In beginning to explain the complex nature of communications research we must explore the context of the media and the audiences who consume media. Uses and gratifications studies seek to answer the question ‘what do people do with media?’ as opposed to ‘what the media do to people’ approach of media effects research. We will seek to understand the hisotry of media research and the origins of uses and gratification research. Furthermore by investigating the strengths and weaknesses of uses and gratifications research we will see the differences between it and media effects research.
Media surrounds us in many forms on a daily basis, and this has become a natural part of life in the 21st century. However an important question we need to ask is why we are drawn to particular media and specifically how these media forms effect us, if at all. These questions formed the basis of a ‘functionally orientated’ research method now known as uses and gratifications (Ruggiero, 2000). This approach was founded to study the “gratifications that attract and hold audiences to the kinds of media and the types of content that satisfy social and psychological needs” (Ruggiero, 2000). Uses and gratifications is considered an “important complement to media effects research” although remaining a separate entity (Rubin, 1986)
Uses and gratification research began in the 1940s when theorist Herzog (1940) explored the popularity of quiz shows. Later, Berelson (1949) pondered the importance of newspaper reading in his research on “What Missing the Newspaper Means”. This approach countered the existing ‘effects research’ and became a contrasing and modern way of viewing our media consumption (McQuail & Windahl, 1993). With the previous research spotlight on opinion leaders, the focus now chanegd towards the uses people made while consuming the media (Williams, 2003). The focus generally moved from what the ‘media do to people’ to ‘what people do with the media’ (McQuail and Windahl, 1993). This early research set the stage for greater understanding of our media tendancies and the evolution of uses and gratifications research.
Media effects sought as ask the question of whether the media shapes society or mirrors it with the former option. Media effects researchers often use examples such as violence in the media creating violence in our societies or junk food advertising to children creating childhood obesity. Many public polls show that people believe there is a strong correlation between media consumption and behavior however this tends to be most commonly for negative situations (Sparks 2012). Media effects research existing before uses an gratifications research with the latter seeing issues with approaching media and individual relationshoips from this angle.
A breakthrough in the development of the uses and gratifications theory, was the publication of the ‘Uses of Mass Communication’ by Blumler and Katz (1974). They understoof the uses and gratifications approach was one concerned with “(1) the social and psychological origins of (2) needs which generate (3) expectations of (4) mass media or other sources which lead to (5) differential patterns of media exposure (or engagement in other activities), resulting in (6) need gratifications and (7) other consequences, perhaps mostly unintended ones” (McQuail & Windahl, 1993, p.134). Katz and Blumler identify that the uses and gratifications theory contained an assortment of objectives and assumptions. The three objectives were, firstly “to explain how mass media are used by individuals to gratify their needs” secondly “understand the motives for media behaviour” and thirdly “to identify the functions or consequences that follow from needs, motives and communication behaviour” (Rubin, 1986, p.285).
The first objective…