Uses and Gratifications Theory
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What is Uses and Gratifications Theory? Meaning.
The Uses and Gratifications Theory is a theory of Mass Communication that places the needs, motives and gratifications of media users in the center of interest and sees media users playing an active role in the media consumption process.
Laswell's 4 Media Functions
Lasswell introduced the concept of the 4 Functions of Media on individuals and society:
In the late 1960s this concept was embraced by the Functional School of sociologists Parson and Merton. They shifted the focus from media effects to media functions. In their view, society was like a living organism composed by small parts having each a specific function. The whole system is made up by sub-systems which all contribute to satisfaction of primary needs.
Blumler and Katz
Researchers Jay G. Blumler and Elihu Katz expanded this earlier concept and published in 1974 the most authoritative article about Uses and Gratification Theory: “The uses of mass communication: Current perspectives on gratifications research”. Due to the completeness of their work, Blumler and Katz are regarded as the conceivers of the Uses and Gratifications Theory.
Audiences, till then regarded as a passive mass, from now on constituted of individuals who actively searched, ranked, used and consumed media for different reasons and purposes and in different ways. Modern audiences are thus goal oriented, meaning that they use media to satisfy one or more specific needs. A need could be a use or a gratification (= satisfaction, enjoyment). Compare with: 8 Hidden Needs, Maslow Hierarchy of Needs, McClelland Theory of Needs. In the authors’ opinion audiences choose and use a media for the following 4 Media Purposes or Uses and Gratifications:
Recently, with the coming of new media (internet and video games) the original Blulmer and Katz’s list has been widely extended. In 2000 Denis McQuail, active in the field of mass communication studies, famous for his Attention Model, ratified this methodology, slightly modifying the order and the names of the 4 Uses:
Critics on Uses and Gratifications Theory
The most authoritative critics to the theory come from James Lull in 2002. He criticized the main assumption of the Uses and Gratification Model: people seek out media to satisfy a personal need, especially to entertain themselves. J. Lull suggested instead that audiences don’t accept always the content of media and moreover not all media are meant to provide gratification or to satisfy a need for entertainment in people. According to Lull audiences don’t always benefit from the use of media and more important they don’t take on in media consumption willingly and independently.
Other relevant critics come from researcher Ien Ang who argued that Uses and Gratifications 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.
Last but not least, a strong limitation of the theory comes from one of its developers E. Katz, who in 1987 admitted the doubtful nature of the study itself. Since the theory relies exclusively on self reports of media users, data recalled from people’s personal memories might be distorted due to people’s inaccuracy or external influences.
Finally there are people arguing that research in the direction of the Uses and Gratification theory and the widespread of the theory itself have been created and promoted by large media organizers.
This ends our Uses and Gratifications Theory summary and forum.
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