Audience Theory:

3. Uses and Gratifications (active selection)

The distinction is this approach is rather than categorising the audience as passive consumers of messages, either directly from source, or from opinion leaders, this theory recognises the decision making process of the audience themselves. As Elihu Katz explains the Uses and Gratifications theory diverges from other media effect theories that question: what does media do to people?, to focus on: what do people do with media?

Research into this area began with Denis McQuail and Jay Blumler, who in 1969, looked to study the 1964 UK Election. In the early 1970’s they were joined by Elihu Katz, Joseph Brown, Michael Gurevitch and Hadassah Haas. 

In essence, they put forward research to show that individual audience members are more active than had previously been thought and were actually key to the processes of selection, interpretation and feedback. In essence, individuals sought particular pleasures, uses and gratifications from individual media texts, which can be categorised as:

  1. information / education
  2. empathy and identity
  3. social interaction
  4. entertainment
  5. escapism

Or categorised as: diversion, personal relationships, personal identity and surveillance.

It is suggested that much of this research was informed by Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs (1954), which argues that people actively looked to satisfy their needs based on a hierarchy of social and psychological desires. Maslow’s thinking was centred around Humanistic psychology According the web page ‘Humanist Psychology’ (link here) the basic principle behind humanistic psychology is simple and can be reduced to identify the most significant aspect of human existence, which is to attain personal growth and understanding, as ‘only through constant self-improvement and self-understanding can an individual ever be truly happy‘.

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