Uses and Gratification Theory

It was in the 1960’s that the first generation of people who grew up with television became adults. Around this time media theorists began to note the behaviour of the audiences who consumed media texts, the choices they made and what they did whilst consuming the texts. These ‘texts’ include watching films or television, reading books, newspapers and magazines and now reading blogs, using social media platforms and other online sources. Uses and Gratification Theory in tried to answer the questions:  Why do people use media and what do they use them for?

Although the types of media consumed by audiences has changed a lot since these theories were first published, they still ring true today. The media theorists realised that media texts serve a number of different purposes and mean different things to different people.

In this post I will look at how Bulmler and Katz (1974) expanded on Lasswell’s theories from the late 1940’s and how they can be applied to social media and today’s media landscape.

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Lasswell laid the foundations of this theory in 1948

In 1948, Lasswell suggested that media texts served four specific roles for individuals and society

  1. Surveillance
  2. Correlation
  3. Entertainment
  4. Cultural Transmission

Here are some great resources if you want more information about Lasswell and his model of communication:

Bulmer and Katz then expanded this theory in the 1970’s

This theory was then expanded in 1974, when researchers Blumler and Katz published their own theories, stating individuals might choose and use texts for…
  • Diversion/Entertainment: Audiences can use media texts as a form of escapism as well as relaxation. They can also be used as a means of filling time and as an emotional release or, even sexual arousal.
  • Personal Relationships/ Social Interaction: Media texts can help people identify with others and gain a sense of belonging and provide a basis for conversation and social interaction. It can also act as a substitute for real life companionship. Texts can also help others gain an insight to other peoples lives and share a sense of social empathy.
  • Personal Identity: Media texts can help people find reinforcement for their personal values and models of behaviour. It can also help the audience gain an insight to them-self
  • Surveillance/Information: Audiences can use media texts to educate themselves about relevant events/conditions (e.g. the weather) or look to it for advice about practical matters or assist in decision making. It helps to satisfy viewers curiosity and general interest and provides a feeling of security throughout knowledge.

When we think about how social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter are used I believe that this becomes even more clear. We increasingly hear terms like ‘personal brand’, ‘feed themes’ and feel a pressure to ‘curate our content’. This would be to to build personal identity. Twitter and Facebook are becoming increasingly popular news outlets. They are certainly used for sharing information with the masses.





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