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Uses and Gratifications
Elihu Katz

MASS COMMUNICATION: MEDIA EFFECTS


  1. Introduction.
    1. Instead of asking, “What do media do to people?” Katz flipped the question around to ask, “What do people do with media?”
    2. People make daily choices to consume different types of media.
    3. The theory attempts to make sense of the fact that people consume an array of media messages for all sorts of reasons, and the effect of a given message is unlikely to be the same for everyone.
    4. The driving mechanism of media use is need gratification.
    5. Understanding the need(s) helps to explain the reasons and the effects of media usage.
    6. Five key assumptions underlie the theory of uses and gratifications.
  2. Assumption 1: People use media for their own particular purposes.
    1. The study of how media affect people must take account of the fact that people deliberately use media for particular purposes; this is Katz’s fundamental assumption.
    2. Audiences are not passive.
    3. Uses and gratifications theory emphasizes that media choices are personal and can change over time.
    4. Exposure to media messages do not affect everyone in the same way, but fulfill different purposes at different times.
      1. The uniform effects model of media proposes that media messages have the same effect on everyone in the audience.
      2. Uses and gratifications theory rejects this image and replaces it with one of free choice based on individual yearnings at particular times.
    5. Research by Robert Plomin discovered that genetics accounted for as much as 25% of the variance in media use.
    6. We may have a genetic predisposition to be attracted to given media but the active choice we make cannot be account for by genetics.
  3. Assumption 2: People seek to gratify needs.
    1. The deliberate choices people make in using media are presumably based on the gratifications they seek from those media.
    2. There is not a straight-line effect where a specific effect on behavior can be predicted from media content alone, with no consideration of the consumer.
    3. The key to understanding media depends on which needs a person satisfies when selecting a media message.
  4. Assumption 3: Media complete for our attention and time.
    1. Different media compete with each other for your time as well as other activities that don’t involve media exposure.
    2. The need that motivates media consumption must be identified in an effort to understand why people make the choices they do.
  5. Assumption 4: Media affect different people differently.
    1. Audiences are made up of people who are not identical.
    2. These differences determine the outcome or gratification a consumer receives.
  6. Assumption 5: People can accurately report their media use and motivation.
    1. If uses & gratifications theory was to have any future, researchers had to find a way to uncover the media that people consumed and the reasons they consumed it.
    2. To discover why people consume media, they must be asked.
    3. The controversial aspect of this measurement strategy is whether or not people are truly capable of discerning the reasons for their media consumption.
    4. Scholars have attempted to show that people’s reports of the reasons for their media consumption can be trusted, but this continues to be debated.
  7. A typology of uses and gratifications.
    1. For the last 50 years, uses & grats researchers have compiled various lists of the motives people report, constructing a typology of major reasons for exposure to media.
    2. A typology is simply a classification scheme that attempts to sort a large number of specific instances into a more manageable set of categories.
    3. Rubin claims that his typology of eight motivations can account for most explanations people give for why they watch television.
      1. Passing time.
      2. Companionship.
      3. Escape.
      4. Enjoyment.
      5. Social interaction.
      6. Relaxation.
      7. Information.
      8. Excitement.
    4. Each category is relatively simplistic but can be further subdivided.
    5. Rubin claims that his typology captures most of the explanations people give for their media consumption.
    6. Researchers have argued for including habitual watching as a possible motive for media use.
  8. Parasocial relationships: Using media to have a fantasy friend.
    1. Consumers develop a sense of friendship or emotional attachment with media personalities.
    2. Parasocial relationships can help predict how media will affect different viewers in different ways.
    3. In the same way uses & grats could be used to study TV-viewing, it also holds potential for studying social media.
  9. Beyond TV: Uses & grats in the age of new media.
    1. S. Shyam Sundar, founding director of the media effects laboratory at Penn State, believes technologies such as social media challenge the notion that people use media to satisfy needs that arise from within themselves.
    2. Media technology itself can create gratification opportunities that people then seek.
    3. Whether or not Sundar is right that gratifications may arise from technology rather than ourselves, it seems that the gratification possibilities that emerge with new media aren’t quite the same as the ones formulated when TV ruled the mass media world.
  10. Critique: Heavy on description and light on prediction?
    1. For some, the emphasis on description rather than explanation and prediction is one of the theory’s weak spots.
    2. Jiyeon So notes that uses & gratifications theory was never intended to be merely descriptive; it was originally designed to offer specific predictions about media effects.
    3. The propositions that people use media to gratify particular needs and that those needs can be succinctly described using eight categories seem relatively simple.
    4. Scholars question the testability based on whether or not people can accurately report the reasons for their media use.
    5. Uses & grats does not offer much practical utility, whether users are active participants or not.
    6. Instead of staying with the simple assertion that media audiences were uniformly active and making conscious choices, Rubin modified the theory by claiming that activity was actually a variable in the theory.
    7. It’s now clear that uses & grats has generated a large body of quantitative research.


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Instructors can get additional
resources. Read more

Archived chapters (PDF)
from previous editions
are available in
Resources by Type.
See list

New to Theory
Resources?

Find out more in this short
video overview (3:01).


Uses and Gratifications
Elihu Katz

MASS COMMUNICATION: MEDIA EFFECTS


  1. Introduction.
    1. Instead of asking, “What do media do to people?” Katz flipped the question around to ask, “What do people do with media?”
    2. People make daily choices to consume different types of media.
    3. The theory attempts to make sense of the fact that people consume an array of media messages for all sorts of reasons, and the effect of a given message is unlikely to be the same for everyone.
    4. The driving mechanism of media use is need gratification.
    5. Understanding the need(s) helps to explain the reasons and the effects of media usage.
    6. Five key assumptions underlie the theory of uses and gratifications.
  2. Assumption 1: People use media for their own particular purposes.
    1. The study of how media affect people must take account of the fact that people deliberately use media for particular purposes; this is Katz’s fundamental assumption.
    2. Audiences are not passive.
    3. Uses and gratifications theory emphasizes that media choices are personal and can change over time.
    4. Exposure to media messages do not affect everyone in the same way, but fulfill different purposes at different times.
      1. The uniform effects model of media proposes that media messages have the same effect on everyone in the audience.
      2. Uses and gratifications theory rejects this image and replaces it with one of free choice based on individual yearnings at particular times.
    5. Research by Robert Plomin discovered that genetics accounted for as much as 25% of the variance in media use.
    6. We may have a genetic predisposition to be attracted to given media but the active choice we make cannot be account for by genetics.
  3. Assumption 2: People seek to gratify needs.
    1. The deliberate choices people make in using media are presumably based on the gratifications they seek from those media.
    2. There is not a straight-line effect where a specific effect on behavior can be predicted from media content alone, with no consideration of the consumer.
    3. The key to understanding media depends on which needs a person satisfies when selecting a media message.
  4. Assumption 3: Media complete for our attention and time.
    1. Different media compete with each other for your time as well as other activities that don’t involve media exposure.
    2. The need that motivates media consumption must be identified in an effort to understand why people make the choices they do.
  5. Assumption 4: Media affect different people differently.
    1. Audiences are made up of people who are not identical.
    2. These differences determine the outcome or gratification a consumer receives.
  6. Assumption 5: People can accurately report their media use and motivation.
    1. If uses & gratifications theory was to have any future, researchers had to find a way to uncover the media that people consumed and the reasons they consumed it.
    2. To discover why people consume media, they must be asked.
    3. The controversial aspect of this measurement strategy is whether or not people are truly capable of discerning the reasons for their media consumption.
    4. Scholars have attempted to show that people’s reports of the reasons for their media consumption can be trusted, but this continues to be debated.
  7. A typology of uses and gratifications.
    1. For the last 50 years, uses & grats researchers have compiled various lists of the motives people report, constructing a typology of major reasons for exposure to media.
    2. A typology is simply a classification scheme that attempts to sort a large number of specific instances into a more manageable set of categories.
    3. Rubin claims that his typology of eight motivations can account for most explanations people give for why they watch television.
      1. Passing time.
      2. Companionship.
      3. Escape.
      4. Enjoyment.
      5. Social interaction.
      6. Relaxation.
      7. Information.
      8. Excitement.
    4. Each category is relatively simplistic but can be further subdivided.
    5. Rubin claims that his typology captures most of the explanations people give for their media consumption.
    6. Researchers have argued for including habitual watching as a possible motive for media use.
  8. Parasocial relationships: Using media to have a fantasy friend.
    1. Consumers develop a sense of friendship or emotional attachment with media personalities.
    2. Parasocial relationships can help predict how media will affect different viewers in different ways.
    3. In the same way uses & grats could be used to study TV-viewing, it also holds potential for studying social media.
  9. Beyond TV: Uses & grats in the age of new media.
    1. S. Shyam Sundar, founding director of the media effects laboratory at Penn State, believes technologies such as social media challenge the notion that people use media to satisfy needs that arise from within themselves.
    2. Media technology itself can create gratification opportunities that people then seek.
    3. Whether or not Sundar is right that gratifications may arise from technology rather than ourselves, it seems that the gratification possibilities that emerge with new media aren’t quite the same as the ones formulated when TV ruled the mass media world.
  10. Critique: Heavy on description and light on prediction?
    1. For some, the emphasis on description rather than explanation and prediction is one of the theory’s weak spots.
    2. Jiyeon So notes that uses & gratifications theory was never intended to be merely descriptive; it was originally designed to offer specific predictions about media effects.
    3. The propositions that people use media to gratify particular needs and that those needs can be succinctly described using eight categories seem relatively simple.
    4. Scholars question the testability based on whether or not people can accurately report the reasons for their media use.
    5. Uses & grats does not offer much practical utility, whether users are active participants or not.
    6. Instead of staying with the simple assertion that media audiences were uniformly active and making conscious choices, Rubin modified the theory by claiming that activity was actually a variable in the theory.
    7. It’s now clear that uses & grats has generated a large body of quantitative research.


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