The 'Uses and Gratification' theory deals with the effect of people on the
The theory describes mass communication, as it provides an approach that is
It deals with how and why people adopt specific media to satisfy their needs.
Uses and Gratifications theorists explain why people choose and use certain
The theory emphasizes a limited effect position; that is, the media have a
limit he effect on their audiences because audiences are able to exercise
control over their media.
USES & GRATIFICATION
One influential tradition in media research is referred to as 'uses and gratifications'
(occasionally 'needs and gratifications').
This approach focuses on why people use particular media rather than on content.
In contrast to the concern of the 'media effects' tradition with 'what media do to people'
(which assumes a homogeneous mass audience and a 'hypodermic' view of media), U & G can
be seen as part of a broader trend amongst media researchers which is more concerned with
'what people do with media', allowing for a variety of responses and interpretations.
However, some commentators have argued that gratifications could also be seen as effects:
e.g. thrillers are likely to generate very similar responses amongst most viewers.
And who could say that they never watch more TV than they had intended to? Watching TV
helps to shape audience needs and expectations
U & G arose originally in the 1940s and underwent a revival in the 1970s & 1980s.
The approach springs from a functionalist paradigm in the social sciences.
It presents the use of media in terms of the gratification of social or psychological needs of
the individual (Blumler & Katz 1974).
The mass media compete with other sources of gratification, but gratifications can be
obtained from a medium's content (e.g. watching a specific programme), from familiarity with
a genre within the medium (e.g. watching soap operas), from general exposure to the medium
(e.g. watching TV), and from the social context in which it is used (e.g. watching TV with the
U & G theorists argue that people's needs influence how they use and respond to a medium.
Zillmann (cited by McQuail 1987: 236) has shown the influence of mood on media choice:
boredom encourages the choice of exciting content and stress encourages a choice of relaxing
The same TV programme may gratify different needs for different individuals. Different needs
are associated with individual personalities, stages of maturation, backgrounds and social
Developmental factors seem to be related to some motives for purposeful viewing: e.g.
Judith van Evra argues that young children may be particularly likely to watch TV in search of
information and hence more susceptible to influence (Evra 1990: 177, 179).
Finding out about relevant events and conditions in immediate surroundings,
society and the world.
Seeking advice on practical matters or opinion and decision choices
Satisfying curiosity and general interest
Gaining a sense of security through knowledge
Finding Reinforcement For Personal Values
Finding Models Of Behavior
Identifying With Valued Other (In The Media)
Gaining Insight Into One's Self
Integration and Social Interaction
· Gaining Insight Into Circumstances Of Others; Social Empathy
· Identifying With Others And Gaining A Sense Of Belonging
· Finding A Basis For Conversation And Social Interaction
· Having A Substitute For Real-life Companionship
· Helping To Carry Out Social Roles
· Enabling One To Connect With Family, Friends And Society
· Escaping, Or Being Diverted, From Problems
· Getting Intrinsic Cultural Or Aesthetic Enjoyment
· Filling Time
· Emotional Release
· Sexual Arousal
Social Uses of Television
1. Environmental: Background noise; companionship; entertainment
2. Regulative: Punctuation of time and activity; talk patterns
1. Communication Facilitation: Experience illustration; common ground; conversational
entrance; anxiety reduction; agenda for talk; value clarification
2. Affiliation/Avoidance: Physical, verbal contact/neglect; family solidarity; family relaxant;
conflict reduction; relationship maintenance
3. Social Learning: Decision-making; behavior modelling; problem-solving; value transmission;
legitimization; information dissemination; substitute schooling
4. Competence/Dominance: Role enactment; role reinforcement; substitute role portrayal;
intellectual validation; authority exercise; gatekeeping; argument.
Watching TV Soap Operas
A major focus for research into why and how people watch TV has been the genre of soap
opera. Adopting a U & G perspective, Richard Kilborn (1992: 75-84) offers the following
common reasons for watching soaps:
1. regular part of domestic routine and entertaining reward for work
2. Launchpad for social and personal interaction
3. fulfilling individual needs: a way of choosing to be alone or of enduring enforced loneliness
4. identification and involvement with characters (perhaps cathartic)
5. escapist fantasy (American super soaps more fantastical)
6. focus of debate on topical issues
7. a kind of critical game involving knowledge of the rules and conventions of the genre.
Watching TV Quiz Programmes
1. · I can compare myself with the experts
2. · I like to imagine that I am on the programme and doing well
3. · I feel pleased that the side I favor has actually won
4. · I am reminded of when I was in school
5. · I laugh at the contestants’ mistakes
Basis for Social Interaction
1. I look forward to talking about it with others
2. I like competing with other people watching with me
3. I like working together with the family on the answers
4. The children get a lot out of it
5. It brings the family together sharing the same interest
6. It is a topic of conversation afterwards
1. I like the excitement of a close finish
2. I like to forget my worries for a while
3. I like trying to guess the winner
4. Having got the answer right I feel really good
5. I get involved in the competition
1. I find I know more than I thought
2. I find I have improved myself
3. I feel respect for the people on the programme
4. I think over some of the questions afterwards
5. It’s educational
Criticisms of ‘Uses and Gratifications’
The use of retrospective 'self-reports' has several limitations.
Viewers may not know why they chose to watch what they did, or may not be able to explain fully.
The reasons which can be articulated may be the least important.
People may simply offers reasons which they have heard others mention.
More promising might be the study of people's engagement with media as it happens.
Some degree of selectivity of media and content is clearly exercised by audiences (e.g. choice or
avoidance of TV soap operas. However, instrumental (goal-directed) accounts assume a rational
choice of appropriate media for predetermined purposes.
Such accounts over-emphasize informational purposes and ignore a great deal in people's
engagement with media: TV viewing can be an end in itself.
There is evidence that media use is often habitual, ritualistic and unselective.
But more positively, TV viewing can sometimes be seen as aesthetic experience in which intrinsic
motivation is involved.
The U & G approach has been criticized as 'vulgar gratificationism'.
It is individualistic and psychologist, tending to ignore the socio-cultural context.
As a theoretical stance it foregrounds individual psychological and personality factors and
backgrounds sociological interpretations.
For instance, David Morley (1992) acknowledges that individual differences in interpretation
do exist, but he stresses the importance of subcultural socio-economic differences in shaping
the ways in which people interpret their experiences with TV (via shared 'cultural codes').
U & G theorists tend to exaggerate active and conscious choice, whereas media can be forced
on some people rather than freely chosen.
The stance can also lead to the exaggeration of openness of interpretation, implying that
audiences may obtain almost any kind of gratification regardless of content or of 'preferred
Its functionalist emphasis is politically conservative: if we insist that people will always find
some gratifications from any use of media, we may adopt a complacently uncritical stance
towards what the mass media currently offer.
U & G research has been concerned with why people use media.
Whilst this approach sprang from 'mainstream' research in social science, an interpretive
tradition has arisen primarily from the more arts-oriented 'cultural (and 'critical') studies'.
The approach sometimes referred to as reception theory (or reception analysis) focuses on
what people see in the media, on the meanings which people produce when they interpret
media 'texts' (e.g. Hobson 1982, Ang 1985, Seiter, Borchers, Kreutzner & Warth 1989).
This perspective tends to be associated with the use of interviews rather than questionnaires.
Such interviews are often with small groups (e.g. with friends who watch the same TV
The emphasis is on specific content (e.g. a particular soap opera) and on specific social
contexts (e.g. a particular group of working-class women viewers).
Uses and gratifications approach
Mark Levy and Sven Windahl provide a good description of what it means to be an "active
consumer" of media:
"As commonly understood by gratifications researchers, the term "audience activity"
postulates a voluntaristic and selective orientation by audiences toward the communication
In brief, it suggests that media use is motivated by needs and goals that are defined by
audience members themselves, and that active participation in the communication process
may facilitate, limit, or otherwise influence the gratifications and effects associated with
Current thinking also suggests that audience activity is best conceptualized as a variable
construct, with audiences exhibiting varying kinds and degrees of activity."
Assumptions of the theory
Unlike other theories concerning media consumption, UGT gives the consumer power to
discern what media they consume, with the assumption that the consumer has a clear intent
and use. This contradicts previous theories such as mass society theory, that states that people
are helpless victims of mass media produced by large companies; and individual differences
perspective, which states that intelligence and self-esteem largely drive an individual's media
Given these differing theories, UGT is unique in its assumptions:
1. The audience is active and its media use is goal oriented
2. The initiative in linking need gratification to a specific medium choice rests with the
3. The media compete with other resources for need satisfaction
4. People have enough self-awareness of their media use, interests, and motives to be able to
provide researchers with an accurate picture of that use.
5. Value judgments of media content can only be assessed by the audience.
Heuristic approach of UGT
Katz, Blumler, and Gurevitch synthesized that UGT's approach was focused on "the social and
psychological origins of needs, which generate expectations of the mass media or other sources,
which lead to differential patterns of media exposure (or engagement in other activities), resulting
in need gratifications and other consequences, perhaps mostly unintended ones."
According to Katz, Blumler and Gurevitch's research there were five components comprising the
Uses and Gratifications Approach. The components are:
1. The audience is conceived as active.
2. In the mass communication process, much initiative in linking gratification and media choice
lies with the audience member.
3. The media compete with other sources of satisfaction.
4. Methodologically speaking, many of the goals of mass media use can be derived from data
supplied by individual audience members themselves.
5. Value judgments about the cultural significance of mass communication should be suspended
while audience orientations are explored on their own terms.
According to the research, goals for media use can be grouped into five uses. The audience
1. Be Informed Or Educated
2. Identify With Characters Of The Situation In The Media Environment
3. Simple Entertainment
4. Enhance Social Interaction
5. Escape From The Stresses Of Daily Life
Gratifications sought (GS) and
gratifications obtained (GO)
The personal motivations for media use also suggest that the media offer gratifications which are
expected by audiences. These gratifications can be thought of as experienced psychological effects
which are valued by individuals. Palmgreen and Rayburn (1985) thus proposed a model of the
gratifications sought (GS) and gratifications obtained (GO) process shown in Figure 2.
The model distinguishes between GS and GO. Thus, where GO is noticeably higher than GS, we are
likely to be dealing with situations of high audience satisfaction and high ratings of appreciation
and attention (McQuail, 1983).
To investigate the relationship between GS and GO, Palmgreen et al. (1980) conducted a study of
gratifications sought and obtained from the most popular television news programs.
The results indicated that, on the one hand, each GS correlated either moderately or strongly with
its corresponding GO; on the other hand, the researchers found that the gratifications audiences
reportedly seek are not always the same as the gratifications they obtain (Palmgreen et al., 1980).
A later study conducted by Wenner (1982) further showed that audiences may obtain different
levels of gratifications from what they seek when they are exposed to evening news programs.
Media Dependency Theory
Media dependency theory, also known as media system dependency theory, has been
explored as an extension of or an addition to the uses and gratifications approach, though
there is a subtle difference between the two theories. That is, media dependency looks at
audience goals as the origin of the dependency while the uses and gratifications approach
emphasizes audience needs (Grant et al., 1998). Both, however, are in agreement that media
use can lead to media dependency. Moreover, some uses and gratifications studies have
discussed media use as being goal directed (Palmgreen, Wenner & Rosengren. 1985; Rubin,
1993; Parker & Plank, 2000).
Media dependency theory states that the more dependent an individual is on the media for
having his or her needs fulfilled, the more important the media will be to that person.
DeFleur and Ball-Rokeach (1976) described dependency as the correlating relationship
between media content, the nature of society, and the behavior of audiences. It examines
both macro and micro factors influencing motives, information-seeking strategies, media and
functional alternative use, and dependency on certain media (Rubin and Windahl, 1982).
As DeFleur and Ball-Rokeach (1989) suggested, active selectors’ use of the media to achieve
their goals will result in being dependent on the media. Littlejohn (2002) also explained that
people will become more dependent on media that meet a number of their needs than on
media that provide only a few ones. “If a person finds a medium that provides them with
several functions that are central to their desires, they will be more inclined to continue to use
that particular medium in the future” (Rossi, 2002).
The intensity of media dependency depends on how much people perceive that the media
they choose are meeting their goals. These goals were categorized by DeFleur and Ball-
Rokeach (1989) into three dimensions which cover a wide range of individual objectives:
1. (1) social and self understanding (e.g., learning about oneself, knowing about the world);
2. (2) interaction and action orientation (e.g., deciding what to buy, getting hints on how to
handle news or difficult situation, etc.);
3. (3) social and solitary play (e.g., relaxing when alone, going to a movie with family or
friends). DeFleur and Ball-Rokeach (1989) also suggested that more than one kind of goal
can be activated (and satisfied) by the same medium.