Motivation and emotion/Book/2020/Uses and gratifications theory

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Uses and gratifications theory:
What is UGT and how can it be applied?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Have you ever considered what motivates you to tune into your favourite TV show every week? Why you spend hours scrolling through social media? Even though it may feel mindless or automatic, this behaviour is intentional and motivated. We may not be aware of it, but our decision to turn on the radio, pick up a newspaper or flick through are all choices we make motivated by certain social or psychological needs.

Uses and Gratifications Theory seeks to understand the needs that motivate us to seek out media, and how well these needs are satisfied.

Focus questions:

  • What is Uses and Gratifications Theory?
  • What motivates audiences to consume media?
  • What are the implications of understanding this motivation?
  • What are the major criticisms of the theory?

What is uses and gratifications theory?[edit | edit source]

Katz, Blumler, & Gurevitch, (1973) define Uses and Gratifications Theory as the study of:

(1) the social and psychological origins of (2) needs, which generate (3) expectations of (4) the 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 (p.510).

Put simply, UGT is the study of the needs that motivate an individual to interact with different types of media, how successful that media is at satisfying the need, and the potential consequences or opportunities of this needs/gratifications process.

Katz et al. (1973) outline five assumptions, or foundations, of UGT:

1.   The audience is active, and intentionally chooses media based on expectations of what that media and its content will offer them. An individual experiences a need, want or desire, and selects the media channel they expect to best be able to fulfil this need, want or desire.

2.   The link between need gratification and media choice is determined by the individual and therefore it is difficult to theorise about the effects of media on the behaviour of a whole population. Everyone holds different expectations of different medias and will select different medias to fulfil their needs. Therefore, it is difficult to tie a specific need to a specific media and generalise this to a wider population.

3.   Media must compete with other communication alternatives which can provide the same gratifications. For example, while you may choose television to satisfy the need for entertainment, this need may also be satisfied through conversation with friends, exercise or engaging in a hobby.

4.   Audience members understand their own goals when consuming media, therefore self-reporting is a valid research method. UGT research methods are based heavily in self-reports such as surveys and interviews. While the validity of these research methods is often questioned, individuals have enough understanding of why they seek out media to be effectively guided through these methods.

5.   Audience needs and orientation should be examined fully before making judgements regarding the cultural significance of mass communication. Researchers need to disregard their own assumptions about the cultural and social impacts of mass media and focus on the insights from their sample of the audience.

Rubin (2008) identifies another important assumption; that there are external and internal factors shaping the needs of individuals and their expectations of media. Your social and cultural environment, predispositions and interpersonal relationships can affect what you expect from media. For example, if a friend recommends an article to you, you may be more likely to turn to that media next time you are seeking information. Similarly, the influence media messages may have on you is filtered through your personality, the availability of the media, the likelihood of your interaction with a media and other social and psychological circumstances.

What needs does media gratify?[edit | edit source]

Figure 1. Newspapers and Television & Radio broadcasts can help fulfill the cognitive need for information

In the context of UGT, Gratification is the fulfillment of a psychological need through interaction with media. Gratification frameworks vary across the field. Early studies focused on describing [missing something?] audience’s reasons for using individual media types. For example, Berelson (1949, in Rubin 2008) determined audiences use newspapers to interpret public affairs and to increase social prestige. Research moved away from description in the 1950’s[grammar?], when researchers began identifying motivational needs (Rubin, 2008).

Lasswell (1948, in O′Donohoe, 1994) identifies surveillance, transmission of social heritage and interpretation of information as the major needs fulfilled by mass media. Wright (1959, in O′Donohoe, 1994) added entertainment to this list, which led to the later inclusions of pleasure, escapism, and fantasy (O’Donohoe, 1994).  McQuail, Blumler, and Brown (1972, in Katz et al., 1973) consider four categories of needs: diversion, personal relationship, personal identity and surveillance.

This model became the basis of one of the more popular models of media gratifications, and was adapted by Blumler into a version that is relatively straightforward. Blumler (1979) identifies three major categories of needs that media consumption fulfills:

  1. Cognitive needs: media can fulfill both an information seeking need known as surveillance through informative programs such as news and current affairs, and a reality exploration need through fictitious media.
  2. Diversion needs: Media can act as a diversion, fulfilling psychological needs for both entertainment and excitement, providing stimulation and an escape from boredom.
  3. Personal Identity: media that reflects daily experiences or values of the audience can fulfill a need for reinforcement, which strengthens identity.

UGT Survey:

Now that you have a basic understanding of UGT, try the survey below to experience a very basic example of how data can be collected.

Survey Monkey

Please note, this survey is merely an example of the types of questions used in a UGT study. The real thing would have a focus on a specific media or gratification, and would produce much more specific questions.

History and development of UGT[edit | edit source]

UGT emerged during the 1940's[grammar?] in response to other mass communication models, such as the hypodermic needle model, which saw audiences as passive receivers of messages (Bracken & Lombard, 2001). It began to truly develop as a theory during the late 1950's[grammar?], and came from the "desire to understand audience involvement in mass communication in terms more faithful to the individual user's own experience and perspective" (Blumler, 1979, p. 10). During the 1970's[grammar?], researchers sought to address earlier criticisms by defining the social and psychological needs satisfied by media and explored how these needs relate to other factors that influence media use (Ruggiero, 2000).

Interest in UGT was reinvigorated around the turn of the century with the introduction and mainstream adoption of the internet (Ruggiero, 2000). The flood of new technology, devices and channels such as smartphones, internet and social media made it very difficult for researchers to study a single channel or type of media. Instead, research into new media is moving toward the study of uses and gratifications tied to new variables tied to the new media (Sundar & Limperos, 2013) . Ruggiero (2000) outlines three key variables introduced by new media:

  1. Interactivity describes the “the degree to which participants in the communication process have control over, and can exchange roles in their mutual discourse" (Williams, Rice, & Rogers, 1988, p. 10, in Liu, 2015). Internet interactivity strengthens the core UGT concept of the active user, as the internet, by nature forces audiences to intentionally engage with content (Ruggiero, 2000).
  2. Demassification in UGT refers to "the ability of the media user to select from a wide menu" (Ruggiero, 2000, p.16). Unlike traditional mass media, whose content is usually consolidated into a few channels, content on the internet is decentralised and numerous. Audiences have greater choice over what media content they believe will satisfy their needs (Liu, 2015).
  3. Asynchronicity refers to the way internet content is available at any time, compared to the scheduled nature of television and radio media (Ruggiero, 2000). Internet users are able to access content whenever it is convenient to them (Ruggiero, 2000), which allows researchers to consider time as a factor in media motivation.

While the three variables present interesting new directions to be considered in UGT research, the three major areas of study in UGT are outlined below.

Gratifications sought vs gratifications obtained[edit | edit source]

Katz et al. (1973, in Palmgreen & Rayburn, 1979) draws a distinction between "a) expectations about content formed in advance of exposure and b) satisfactions subsequently secured from consumption of it". This distinction is now referred to as gratifications sought - the needs the audience believes they are seeking from the media - and gratifications obtained - the needs that are actually being fulfilled by the media choice (Tewksbury & Althaus, 2000).

Palmgreen and Rayburn (1982) developed a model of gratifications sought which demonstrates that a specific gratification will only be sought from X media if the individual perceives that X media has the related attributes to fulfill the sought gratification.

The correlation between gratifications sought and gratifications obtained is also important. Palmgreen and Rayburn (1979) discovered that smaller differences between gratifications sought and gratifications obtained was linked to an individuals[grammar?] repeat exposure to the chosen media.

Media expectations[edit | edit source]

One of the cornerstones of UGT is the concept of an active audience that chooses the media which will best satisfy their needs. In order to make this choice, audiences must have some expectation of what the media can provide them with (Palmgreen & Rayburn, 1979). These expectations are developed over time, reinforced by successful gratification of identified needs and can be effected[grammar?] by factors such as personality, social interaction and environmental circumstances (Ruggiero, 2000). The concept of media expectations is closely linked to expectancy value theory.

Social determinants of media exposure[edit | edit source]

In any study of the motivations that drive media use behaviours, researchers must take into account non-motivational forces that may also be influencing these behaviours. Bogart (1965, in Palmgreen & Rayburn, 1979) identifies work schedule, availability of television channels and family viewing habits as circumstances that may affect television use behaviour in particular. While these factors may not have a direct impact on gratifications sought, they can affect the gratifications obtained. Palmgreen & Rayburn (1979) found that family members who were unable to control the television, and therefore unable to make their own media choice, were less satisfied then the family members who were able to choose.

Applications of UGT[edit | edit source]

UGT is a broad field of study with applications in multiple disciplines. In the communications field it may be used to understand why audiences engage with various media, and therefore how to encourage their engagement. In the field of psychology it is of particular interest to behaviourists, as a way to examine the motivations that lead to media consumption behaviour.

Rubin (2008) outlines six key directions of UGT research, which each have their own applications in both communications and psychological research:

Direction Description Example of Application Key Research
Development of typologies of gratifications Investigation of the links between motivations for media use and their associated media usage behaviours has led to the categorisation of media gratifications. For example, Lometti, Reeves and Bybee (1977) categorised media gratifications into surveillance, entertainment, affective/emotional and behavioural guidance Better categorisation of media gratifications simplifies the area of study, and allows for more cross-examination of different studies since the categories are similar and comparable - Lometti, Reeves, and Bybee 1977

- Perse 1986 &1990

- A. M. Rubin 1983, 1984 &1985

- A. M. Rubin & Bantz, 1989

Comparison of motives across media types This direction of research asks: can different media types fulfill the same needs? Does new media such as internet and social media fit into established gratification typologies? (Rubin, 2008) This direction of research can be used to discover how the use of similar media differs based on need, [grammar?] for example, Courtright (1993) observed that personal interaction needs were better met through interpersonal channels (telephone) when compared to other channels (computer) -Elliott and Quattlebaum 1979

-Cowles 1989

-Ko, Cho, and Roberts 2005

-Westmyer, DiCioccio, & Rubin, 1998

Examination of the circumstances of media use Examination of how factors such as life position, lifestyle, personality, loneliness, isolation, need for cognition, religion, media deprivation, family-viewing environment etc. influence media use (Rubin, 2008). This direction provides further opportunity for psychological researchers to examine the effect of external factors on motivation, and whether changing these variables impacts media use. - Dimmick, McCain, & Bolton 1979

- Finn &Gorr, 1988

- A. M. Rubin & Rubin 1982 & 1989

- Windahl, Hojerback, & Hedinsson, 1986

How are media use motives satisfied? Research into gratifications sought and obtained. Development of expectancy-value, discrepancy and transactional models of media uses and gratifications (Rubin, 2008). Understanding how media use motives are satisfied allows researchers and communications professionals to anticipate needs and tailor media content to better increase its chances of audience engagement. - Babrow & Swanson 1988

- Galloway & Meek 1981

- Palmgreen & Rayburn 1979, 1982 & 1985;

-Wenner 1982 & 1986

How do background variables affect media use outcomes? This direction of research examines how the background variables and secondary motives of the individual may affect the outcomes of their media use behaviour, such as their satisfaction, involvement in the content, etc. Television watching motivation, personality and experience with crime are all predictors of viewer aggression (Haridakis,2002; Haridakis & Rubin, 2003, in Rubin, 2008) - Alexander 1985

- Garramone 1984

- Perse & Rubin 1988

- A. M. Rubin 1985

- R. B. Rubin & McHugh, 1987

Further development of UGT and its applications This line of research focuses both on refining the methods used in UGT studies, as well as linking UGT to other psychological and communication theories to deepen the area of study. Slater's (2007) research attempts to link UGT with positive feed back loops, identifying that outcomes of media use feed back into selection and attention to media. - Babrow 1988

- Banning 2007

- Bilandzic & Rossler 2004

- Dobos & Dimmick 1988

- Haridakis & Rubin 2005

Examples of UGT research[edit | edit source]

Thanks to its many areas of study, it is difficult to outline the many applications of UGT, as it can be applied to almost any mass media for a number of reasons. Previous topics of study in the field have included: the gratifications of listening to radio (Herzog, 1942, 1944), motivation for and functions of reading newspapers (Berelson, 1949; Elliot & Rosenberg, 1987; McCombs, 1979; Payne, Severn, & Dozier, 1988), gratifications of telephone use (Dimmick, Sikand, & Patterson, 1994), media behaviour of children and teens (Lin, 1993, Schramm, Lyle, & Parker, 1961), impact of race on media use (Gerson, 1966; Greenberg & Dominick, 1969), and comparisons of uses and gratifications across different media (Elliot & Quattlebaum, 1979; Katz, Blumler, & Gurevitch, 1974; Katz, Gurevitch, & Haas,1973)(from Bracken & Lombard, 2001). Rather than summarising the entire history of UGT applications, several examples of UGT studies, their methods and their applications have been included below.

Advertising Uses and Gratifications

O'Donohue (1994)

Purpose: this study attempted to classify advertising uses and gratifications, and adds to the body of research that addresses what consumers do with advertising, rather then what advertising does to them.

Method: The study sampled 82 participants aged 18-24, through a mix of small group discussions and one-on-one interviews.

Findings: The study identified a range of uses and gratifications of advertising, including both marketing and non-marketing gratifications. The table below shows the many uses identified by the sample group and how they were categorised into gratifications by the researcher

Need fulfilled (Gratification) Uses identified in sample
Marketing Uses Information

Choice, competition and convenience

Quality assurance/reassurance

Consumption stimulation

Vicarious consumption

Added value

Structuring Time Structuring Time
Enjoyment Entertainment




Scanning the Environment Surveillance


Checking out the opposite sex


Social Interaction Family relationships

Peer relationships

Self-affirmation/transformation Reinforcement of attitudes and values

Ego enhancement

Aspirations and role models

Applications: The research determined that the uses and gratifications identified by the consumers offers insight into why audiences become engaged with certain advertisements over others. This insight would be very useful to advertising professionals, who could then design their advertisements to anticipate the gratifications audiences are seeking.

An examination of motivations for using the World Wide Web

Tewksbury & Althaus (2000)

Purpose: To examine how well gratifications of traditional media map onto the use of the internet.

Method: 520 University of Illinois students were completed questionaries[grammar?][spelling?]. Students from this university were chosen since this community was perceived to be well connected to the internet at a time when much of the general population was not.


- Beliefs about what the media could offer and the gratifications sought were substantial predictors of internet use

-The reported gratifications obtained matched with the content that was consumed, e.g. individuals who claimed they obtained surveillance gratifications visited news and political sites.

- Traditional UGT models are useful in predicting the uses and gratifications of the internet

Applications: in proving that traditional UGT models can be used for internet media, this study expanded the field of UGT from traditional media into new media. Knowing that gratifications sought maps directly to the websites chosen by individuals also has many applications in the communications field, including driving website traffic, advertising and website optimisation.

One size doesn’t fit all: a uses and gratifications analysis of social media platforms.

Pelletier et al. (2020).

Purpose: to investigate the motivation behind the use of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and to provide insight into user’s co-creation behaviour with brands.

Method: 363 American social media users were engaged in a qualitative study that was used to determine the distribution of users across platforms and why they used the platform. 1050 social media users were then surveyed with regard to their interaction with branded content on the three platforms. The gratifications of information, social interaction and entertainment were highlighted.


- Twitter was the most preferred platform for informational gratifications

- Twitter and Instagram were tied as the most preferred platforms for social interactions

- Instagram was the most preferred platform when it came to entertainment gratifications

- Instagram was also the most used platform in brand co-creation

Applications: the major applications for this study apply to the field of advertising and corporate communication. This study proves that audiences use social media platforms to obtain different gratifications, and suggests that brands should align their messages to meet the different gratifications sought on various platforms.

Criticism[edit | edit source]

The majority of criticisms of UGT were presented during its early development as a theory, and have since been addressed by researchers (Rubin, 2008). However, it is still worthwhile to acknowledge these criticisms.

Early criticism focused on the validity of the self reporting method, the vagueness of several major concepts, unclear explanatory frameworks and a failure to consider the audience's perception of media (Ruggiero, 2000). Each of these criticisms was addressed by multiple responses:

- Katz, Gurevitch and Haas (1973), developed a list of needs that could be satisfied by mass media (Ruggiero, 2000).

- Rosengren (1974) explored the interaction between needs and other factors and its effect on media use motivation (Ruggiero, 2000).

- Palmgreen and Rayburn (1979) identified other factors that, when added to gratifications theory, would contributed to a more rounded media consumption theory

Rubin (1983), acknowledged that researchers in the field of UGT were making stronger attempts to conduct studies using existing frameworks, refine their methodology and compare and analyse the findings of multiple studies.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Uses and Gratifications theory is an attempt to understand what motivates media use behaviour by studying the needs that motivate media use, the expectations of various media, the ability of various media to satisfy needs, and the potential outcome of this satisfaction. There are many needs that motivate media consumption, but they can broadly be categorised as cognitive, diversion and identity needs. Understanding the needs that motivate media consumption, along with how these needs are met can illustrate how, why, and when individuals use media, and what affects this motivation. This has broad-reaching implications in both communications and psychology fields, including advertising, media creation and behavioural studies. Criticisms of UGT focus on its general vagueness as a theory and the validity of its experiments. However, researchers in the field of UGT have continually taken steps to face and resolve these criticisms.

See also[edit | edit source]

  1. Gratification (Wikipedia)
  2. Hypodermic needle model of mass media communication (Wikipedia)
  3. Motivation (Wikiversity)

References[edit | edit source]

Blumler, J. G. (1979). The Role of Theory in Uses and Gratifications Studies. Communication Research, 6(1), 9–36.

Bracken, C., & Lombard, M. (2001). Uses and gratifications: A classic methodology revisited. The New Jersey Journal of Communication, 9(1), 103–116.

Katz, E., Blumler, J., & Gurevitch, M. (1973). Uses and Gratifications Research. Public Opinion Quarterly, 37(4), 509–523.

Liu, W. (2015). A historical overview of uses and gratifications theory. Cross-Cultural Communication, 11(9), 71-78.

O′Donohoe, S. (1994). Advertising Uses and Gratifications. European Journal of Marketing, 28(8), 52–75.

Palmgreen, P., & Rayburn, J. (1982). GRATIFICATIONS SOUGHT AND MEDIA EXPOSURE An Expectancy Value Model. Communication Research, 9(4), 561–580.

Palmgreen, P., & Rayburn, J. (1979). Uses and Gratifications and Exposure To Public Television: A Discrepancy Approach. Communication Research, 6(2), 155–179.

Pelletier, M., Krallman, A., Adams, F., & Hancock, T. (2020). One size doesn’t fit all: a uses and gratifications analysis of social media platforms. Journal of Research in Interactive Marketing, 14(2), 269–284.

Rubin, A. (1983). Television uses and gratifications: The interactions of viewing patterns and motivations. Journal of Broadcasting, 27(1), 37–51.

Rubin A. M. (2008). Uses and Gratifications Perspective on Media Effects. In Bryant, J., & Oliver, M. (Eds). Media Effects Advances in Theory and Research 3rd ed (pp. 165-184). Taylor & Francis.

Ruggiero, T. (2000). Uses and Gratifications Theory in the 21st Century. Mass Communication & Society, 3(1), 3–37.

Sundar, S., & Limperos, A. (2013). Uses and Grats 2.0: New Gratifications for New Media. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 57(4), 504–525.

Tewksbury, D., & Althaus, S. (2000). An examination of motivations for using the World Wide Web. Communication Research Reports, 17(2), 127–138.

External Links[edit | edit source]