In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Uses and Gratifications

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Core Texts
  • Criticisms
  • Scales Used in Research
  • Early Research
  • Deprivation Studies
  • Functional Alternatives
  • Dependency Approaches
  • Interpersonal Communication

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Communication Uses and Gratifications
Elizabeth Perse
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 January 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 January 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0132


The uses and gratifications perspective was a fairly dramatic shift in the direction of mass communication research. Instead of focusing on media content, it directed attention toward the audience. Instead of considering the audience as passively exposed to strong media messages, it considered an active audience that consciously selected and used media content to satisfy various needs. Instead of evaluating media content as cultural products, uses and gratifications suspended judgments about the cultural value of content and assumed that all content had potential functional value. Instead of relying on textual analysis, uses and gratifications relied on quantitative (and often multivariate) analyses. Uses and gratifications marked a perspective shift in mass communication research. Instead of focusing on what the mass media do to people, it focuses on what people do with the media. Uses and gratifications has evolved since its first formal presentation in 1974. Responses to valid criticisms led scholars to modify its assumption that audience members were always active media users. Now, audience activity is considered a variable. Researchers have also brought other theoretical approaches to provide theoretical grounding for some of the key links in uses and gratifications. Uses and gratification is more a perspective than a theory. It considers the mass communication process from the viewpoint of the audience. Research is most often conducted from either a functional or psychological perspective. Functional approaches consider questions about how people use media and their content. This productive line of research gives rise to various typologies of media use: often the initial research on new technologies. Psychological approaches tend to ask questions about the sources of motivation and the effects of media use. This research often integrates other theoretical approaches to provide more complete explanations. The key concept in uses and gratifications is the reasons people have for using mass communication (motives/gratifications sought). These reasons are important because they direct selective exposure to media and their content, they lead people to use the content in different ways, and they lead to different media effects. Thus, this bibliography includes only those contributions that incorporate specific considerations of audience motivation and those articles that represent the theoretical development of the perspective and the international utility of the research. Uses and gratification is a dynamic approach that has adapted and expanded its scope with the development of technology in the 1980s and 1990s and the Internet and has increased program options and control. Other articles summarize how uses and gratifications can inform the connections between mass and interpersonal communication.

General Overviews

Analyses find that uses and gratifications is one of the most widely used theoretical underpinnings of communication research. As such, handbooks and yearbooks typically include chapters that summarize and reappraise the perspective. About ten years after the publication of the influential Blumler and Katz 1974 (cited under Core Texts), Palmgreen 1984 and Palmgreen, et al. 1985 assessed the growth of the perspective over the decade. While much has been added to the body of uses and gratifications knowledge, these chapters remain useful for identifying the important concepts and questions that undergird the perspective. Alan M. Rubin is perhaps the most prolific of the uses and gratifications researchers. He regularly contributes chapters to handbooks that serve as model analyses of uses and gratifications. His work updates not only the significant findings but also identifies significant areas of current and future research. Rubin 1985 takes a functionalist approach to uses and gratifications. Rubin 2009a presents the perspective as it has evolved into a psychological approach. Rubin 2009b emphasizes how uses and gratifications has contributed to the study of media effects. Ruggiero 2000 shows the relevance of the perspective in Internet-based media.

  • Palmgreen, Philip. 1984. Uses and gratification: A theoretical perspective. In Communication yearbook. Vol. 8. Edited by Robert N. Bostrom, 20–55. Beverly Hills, CA: SAGE.

    Summarizes the ten years of research following the publication of Blumler and Katz 1974 (cited under Core Texts). He summarizes social and psychological origins, gratification sought and obtained, audience activity, and media effects. He presents a more inclusive integrated model.

  • Palmgreen, Philip, Lawrence Wenner, and Karl Erik Rosengren. 1985. Uses and gratifications research: The past ten years. In Media gratifications research: Current perspectives. Edited by Karl Erik Rosengren, Lawrence A. Wenner, and Philip Palmgreen, 11–37. Beverly Hills, CA: SAGE.

    A summary of the ten years of research following the publication of Blumler and Katz 1974 (cited under Core Texts). The authors present a model that integrates societal structure into the uses and gratifications model. They also present challenges for future research, including new communication technology and societal changes.

  • Rubin, Alan M. 1985. Uses and gratifications: Quasi-functional analysis. In Broadcasting research methods. Edited by Joseph R. Dominick and James E. Fletcher, 202–220. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

    A summary of the grounding of uses and gratifications in functionalism. Rubin summarizes early research. Most interestingly, he provides a detailed example of how to conduct uses and gratifications research using his own replication of Greenberg 1974 (cited under Television).

  • Rubin, Alan M. 2009a. Uses and gratifications: An evolving perspective of media effects. In The Sage handbook of media processes and effects. Edited by Robin L. Nabi and Mary Beth Oliver, 147–159. Los Angeles: SAGE.

    Presents an overview and updated summary of uses and gratification research as a psychological perspective. Rubin highlights the evolution of the perspective over time, focusing on the use of gratification typologies, the emphasis on media effects, and using uses and gratifications to explore media as functional alternatives to other communication channels.

  • Rubin, Alan M. 2009b. Uses-and-gratification perspective on media effects. In Media effects: Advances in theory and research. Edited by Jennings Bryant and Mary Beth Oliver, 165–184. New York: Routledge.

    Summarizes the evolution of uses and gratifications research using the core elements of the perspective as the framework. The author considers communication orientations, the newer media environment, personal and individual dispositions, and media dependency.

  • Ruggiero, Thomas E. 2000. Uses and gratifications theory in the 21st century. Mass Communication & Society 3:3–37.

    DOI: 10.1207/S15327825MCS0301_02

    Summarizes uses and gratifications research and argues that uses and gratifications is a key theoretical perspective to understanding the adoption and use of new communication technologies. He suggests that uses and gratifications perspective be expanded to account for new concepts such as interactivity, demassification, hypertextuality, and asynchronicity. He also argues for greater use of qualitative methods.

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