Uses and Gratifications
J. D. Rayburn II Florida State University
After years of research on media "effects" yielded mixed and often disappointing findings, sociologists proposed an alternative model to account for how individuals used the media. Known as the uses and gratifications approach, this model viewed people's media consumption patterns as intended actions on the part of the viewers. And, while this assumption of an active audience in the mass communication process has been the center of much of the criticism of uses and gratifications, an impressive body of research supports the notion that individuals do make conscious choices about what they see and read in the media.
The uses and gratifications approach, however, has been criticized on several grounds. It was criticized for suffering from tautological shortcomings inherent in functional theories ( Carey & Kreiling, 1974; Elliot, 1974), for being atheoretical ( Elliot, 1974; Weiss, 1976; Swanson, 1977), and for beset by serious conceptual problems ( Swanson, 1977). It was, in fact, Swanson who outlined four serious conceptual problems: a vague conceptual framework; a lack of precision in major concepts; a confused explanatory apparatus; and a failure to consider audiences' perceptions of media content.
In spite of these criticisms, researchers continued to conduct research using the uses and gratifications paradigm. In so doing, they have answered the criticisms--albeit not