Informational Utility and Selective Exposure to Entertainment Media
Charles K. Atkin Michigan State University
Although entertainment media exposure is primarily motivated by anticipation of intrinsic gratifications, audience choices are partially shaped by utilitarian considerations. This chapter examines the role of informational needs in stimulating purposive selection of television programming and other entertainment content which has instrumental utility for guidance and reinforcement.
The two terms paired in the "uses and gratifications" label actually represent distinct concepts. Gratifications are transitory mental or emotional responses providing momentary satisfaction at an intrinsic level. The pursuit of immediate gratification underlies most of the channel consumption and message-selection decisions of mass media audiences ( Bower, 1973; Buddenbaum, 1981; Compesi, 1980; Gantz, 1981; Greenberg, 1974; Herzog, 1944; Katz, Blumler, & Gurevitch, 1973-1974; Lometti, Reeves, & Bybee, 1977; LoSciuto, 1972; Palmgreen & Rayburn, 1982; Rubin, 1977, 1979, 1981, 1983; Rubin & Rubin, 1982; Schramm, Lyle, & Parker, 1961). Although this is often inertial or indiscriminant, some exposure is "selective" in the sense that general tastes or interests and specific cognitive or affective states motivate choices among entertainment offerings.
By contrast, uses are characterized by anticipated postexposure application of the mediated experience to attaining pragmatic goals (this is sometimes termed "delayed" gratification). Exposure is a means to an end, as the individual seeks helpful informational inputs for extrinsic purposes such as learning new behaviors, solving problems, making decisions, coping with environmental forces, and strengthening predispositions; this is frequently based on uncertainty-reduction needs. Nonexposure may also be utilitarian as the individual avoids or ignores messages that may increase uncertainty, particularly content that challenges pre-