Uses and Gratifications Theory

Uses and gratification theory of communication explains how people use media to fulfill their needs. Gratification of needs is the most important role of media for humans. People get knowledge, interaction, relaxation, awareness, escape and entertainment through media which they use for interpersonal communication as well.

The theory was introduced by Blumler and Katz in 1974 in the article “the Uses of Mass Communications: Current Perspectives on Gratifications Research” and focuses its attention on media users’ roles.

A family watching television

Concepts in Uses and Gratification Theory

Unlike agenda setting theory, framing theory and priming theory, this theory is about the use of media by humans and not the effect of media. This theory is taken as the contradictory theory to magic bullet theory as this theory takes public to be active whereas magic bullet takes audience as passive respondents. The theory is centered upon users and audience approach. This theory is more related to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Uses and gratification theory focuses on free will of audience and is deterministic as media can be used in different ways and for different purposes. This theory assumes that there is nothing as an absolute truth. The audience is said to have full control over the effect of media on them as the effect can be chosen by the audience themselves. The theory is closely related to human psychology of needs, motives and influence.

A boy watching television

Categories of Uses and Gratification

Human needs and gratification can be divided into five broad categories. They are:

  • Affective needs
    Affective needs talk about emotional fulfillment and pleasure people get by watching soap operas, series on television and movies. People relate to the character and feel the emotions the characters show. If they cry, the audience cry and if they laugh, audience laugh along with them.
  • Cognitive needs
    People use media to get information and fulfill their mental and intellectual needs. People watch news mostly to gratify this need. Other examples can be quiz programs, teaching programs, arts and crafts programs for children, documentaries, how-to videos (DIYs), etc. Online media, Internet, is also being used to get information to get this need fulfilled.
  • Social integrative needs
    The need of each person to socialize with people like family and friends is social integrative need. People use media to socialize and interact through social networking sites like Facebook, My Space, Twitter, etc. People also use media to increase their social interactions by getting topics to talk with the near and dear ones. Media also helps by providing people with topics and ideas to talk/discuss with their friends and near ones, increasing their social interaction skills.
  • Personal integrative needs
    Personal integrative needs are the needs for self-esteem and respect. People need reassurance to establish their status, credibility, strength, power, etc. which is done with the use of media. They use media to watch advertisements and know which products are in fashion and shop accordingly to change their lifestyle and fit in with other people.
  • Tension free needs
    People listen to songs and watch t.v when they are in stress to relieve their stress or when they are bored at times. People might have various tensions in life which they do not want to face, so take help of media to escape from it.

Objectives of Uses and Gratification Theory

The objectives of uses and gratification theory are:

  • To show the relation of mass communication and how it is used to gratify needs
  • To find out primary intentions of media use by people
  • To know the positive and negative aspects of media use on the media users.

Goals of Media

The goals of media use are:

  • To be informed or educated
  • To get entertained
  • To develop social interaction
  • To feel connected with the situations and characters emotionally
  • To escape from real life situations

Other goals are affective disposition, psychological reassurance, fashion, status, access to information, cognitive needs, etc.

Features of Uses and Gratification Theory

  • Audience is taken as important and goal oriented.
  • The source of media is chosen by audience as per their own needs.
  • This theory gives alternative choices on media for the audience.
  • Media is taken as a means to an end.
  • Uses and functions of media are different from a person to another and from one situation to other.
  • Uses are also decided for groups, communities and societies.
  • Both individual and group needs are fulfilled by media.
  • When needs are gratified, people get satisfaction.
  • People are not taken as helpless victims of media.
  • Mobile phones, internet, social networking sites, etc. are new form of communication tool used for uses and gratification.

Examples of Uses and Gratification Theory

In situations like watching movies and listening to the music of your own choice, this theory is applicable. People choose from their own choices and moods. The needs of the particular person are met through the media used.

Some people might watch news for information, some for entertainment, and some for self-reassurance. Some watch according to their moods. There are various needs which gets fulfilled by the media.

Similarly, internet and mobile phones have become a source of media that tries to fulfill not only the mass communication needs, but also interpersonal needs like interaction and emotional involvement. People can use internet, text, call, talk with photos or with videos. It is portable and accessible. It has come to be useful for many and serve many purposes.

Criticisms of Uses and Gratification Theory

  • The theory does not show media as important.
  • The theory does not believe in the power of media and how media can influence human needs and gratification unconsciously.
  • The model is audience centered and shows audience as an active participant.
  • Critics think that the theory does not meet the standards to be called a theory and can only be taken as an approach to analyze as research relies on recollection of memory.
  • The theory ignores the use of media in social structures.
  • Audience might not always be active.