Uses and Gratification Theory - Explained
What is the Uses and Gratifications Theory?
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Table of ContentsWhat is the Uses and Gratifications Theory?What are Laswell's 4 Media Functions?Audiences as Active ParticipantsWhat is a Use and a Gratification? Critics of the Uses and Gratifications Theory?
What is the Uses and Gratifications Theory?
The Uses and Gratifications Theory is a Mass Communication theory that focuses on the needs, motives and gratifications of media users.
The theory states that media consumers are passive consumers of mass communications; rather, they play an active role in media consumption.
The theory is attributed to researchers Jay G. Blumler and Elihu Katz. In 1974, they published “The uses of mass communication: Current perspectives on gratifications research”, which painted a complete picture of the Uses and Gratifications Theory.
The theory originated, however, with the research of Harold Laswell.
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What are Laswell's 4 Media Functions?
Lasswell theorized that Media has 4 Functions on individuals and society:
- Cultural Transmission
This shifted the traditional research focus from media effects to media functions and was adopted by the functional school of sociologists of the time.
Pursuant to the function view, society is made up of small parts. Each party has a specific function within sub-systems that make up society. These sub-systems serve to meet the primary needs of society.
Audiences as Active Participants
After the introduction of Uses and Gratifications Theory researchers have generally treated the audience as active participants who search, rank, use, and consume media for different reasons and purposes and in different ways.
Modern audiences use media with the goal of satisfying one or more specific needs.
What is a Use and a Gratification?
Per Bloomer and Katz, user of media has a need in doing so that could be a use or a gratification.
That is, audiences choose and use a media for the following 4 Media Purposes or Uses and Gratifications:
- Diversion or Entertainment: To get away from everyday problems and routine (escapism).
- Personal Relationships: As a substitute for real emotional and interpersonal interaction.
- Personal Identity: Association with characters in texts and TV programs and they also learn behaviors and values from media.
- Surveillance: To satisfy their need for information.
The base of this theory has been applied widely. In 2000, Researcher Denis McQuail slightly modified the order and the names:
- Personal Identity
- Integration and Social Interaction
Critics of the Uses and Gratifications Theory?
The primary critiques of Uses and Gratifications theory have been:
- James Lull (2002) - Criticized the main assumption that people seek out media to satisfy a personal need, especially to entertain themselves - as audiences don’t accept always the content of media. Further, not all media are meant to provide gratification or to satisfy a need for entertainment, audiences don’t always benefit from the use of media, and they don’t take on in media consumption willingly and independently.
- Ien Ang argues that the theory tends to focus on individual needs, disregarding the social context. Also the content of media is ignored and especially the quality of the message which is delivered, while there are no clues about how users perceive those message and what they get from them.
- E. Katz (1987) noted that the theory relies exclusively on self reports of media users, which may be distorted due to people’s inaccuracy or external influences.