Uses and Gratification: Blumler and Katz

Uses and Gratifications Theory:

The theory focuses on how the user participates with the media and the content that is displayed (Berger, 1995). In essence, media does not influence the actions of the viewer, but rather the viewer has their own choice as to what their actions will be.

Example: People love to watch the television show Lost. It's viewers actions are not influenced by the show itself, but instead, they act on their own. When fans edit and read the website Lostpedia, it is not because the show has influenced them to do so, it is because the fans are using the show to their benefit in order to express their ideas and interact with other fans.

Who:

This perspective was formalized by Elihu Katz, Jay Blumler, and Michael Gurevitch. Blumler & Katz argued that the audience needs have social and psychological origins which generate certain expectations about the mass media, leading to differential patterns of media exposure which result in both the gratification of needs and in other consequences (Blumler, Katz, & Gurvitch, 1974).

Elihu Katz is famous for his research in the field of communication. Throughout the course of his work, he has written twenty books with other researchers such as Paul Lazarsfeld, James S. Coleman, and Jay G. Blumler. Currently, Katz became a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, in the Annenberg School for Communication (Faculty Bio). Katz came up with the idea that viewers use the media to their advantage. This translated to his work on Uses and Gratifications Theory, which can be seen in the book The Uses of Mass Communications: Current Perspectives on Gratification Research, which was written with Jay G. Blumer. What made Katz's theory interesting was that for the most part it vastly differed from the idea that viewers are passive, which had become the acceptable theory (Rossi, 2002).

Elihu Katz
Elihu Katz


Jay G. Blumler is one of the most important figures when it comes political communication. In 2006, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award, given to him by the American Political Science Association. He is currently a professor at the University of Maryland, and the University of Leeds (Guardian). Blumler first pointed out that the audience receives their gratifications from three sources, "media content, exposure to the media per se, and social context that typifies the situation of exposure to different media" (Rossi, 2002).

When:

It originally came about in the 1940’s and went through changes in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Uses and gratifications derive from a functionalist paradigm in the social sciences. It presents the use of media in terms of the gratification of social or psychological needs of the individual (Blumler, et al., 1974). Individuals seek gratification from different forms of media to satisfy their many needs. The uses and gratification approach stems from Lasswells’s functionalism of the 1940’s. In 1948, Lasswell introduced a four-functional interpretation of why people choose the various forms of media that they do. He interprets that viewers choose their media to gratify their desire to gain information, for entertainment, for social interaction, and for escapism. (Diddi & LaRose, 2006). Later in 1972 Blumler extended Lasswells original four primary factors. Blumler added Diversion, Personal Relationships, and Personal Identity or Individual Psychology. In 1973 Katz placed the social and psychological functions of the mass media into five categories: cognitive needs, affective needs, personal integrative needs, social integrative needs, and tension release needs. (Diddi & Larose, 2006)

What:

According to Sparks (2006) "it was designed to lend insight into the ways that people use media to meet their needs" (p.64). It focuses on individual motivations for media use (Sparks, 2006, p. 64). Ex: Learning, habit, addiction, companionship, arousal, relaxation, escape, passing time, etc. Some of the research attempts to connect people’s motivations for using a certain media with the effects that the media might have on them. Researchers now know many reasons people have for choosing media exposure of certain kinds. Sparks (2006) writes that "the relationship between what viewers bring with them to the viewing experience and how viewing subsequently affects them is one of the most important areas of current research in the uses and gratifications tradition" (p. 69).

There are five basic assumptions that accompany the Uses and Gratifications Theory according to Blumler and Katz (Katz, Blumler, & Gurevitch, 1974).

The first assumption is that "the audience is conceived as active" (Katz, et al., 1974, p.15). This is basically saying that people view the media to achieve objectives that they would like to complete.

The second assumption is that "people use the media to their advantage more often than the media uses them" (Rossi, 2002). In other words, the audience already has their mind made up about a certain issue, and they are going to stick with what they know. They will watch television and use the media to be entertained, but they will not let their views be altered.

The third assumption is that the media is always competing with our other needs, like actual conversation with a live human being (Rossi, 2002). This is why the media tries to be so diverse and branch off into ways that could possibly satisfy those needs. Instead of going to talk to a grief counselor about the passing of a loved one, the audience has the choice of watching a show like Dr. Phil, in which he talks about coping with loss.

The fourth assumption is that "people are very aware of their motives and choices and are able to explain them verbally if necessary" (Rossi, 2002). People can justify what type of media they take in because the media shapes who they are.

The fifth assumption is that "the audience can only determine the value of the media content" (Rossi, 2002). The individual viewer makes the choice to view the media, and by doing so, the media becomes valuable because they made the choice themselves to view it.

Why:

Why It Is Important:
It is important for researchers to understand the impact of the media on its viewers. According to Sparks (2006) "there is the possibility that heavy media use decreases social interaction and contributes to higher levels of social isolation" (p.77). Researchers examine why people watch television and use other forms of media.

Why We Use the Media:
Within our group of four, we followed an exercise from the book and wrote down reasons why we use the internet. We found that each of us uses it for four different reasons; Camaraderie, Relaxation, Education, and Amusement.
Camaraderie
Relaxation
Education Amusement
"It's a way for me to communicate with my family back home" "It can be relaxing just to browse facebook" "It's literally where I get all of my information for papers and presentations"
"The internet is so large that there is no way for it to ever get tiresome"
"With facebook, it's the easiest way to stay in touch with friends from home" "I love to play farmville and just get away from reality for a little while" "I need to get my news on the go usually, and the internet is the best way to do that" "Downloading new music is always a fun escape from my roommates"
"It's a great way to meet new people" "Whenever I hand an assignment in and click submit it is always a huge relief" "I always like to stay up to date by browsing through CNN and Digg" "When I have my computer up in class, I can never stop myself from going on facebook"
"I enjoy keeping up on people's blogs and hearing their thoughts and ideas" "I love to read ebooks online" "If you browse often, you can run into some pretty crazy facts that you would never think were true" "When I'm bored it's always fun to play The Sims"

How:

The consumer of the media can decide what influences them and what not. They can decide what media to consume and what media to avoid. Passive media consumers do not necessarily act accordingly to the media content. Instead, they may use this content to their benefit, today's consumer can fulfill their own needs. This helps understand the value of the relationship between media and consumer. Now, with new technologies such as the internet, interactions between the two are permitted; therefore the consumer is gaining more and more power and is being less influenced by the media.

Parasocial Relationships:

Michael JacksonThere are reasons how the uses and gratification perspective can be beneficial, but also detrimental. Those who watch TV to gain a sense of companionship or a connection to other people are facing an issue called parasocial relationships. “The human brain does not easily separate media images from reality.” (Sparks, 2006, p.67) This is especially a problem concerning children because developing social skills at a young age is important and such social skills can not be learned by connecting with television characters. “Higher-order cognitive processes may tell them that the images are not real, but the images stimulate real emotional reactions just the same.” (Sparks, 2006, p. 67). An example of a parasocial relationship that occurred recently was the death of superstar Michael Jackson. Although he did not know all of his fans, they all knew him, and they all mourned his death. Some so much in fact that they actually gathered outside of the hospital when they heard he had been hospitalized. After he passed away the tears flowed from all of his fans (Ralston & France-Presse, 2009).

Displacement Hypothesis:

kids playing video games in vallartaThere only exists a certain amount of free time that people have during the day and this idea questions that spending too much time viewing the media, especially television, is taking away from valuable and important activities. “If time spent watching TV and movies has increased over the years, then it would seem logical to suspect that the time spent in some other activities have decreased.” (Sparks, 2006, p.72). So many people devote a great amount of time to the internet and watching television that time spent on recreational activities is in jeopardy. “During an average year the average child spends the equivalent of nearly two solid months of 24 hour days doing nothing but watching TV.” (Sparks, 2006, p.71). Video games are another media source that many children spend large quantities of time playing. “In a study conducted by Gentile, Lynch, Linder & Walsh (Gentile, Lynch, Linder, Walsh, 2004, p.6), adolescent girls played video games for an average of 5 hours a week, whereas boys averaged 13 hours a week." One of the major activities that are being displaced by constant media viewing is exercise and outdoor recreation. This could possibly be linked to the increase of 127 million Americans being characterized as obese.














References


Berger, A.A. (1995). Essentials of mass communication theory. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications


Chandler, Daniel (UWA 1994). Why do People Watch Television: Uses and Gratifications. http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents
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Diddi, A, & LaRose, R. (2006, June).Getting hooked on news: uses and gratifications and the formation of news habits among college students in an internet environme. Retrieved from http://www.entrepreneur.com/tradejournals/article/154756993.html

Faculty bio. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.asc.upenn.edu/ascfaculty/FacultyBio.aspx?id=118


Fladung, E. (2005, March 19). Photograph. Blog entry posted to
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Jay g. blumler
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Blumler, J., Katz, E., & Gurevitch, M. (1974).The Uses of mass communications: current perspectives on gratification research. (Newbury Park, California): Sage.

Katz, E., Blumler., J., & Gurevitch, M. (1974). Mass communication research: Major issues and future directions. (New York): Praeger. 11-35.


Miah, A. (2006, December 4). Photograph. Blog entry posted to

(http://www.flickr.com/photos/andymiah/313918498/)

O'Mahoney, B. (2009, June 25). Image. Blog entry posted to

(http://www.flickr.com/photos/thephotographiceye/3661121561/)


Ralston, M, & France-Presse, A. (2009, June 25).Fans mourn, celebrate michael jackson. Retrieved from http://www.nationalpost.com/news/story.html?id=1733275


Rossi, E. (2002). Uses and gratifications/dependency theory. Retrieved on February 16, 2010 from
http://zimmer.csufresno.edu/~johnca/spch100/7-4-uses.htm



Sparks, Glenn G. 2006. Media Effects Research 2nd Edition. Time Spent with Mass Media: Reasons and Consequences. Thomson Wadsworth: Belmont, CA.


(2009, November 29). Uses and gratification [Video File]. Video posted to
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJioi3GNaPw


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