these basic ideas: that media audiences are active rather than passive; that their media choices depend on perceived needs, satisfactions, wishes, or motives; and that audiences are formed on the basis of similarities of need, interest, and taste. The primary questions to be Page 842  |  Top of Articleanswered with uses and gratifications research are why do people choose certain media and not other media, and what are the rewards derived from attending to these media? Media may be a medium such as television or a subset such as a program type or a specific television program.

Communication scholars studied the uses and gratifications of various aspects of mass media before it became known as the uses and gratifications approach. Researchers in the 1940s looked at what people missed about reading the newspaper when the newspaper staff was on strike, the gratifications derived from listening to soap operas, reasons for becoming interested in serious music on radio, and how children develop an interest in the comics. In the 1960s and 1970s, a more systematic approach to studying how and why people use media led to the emergence of the uses and gratifications model. Blumler and Katz (1974) discuss the major elements in the model: The audience is considered to be active rather than passive in media consumption; initiative in linking need gratification and media choice lies with the audience member; the media compete with other sources of need satisfaction; many of the goals of mass media use can be derived from data supplied by audience members themselves; and value judgments about the cultural significance of mass communication should be suspended while audience orientations are explored. McQuail (2000) lists additional elements: Audiences are conscious of media-related needs and can voice them in terms of motivations; personal utility is a more significant determinant of audience formation than aesthetic or cultural factors; and all of the relevant factors for audience formation can be measured. With these elements in mind, researchers set out to find the attributes of different media that satisfy needs of media consumers.

They found, among other things, that television and print media were interchangeable for learning purposes; that books share an information function with newspapers and an aesthetic function with movies; and that in times of crisis, radio is the best medium for news, television is the best way to understand the significance of news, and television is best for releasing tension.

CLASSIFYING NEEDS

Based on their research in the area, McQuail, Blumler, and Brown listed four broad categories as reasons people use the media: diversion or escapism; companionship and development of personal relationships; value reinforcement and exploring personal identity; and surveillance or getting information about the world. Katz, Gurevich, and Haas came up with a slightly different list: cognitive needs—acquiring information, knowledge, or understanding; affective needs—emotional or aesthetic experience; personal integrative needs—strengthening credibility, confidence, stability, and status; and social integrative needs—strengthening contact with family and friends.

The uses and gratifications approach has been criticized for not providing predictive ability, for being nontheoretical and vague in defining key concepts, for using self-reports to determine motives, and for relying on psychological concepts such as need.

Despite criticism dating back to the 1970s, communication researchers continue to study the uses and gratifications approach. Kaye and Johnson (2004) looked at Internet users during the 2000 presidential election to see if political attitudes, Internet experience, and personal characteristics predicted motivations for Internet use. The researchers looked at respondents' motives for using the Web, bulletin boards, chat rooms, and mailing lists and found that each of these satisfied slightly different needs. These needs could be predicted by some political attitudes, demographics, and Internet use. This study is one of many examining uses of the Internet. A study by Haridakis and Rubin (2003) examined the uses and gratifications of watching television violence and found that audience characteristics, such as loneliness, isolation, and lifestyle, often are the most important predictors of aggression and also affect media use. Other studies have integrated uses and gratifications with other theories. Hofstetter (2001) combined uses and gratifications and self-efficacy: the belief that a person can perform a task successfully and that doing so produces positive consequences. He looked at self-efficacy in connection with skill in using media and found that self-efficacy measures were correlated with media use, intellectual stimulation credibility, political efficacy, and political participation. LaRose and Eastin (2004) integrated uses and gratifications and social cognitive theory into a theory of media attendance. They write that their research both supports the uses and gratifications approach and extends it by making it more theoretical; by adding new operational measures for expected gratifications, they believe media consumption can be Page 843  |  Top of Articlepredicted to an unprecedented degree. Thus, some of the prior criticisms of the approach are rendered invalid.

Although children's and adolescents' use of media has not been studied as thoroughly as that of adults, one area of interest in recent years is use of violent media. Slater (2003) studied the role of alienation from school, family, and peers in predicting use of violent media content, believing that examining psychosocial disorders as predictors of the use of violent media might bridge the gap between uses and gratifications research and media effects research. He found that use of media with violent content was predicted by aggression, after controlling for sensation seeking; both having a sensation-seeking personality and being male were also predictors. Slater also found that alienation predicted use of websites with violent content.

                                         —Kate Peirce

FURTHER READINGS

Blumler, J. G., & Katz, E. (Eds.). (1974). The uses of mass communications. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

Haridakis, P. M., & Rubin, A. M. (2003, February). Motivation for watching television violence and viewer aggression. Mass Communication and Society, 6, 29-56.

Hofstetter, C. R., Zuniga, S., & Dozier, D. M. (2001). Media self-efficacy: Validation of a new concept. Mass Communication and Society, 4, 61-76.

Kaye, B. K., & Johnson, T. J. (2004, August). A Web for all reasons: Uses and gratifications of Internet components for political information. Telematics & Informatics, 21, 197-223.

LaRose, R., & Eastin, M. S. (2004). A social cognitive theory of Internet uses and gratifications: Toward a new model of media attendance. Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, 48, 358-377.

McQuail, D. (2000). McQuail's mass communication theory. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Severin, W. J., & Tankard, J. W. (2001). Communication theories. New York: Longman.

Slater, M. D. (2003, March). Alienation, aggression, and sensation seeking as predictors of adolescent use of violent film, computer, and website content. Journal of Communication, 53, 105-121.

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Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3470400454