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Uses and Gratification Theory

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Alusine M. Kanu DA

Abstract

This study examines gratification theory to determine usefulness of media to producers and  consumers and discusses uniform needs of media consumption. The unit of analysis employs content analysis to identify media effect issues. The study starts with hypothesis, followed by literature review, identification of independent and dependent variables and methodology of content analysis. The study continues with discussion of findings with relevant information to understand predicted hypothesis. The findings of study are that when it comes to media use, people make choices and are motivated by a drive to gratify a range of needs with approaches that make consumers of media active participants.

Introduction and Hypothesis

This research addresses two research questions on uses and gratification theory. The first question is what is the usefulness of gratification theory to media consumers? The second question is, do gratification effects differ among rural and urban subgroups?  Uses and gratification theory is a popular approach to understanding mass communication. The theory places more focus on the consumer or audience, instead of the actual massage itself by asking, “What do people do with media?” (Katz, 1959).  It assumes that members of the audience are not passive but take an active role in interpreting and integrating media into their own lives.  The theory also holds that audiences are responsible for choosing media to meet their needs.  

The approach suggests that people use media to fulfill specific gratifications.  Also, uses and gratifications approach postulates that the media competes with other information sources for audience need satisfaction.  As traditional mass media and new media continue to provide people with a wide range of media platforms and content, it is considered one of the most appropriate perspectives for investigating why audiences choose to be exposed to different media channels (LaRoseetal, 2001).  The approach emphasizes audience’s choice by assessing their reasons for using a certain media to the disregard of others, as well as the various gratifications obtained from the media, based on individual social and psychological requirements. 

Gratification theory provides a framework for understanding the processes by which media participants seek information or content selectively, commensurate with their needs and interests.  The study offers explanations as to whether or not there is gratification of media use. The second consideration is whether or not there are differences in media use in urban and rural areas. It is suggested that the uses and gratification theory fulfills one of the following when we choose a form of media: Media use includes identifying and recognition of the product or person, role model that reflects similar values and aspiration to be someone else. Media educates us by being able to acquire information knowledge and understanding. Media entertains us by giving enjoyment and some form of escapism enabling us to forget worries temporarily. Media encourages social interactions by providing the ability for media products to produce a type of conversation between other people, sparks debates. 

Literature Review

A review of literature on gratification theory illustrates measurable construct that can be verified with some sort of explanations and descriptions of media use.  Uses and gratification theory first advanced in the 1940s by Lazarsfeild and Stanton (1944), attempts to explain the reasons people use mass media and the different types of gratification they receive from it.  The theory came into prominence in the late 1950s and early 1960s at a time when researchers realized that traditional effects theories did not adequately explain audience experiences with mass effects.  Uses and gratifications have come under some criticism from a number of researchers.  There is debate over whether uses and gratifications is a general theory of communication or a framework comprised of several theories.  Swanson (1979) argues that viewing uses and gratification as a framework of theories leads to conceptual ambiguities and inconsistencies, while Blumier (1979) and Windahl (1981) suggest uses and gratification is best approached as an umbrella concept encompassing several theories.  Infante et al. (1997) point out that most of uses and gratification refers to self-report questionnaires, which some critics question in terms of reliability and validity.  Becker (1979) points to the difficulty in defining and measuring, “gratification.”  Since, gratification is audience- rather than researcher-oriented, operationalization becomes a theory issue.  Becker (1979) does point out however those gratifications do not seem to be media-specific.  This is, a person who seeks a particular type of gratification from one medium will likely do the same for another medium will likely do the same for another medium.  Rubin (1986) believes uses and gratifications research will be best served by continuing to explore and explain the specific links among altitudes, motives, behavior, and communication effects. Barge (1994) outlines the expectancy value theory as a choice-making process in which people go after goals that they perceive as realistic, attainable and desirable.  In other words it means that people calculate the expectancy or the amount of confidence they have that certain behaviors will be followed by a certain outcome.  Secondly, people will calculate the valance or degree of positivity or negativity, of their view of whether the outcome is what they wanted.  The final calculation people will make is the instrumentality, or the belief that if they go to the trouble, the desired outcome will come about (Barge 1994).

The author notes that while expectancy value theory explains why people based their decision-making in order to maximize their gains, the theory does not completely account for all behavior.  Barge (1994) says the theory falls short when the number of possible outcomes becomes too taxing for our cognitive ability to calculate.  In addition the theory’s valence considerations cannot always explain why some people avoid pursuing a goal with negative consequences whether the valence is large or small (Barge, 1994). Uses and gratification’s theory was developed to determine why consumers choose certain types of media.  This theory receives minor criticism due to its constant assumption of media consumers as active.  Though the literature review appears to be historical critical, they offer concrete perspectives of gratification theory. Recent literature review place more control in the hands of mass media producers-arguing that media is so pervasive controlling all consumption is nearly impossible (Chen, 2011). As traditional mass media and new media continue to provide people with a wide range of media platforms and content, it is considered one of the most appropriate perspectives for investigating why audiences choose to be exposed to different media channels (Larose, 2001).

Methodology and Research Variables

The method of this research study is content analysis with approaches that are qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods for describing and categorizing communicative messages in specific contexts (Krippendorf, 2004).  Content analysis is recognized as a legitimate way of analyzing the content of communication.  Later in the 20th century, as radio, movies, and television grew more accessible, popular content and analytical methods were applied to those media.  Three claims that are most common to content analysis are description, explanation, and prediction.  The content analysis of gratification theory describes communication messages on their characteristics in particular cultural contexts including rural and urban populations. The methods of study of uses and gratification theory works best with content analysis because it is an approach that constructs claims that describe, explain functions, and effects of messages to assess reliability of study. Researcher will discuss the relationships of gratification effects and whether or not media is uniformly consumed and set of characteristics.  The approach is to provide a detailed picture of uses and gratification in terms of categories and schemes that explain consumer’s behavior, events, and messages that gratify.  Content analysis is one of the most unique and interesting methodologies that communication scholars have developed. Questions related to mass communication with content analysis can be very telling about how communication occurs.

The variables of the study of gratification theory take on a variety of values with detailed picture of study. The obvious variables are media effects, usefulness and gratifications. It is important to keep in mind that units of analysis possess unique characteristics. All the variables enable the researcher to generally understand two basic phenomena: relationships and differences. The independent variables are part of gratification effects on media audience in rural and urban areas and what is being studied in relation to dependent variable. Any change in the dependent variable is a result of manipulation of the independent variable. So factors such as whether media effects are uniform in rural and urban subgroups and usefulness of media and its gratification are a result of changes of the independent variable. Intervening variables determine if media effects of change of the independent variable in turn cause a change in the dependent variables.                        

Discussions of Gratification Theory

The key concept of the uses and gratifications perspective is that the choices people make when consuming media are motivated by their desire to gratify a range of needs.  The assumptions are that the audience is active, the audience makes motivated choices and that media use is only one way to satisfy everyday life.  Research indicates that traditional TV use can be explained through the uses and gratification perspective.  Based on evidence it can be inferred that in relation to interactive TV applications, people will actively opt for and use the applications that best fulfill the needs that TV caters for. Cognitive needs, including acquiring information, knowledge and understanding. Affective needs, including emotion, pleasure, feelings; Personal integrative needs, including credibility, stability, status: Social integrative needs, including interactive with family and friends; and Tension release needs, including escape and diversion.

Fulfilling goals of gratification theory based on media effects includes the production and consumption of getting out relevant events and conditions in immediate surroundings, society and the world. Through information distribution, the media relates to the audience by seeking advice on practical matters or opinion and decision choices. Media satisfies curiosity and general interest. Learning about self-education occurs through media by making the audience to gain a sense of security through knowledge. Personal identity is gratified as the audience finds reinforcement for personal values. Finding Models of behavior enables one to identify with valued others (in the media) and gratifies by gaining insight into oneself. Another active function that gratifies is the integrative and social interaction roles of media that happen in rural or urban areas simultaneously. Those roles include gaining insight into the circumstances of others; with presence of social empathy. Media gratifies by allowing identification with others and gaining a sense of belonging. The media allows its participants and audience to find a basis for conversation and social interaction by having a substance for real life companionship.

In addition to helping to carry out social roles, media enable audience members to connect with family, friends and society. Much gratification of media occurs through entertainment. The media enables escaping or being diverted, from problems, relaxing, getting intrinsic cultural or aesthetic enjoyment, filling time, emotional release and sexual arousal. This dimension of uses and gratifications assumes an active audience making motivated choices.  Personal social circumstances and psychological dispositions together influence both… general habits of media use and also… beliefs and expectations about the benefits offered by the media, which shape specific acts of media choice and consumption, followed by… assessments of the value of the experience (with consequences for further media use) and, possibly… applications experience and social activities.

Findings and Conclusions

Evidence based on the methodology of content analysis shows gratification is derived with media consumers, and gratification effects depend a great deal on the consumers. From the perspective of media production and its effects, it should be noted that modern technologies support a wide range of media uses in a range of household situations. As with any technology that has to be incorporated into people’s working and living environments, interactive applications of media that ensure satisfaction depend on catering for existing audience needs. Content analysis suggests that the uses and gratification theory fulfills functions of identity by being able to recognize the product or person, role models that reflect similar values and aspiration to be someone else. The educative role of the media allows acquiring information, knowledge and understanding. The media entertains by enabling us to forget worries temporary and through social interactions produce topics of conversation between other people through dialogue or debate. Further content analysis indicates that traditional media use can be explained through the uses and gratification perspective.

Based on evidence, it can be inferred that in relation to interactive applications, people will actively opt for and use the applications of media that best fulfill their needs. Uses and gratifications approach postulates that the media competes with other information sources for audiences need satisfaction. The approach emphasizes audience’s choice by assessing their reasons for using a certain media to the disregard of others, as well as the various gratifications obtained from the media, based on individual, social and psychological requirements. Gratification theory provides a framework for understanding the processes by which media participants seek information whether in rural or urban areas. It is the process by which participants seek information or content selectively, commensurate with their needs and interests. A memorable finding in this research study on uses and gratification is that the choices people make when consuming media are motivated by their desire to gratify a range of needs with approaches that the audience is active, the audience makes motivated choices and that content analysis show media us is only one way amongst others to satisfy needs expressed in everyday life.

References

Becker, L.  (1979). Measurement of gratifications. Communication Research, 6, 54-73.

Chen G (2011).  A uses and gratifications perspective on how active twitter use gratifies a need to connect with others computers in Human Behavior 27. 2 755-62

Katz, E. (1959).  Mass communication research and the study of culture.  Studies in Public Communication 2, 1-6.

Katz, E. Gurevitch, M. & Haas, H. (1973).  On the use of the mass media for important things.  American Sociological Review, 38, 164-181

Krippendorf, K (2004) Content analysis: An introduction to its methodology (2nd Edition). Thousand Oaks CA: Sage.

Larose, R., Mastro, D. & Eastin, M.S. (2001).  Understanding Internet usage: A social-cognitive approach to uses and gratifications.  Social Science Computer Review, 19(4), 395-413 Oaks, New Delhi Sage Publications

Rubin, A. (1979).  Television and gratifications: the interactions of viewing patterns and motivations.  Journal of Broadcasting 27, 37-51.

Swanson, D. (1979).  The continuing evolution of the uses and gratifications approach.  Communication Research, 6, 3-7.  

By Dr Alusine Melvin Moseray Kanu

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