10 December 1997
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A Report on
Uses and Gratifications of Media
For many years media has been used in different ways in the United States and the world. One of the ways that people have sought to understand the way people have used media is through the uses and gratifications approach. This approach provides a better understanding of the functions of mass media to different audiences. In this report, I will try to review what media does to people and what do people get from media. The report will also provide information on why people use different kinds of media.
The uses and gratifications approach grew from the concern that the study of mass communication as persuasion was dying (Katz, 1959). Katz indicated that perhaps the field of communication research could be saved by investigating what the media does to people and the reasons why media is used by people. Several studies have investigated why people use media. Although these studies are based on why people use different types of media like newspapers, radio, television, etc., they do provide us with a way to better understand the reasons why people read newspapers or listen to the radio.
In newspapers, one of the studies shows that people read to learn about world affairs, or for escape, relaxation, entertainment and social prestige. Still, others read the newspaper to find information on fashion, recipes, and weather forecasts (Berelson, 1965). I was surprised to find that the survey did not show that people read the newspaper to keep up with sports. In a personal interview with a former editor of The Monitor, Mr. King indicated to me that the majority of the people buy the newspaper to keep up with sports. Another study showed that children read adventure stories to fantasize or daydream (Riley, 1951).
With respect to radio and TV, one of the studies shows that people listen or watch soap operas for escape or emotional release of personal problems (Herzog, 1944). In the Rio Grande Valley, soap operas and novelas in Mexican television are very popular among Mexican Americans and university students. I personally agree that soap operas and Mexican telenovelas serve as an emotional release of our personal problems. With respect to elections, another study showed that people in England watch political broadcasts as a source of information about political affairs.
Uses and Gratifications Models
One of the difficult problems in studying uses and gratification of media is the classification of audience needs and gratifications. Some researchers have classified audience needs and gratifications in terms of "immediate" or "deferred" gratifications (Schramm, Lyle & Parker, 1961). In other words, these people say that we watch a program on TV or read the newspaper, we either get immediate gratification or from watching it or deferred gratification at a later time. Another researcher identifies the uses and gratification in terms of information or educational or fatasist or escapist (Weiss, 1971). This model is probably more applicable to different types of media. For example, people watch the news or the Discovery Channel for educational or informational purposes. On the other hand, people may watch soap operas to escape from our daily problems but children may watch Barney or Star Trek to fantasize.
Swedish researchers identified uses and gratifications of media into three different elements. The first element was whether the audience was conceived of as active. In other words, did the audience play an important role to the mass media's goal. The second element was the mass communication process much initiative in linking need gratification and media choice lies with the audience member. The final element was th emedia compete with other sources of need satifactions (Katz, 1973).
This model asks that we think of media exposure as an intervening variable in the study of traditional communication effects research. According to Katz, Blumler and Gurevitch, audiences differ in the gratifications they are seeking from the mass media. The reasons might be related to certain social conditions and functions or personality dispositions and abilities.
Rubin and Perse applied this uses and gratifications model to the television viewing needs and motives among children and adolescents. In 1981, Rubin found that motivations do determine television use. He found that viewers who are seeking companionship or infomration tend to watch the most television. More recent research shows that the uses and gratifications approach is useful in predicting MTV, magazine, and telephone use (Vincent, 1997).
Another uses and gratifications model was developed by McQuail, Blumler and Brown in 1972. It suggests that diversion played an important role to an audience. In other words, people sought an escape from reality through the media. They also suggested that personal relationships dictated why people used the media. These researchers found that people use the media to gain information to use during a conversation. They also found that the audience seek companionship with the use of media. Personal identity or individual psychology is also seen to play an important role in the attention the audience gives the media. It was seen that the media gave value reinforcement or reassurance to media users. In some cases, individual psychology helped audience find a self-understanding. Surveillance also was seen to effect the audience. It was seen as information about things which might affect one or will help one do or accomplish something (McQuail, 1972).
Mark R. Levy in 1975 used the McQuail, Blumler and Brown model to study a sample of 240 adults. His research concluded that television news test viewers preceptions and attitudes on "fresh" events and personalities. According to Levy, many viewers "actively" choose between competing newscasts. In effect, viewers arrange their schedules to be near a television set at news time and pay close attention to program (Levy, 1975).
A year later, Katz, Gurevitch and Haas saw that individuals used the mass media to disconnect or connect themselves from others. They listed 35 needs and placed them into five categories. One of those categories was the need to acquire information, knowledge and understanding, wich is known as cognitive. An affective need was also categorized as the audience using the media for emotional, pleasurable or aesthetic experience. The audience also use the media to strengthen their credibility, confidence, stability and status; this category is known as a social integrative need. The final category stated that the audience used the media as an escape and diversion from reality. It was seen as a tension release.
With this category, the researchers interviewed 1,500 respondents in Isreal. After researching their needs and satisfactions, they reached several conclusions. One was that the non media source was found more gratifying with friends, holidays and work. Second was the greater the "distance" from a referent -- social, physical or psychological -- the more important the role of the media. Thirdly, certain comparative processes, such as lifestyles, seemed well served by the media. Friends were seen as more important than the mass media for needs having to do with self-integration. The fourth conclusion was that the media usefulness in serving these needs is entirely consistent, regardless of the respondent's education level. Finally, the needs having to do with self are associated with different kinds of media. This includes: knowing oneself through books; enjoying oneself in associated with film, television and books; while the newspaper contributes to self-regulation and self-confidence (Katz, 1973).
Some recent uses and gratifications models were made by Perse and Courtright (1993) and Meng Weng Wong. Perse and Courtright identifies 11 needs that can be satisfied by communications. Those 11 needs include: the need to relax, to be entertained, to forget about work, to have something to do with friends, to learn things about oneself and others, to pass the time away, to feel excited, to feel less lonely, to satisfy a habit, to let others know I care about their feelings, to get someone to do something for me (Severin and Tankard, 1997).
Meng Weng Wong, an independent researcher, divided his uses and gratifications model into four categories: cognition, diversion, social utility, and withdrawal. He defined cognition as being the act of coming to know something. For example, a person can use the media to keep up with information on current events. The second category is diversion. Diversion is separated into three subcategories: stimulation, relaxation, and emptional release. According to Wong, people seek stimulation in order to avoid boredom. Some seek relaxation to escape from life. Others find watchign hoor movies as emotional release. The third category dealt with social utility. According to Wong, some people use social utility to talk about events stemming from shared experience through the media, and Wong categorizes the act people do when they want to avoid interaction as being withdrawal.
All these different models gives us a good understanding of what uses and gratifications actually mean. Uses and gratifications studies audience use of mass media according to social and psychological needs. Though it is research, there are many criticism towards the use of uses and gratifications.
Uses and Gratifications Experiments
In 1984, Bryant and Zillmann conducted an experimental study of whether an individual's mood influences the selection of television programs. These researchers investigated the selection students made when they were either stressed out or bored. The students had to select between exciting and relaxing television programming. The researchers concluded that students who were bored viewed more exciting rather than relaxing movies. The stressed out students also watched exciting movies but didn't mind watching relaxing movies.
Stone and Stone carried out a telephone survey in 1990, in which people indicated their reasons for watching evening television soap operas by agreein with eight statements. The result showed the respondents watched evening television soap operas due to habit (Severin and Tankard, 1997).
O'Keefe and Spetnagel in 1973 found that among college students, males viewed more television and read more newspapers than females. According to the study, television viewing levels increased with age. Television was the preferred source for news of a national or international event with newspapers being second; newspapers socred highest as a source for detailed information (Vincent, 1997).
Other interesting experiments dealt with the recent development of technologies. Heeter and Greenberg gave viewers a variety fo scanning strategies to decide which programs to watch. They concluded that young adults were the most active viewers of cable television who tend to use controlled, elaborated, and exhaustive searchign strategies. Talk about channel surfing.
Perse and Dunn conducted a survey to research what use the people have for the Internet. They found that people use the Internet to learn, to be entertained, social interaction, escapism, pass time, and out of habit. The authors believe that the use of computer connectivity might actually lead to addictiveness.
To make this paper fun, I did a survey of communication majors on the amount of time they watch television. What I found was that 40 percent of the students watch less than five hours of television. Only 10 percent of the students watch 11-20 hours of news worthy television, while 30 percent watch 5-10 hours or entertainment television. What I found is that the communication students watch more news worthy television than entertainment television.
There are three different types of criticism. The first criticism other researchers have is that uses and gratifications is non-theoretical. In a 1983 critique found operational definitions and analytical models confusing. Plus, critics found that uses and gratifications model to offer a lack of theoretical justification, and critics say "the discussion ranges far from the result, which does not support their theoretical underpinnings (Stanford, 1983)."
Many critics see the use of uses and gratifications as being vague in defining key concepts. Critics say that uses and gratifications focuses too narrowly on the individual. It relies on psychological concepts such as needs, and neglects social structure and media. An answer to that criticism was made by Rubin and Windahl. They proposed a synthesis of uses and gratifications approach and dependency theory. Their "uses and dependency model" places individuals within societal system, which help share their needs.
Critics also call the model being nothing more than a data-collecting strategy. Critics suggest that much use of mass communication might involve a low level of attention. They believe that many might not be interested in surveillance or personal guidance as much as they are interested in some mildly pleasant stimulation (Severin and Tankard, 1997).
Some critics believe that individuals needs was created by the media. Others say that uses and gratifications goes to far in claiming that people choose to see what they want and interpret the way they want. They believe that mass media messages tends to reinforce the dominant world view of the culture.
In conclusion, people use the media for different types of reasons. Some see it as a way to escape from reality, while others use media for educational purposes. Canary and Spitzberg found evidence that the audience use the media to escape loneliness. A way to prove that is watch who is viewing QVC at 3:00 in the morning.
The uses of the media and the gratifications they get out of it has been studied for the past 40 years. Researchers main concern on their studies is what we do with the media and how we use it. Even though uses and gratifications is seen as non-theoretical, they still serve a purpose of informing us of why others use the media. It even gives us an update on trends the audience have on the media. I believe that uses and gratifications effects they way businesses and advertising agencies work. These tests can give an idea of waht the audience want.
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Katz, E., M. Gurevitch, H. Hass, "On the Use of the Mass Media for Important Things. American Sociological Review 38 (1973): 164-181.
Levy, M.R. (1980). Home video recorders: A user survey. Journal of Communications 30 (no. 4): 23-25.
McQuail, D., J.G. Blumber, and J.R. Brown (1972). The television audience: A revised 28.8,9 (1994): 52:75.
Severin, Werner J., James W. Tankard, Jr. Communication Theories: Origins, Methods, and Uses in the Mass Media. New York: Longman, 1997.
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Vicent, Richard C., and Michael D. Basil. "College students' new gratifications, media use, and current event knowledge." Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media 41.3 (1997): 380-392.
Wong, Meng Weng. "Audience's Use of Mass Media." Nov. 1993: http://www.seas.upenn.edu/~mengwong/comm125.audience.html.
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