Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


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Uses and gratifications theory

core definition

Uses and gratifications theory of the media (mainly television) contends that viewers make use of the media for their own ends (or gratifications).

explanatory context

Uses and gratifications theory has been mainly developed in relation to television. Researchers argue that viewers use television for their own gratification and make more (or less) of the message than the broadcaster intended. Classic uses and gratifications theory sees four main types of gratification. First, television is a form of escapism. Second, it is a means of social integration (for example, having something to talk about at work). Third, it is an aid to self-awareness (comparing oneself to broadcast personalities). Fourth, it is a means of getting information. Most uses and gratifications theory suggests that broadcasters have little influence over their audience. The audience is in control, makes use of the media, and is able to resist media effects.


Main methods tend to be questionnaires to and observation of individual users of the media to explore gratification and motives, along with data on usage, demographics and ratings.


analytical review

University of Twente (2017) says that uses and gratifications theory:

Originated in the 1970s as a reaction to traditional mass communication research emphasizing the sender and the message. Stressing the active audience and user instead. Psychological orientation taking needs, motives and gratifications of media users as the main point of departure... Uses and gratifications theory attempts to explain the uses and functions of the media for individuals, groups, and society in general. There are three objectives in developing uses and gratifications theory: 1) to explain how individuals use mass communication to gratify their needs. “What do people do with the media”. 2) to discover underlying motives for individuals’ media use. 3) to identify the positive and the negative consequences of individual media use. At the core of uses and gratifications theory lies the assumption that audience members actively seek out the mass media to satisfy individual needs.... A medium will be used more when the existing motives to use the medium leads to more satisfaction. .

Example: Leung, L. and Wei, R. (2000) [in which] mobility, immediacy and instrumentality are found to be the strongest instrumental motives in predicting the use of cellular phones, followed by intrinsic factors such as affection/sociability. Based on survey research in Hong Kong 1999.

Lamb, B., undated:

Uses and gratification theory. Uses and Gratification Theory, which was proposed by Elihu Katz in 1959, concerns itself with what people do with the media. This theory proposes that audiences are active participants in the communication process. They choose media texts to gratify their own needs – such as the need for information, personal identity, integration, social interaction or entertainment. Uses and Gratification researchers maintain that the best way to find out about media use is by asking the audience because they are "sufficiently self-aware" to explain their reasons for using media texts. According to this theory, texts are open and audiences are active. In fact, the Uses and Gratification theory suggests that audiences actually have power over the mass media. For example, if they choose not to watch a particular program it won't rate and will be taken off the air.



associated issues


related areas

See also

Mass media


Lamb, B., undated, Glossary, available at, accessed 1 June 2019.

Leung, L. and Wei, R., 2000, 'More than just talk on the move: uses and gratifications of the cellular phone', Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 77(2), 308–20.

University of Twente, 2017, Comminication Study Theories. Available at:, accessed 2 June 2019 (pdf with hyperlink contents).

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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