The Application of The Uses and Gratifications Theory

For my research proposal I will use the Uses and Gratifications theory to further explain how television takes advantage of new media such as social media (FaceBook, Twitter) and other new types of media in order to strengthen, modify or enhance parasocial relationships people develop with characters on television.

My research will be done in the form of a non open-ended survey, providing yes and no questions to the people taking the survey which will facilitate insight in the way television uses social media to be involved in parasocial relationships in some way. I have chose to focus on the show The Walking Dead and the relationships people may develop with characters on the show.

I will also focus on the way the show itself, uses new media to do something to that relationship in some way. The purpose for my project is to further research in new media using the Uses and Gratifications theory. Rationale:

The Walking Dead has become such a popular show that it has almost developed a cult like following. According the New York Times (2013), The Walking Dead’s season three, premiere episode, was seen by 12.3 million people, making it a popular show and an important show to study (p.1).

The people that routinely watch the show, and indulge themselves in the action, eventually achieve a relationship so strong that some may even be distraught for several days after one of their favorite characters dies, for example.

The relationship in this sense is that people develop a strong attachment to the character on the show, and when the character goes away they feel like they have lost a good friend. Emma Riley Sutton (2013) notes that fans of the show have even created hypothetical scenarios, where they pretend to survive zombie hordes and hangout with their favorite characters from the show (p.1).

Doing research to look into this show, the new media it utilizes and the parasocial phenomenon it creates will help me determine how people might use the show to fill certain needs and gratifications in their life. Research Questions:

In order to further research for this study it is necessary to ask research questions in order to guide the research being done.

1. Do people have an attachment to specific characters on the show the Walking Dead? 2. Do they develop parasocial relationships with characters on the show? 3. Do the parasocial relationships that are developed, fill needs and gratifications that people may be missing in their lives? 4. Does new media such as the internet, FaceBook or Twitter play a part in the parasocial relationship being developed in some way?

Literature Review: Whether watching a movie or checking a cell-phone for a sports team score, people use media in order to satisfy certain needs in their life. In order to further understand why we choose specific types of media to fill specific needs, it’s helpful to examine scholarly literature on the topic.

After reviewing the scholarly literature written about media usage, the overarching consensus is that the Uses and Gratification Theory illustrates why people choose particular types of media to fill specific needs and produce certain gratifications. In order to determine certain gratifications met by our media use, I have chosen television as a specific media to focus on.

In this literature review I argue that The Uses and Gratification Theory can explain why people choose certain media such as television, in order to serve their needs and wants in life and in some cases television can create a parasocial relationship with the viewer that can tie the viewer to a certain character on television.

According to Katz, Blumler and Gurevitch (1974), curiosity in the idea that media provide some sort of gratification to their audience is well represented in early empirical mass communication research (p.500). Katz Blumler and Gurevitch report that at the time, mass communication research was concerned with coming up with a list of functions that were met by specific media or content.

According to West and Turner (2010), eventually other theories were developed in an attempt to overcome the short comings of the previous theories (p.393). West and Turner (2010) explain that one of those theories was the Limited Effects Theory, which states that media effects are limited by the context of the audience’s lives and needs.

The second theory was defined by Abraham Maslow (1970) as the Needs and Motivation Theory, which states that people feel as though they have to meet their social and psychological needs in order to move up to the next unsatisfied need level on a hierarchical need structure (P.38). However, Katz, Blumler and Gurevitch (1974) disagreed with researchers such as Maslow, Herzog, and others, and felt that their studies were too methodological and asked way too many open ended questions (P.500).

They said that the studies were too qualitative and neglected diversity of answers from different people and instead they tried to group their answers in labeled categories. They also believed the studies didn’t research the link in gratifications and social and psychological needs that were being met by the chosen media.

They also suggested that the prior research failed to look for relationships between multitudes of media, which may have potentially led to more development of research about media gratifications.

This disagreement lead to more research being done by Katz, Blumler and Gurevitch (1974) and eventually lead to them conceptualizing the idea of the Uses and Gratification approach, which is an approach that: “simply represents an attempt to explain something of the way in which individuals use communications, among other resources in their environment, to satisfy their need and to achieve their goals” (P.510).

However, West and Turner (2010) point out that even though Katz, Blumler and Gurevitch disagree with the previous theories before the Uses and Gratifications Theory, the theory is still an extension of the ideas of those original theories, most notably the Needs and Motivation Theory (P.394).

Expanding on assumptions identified by Katz, Blumler and Gurevitch, Stacks and Salwen (2009), further explained the five assumptions that provide ground work for the theory:

“1.Communication behavior, including media selection and use, is goal-directed, purposive, motivated; 2. People take the initiative in selecting and using communication vehicles to satisfy felt needs or desires; 3. A host of social and psychological factors mediate people’s communication behavior; 4. Media compete with other forms of communication; and 5. People are typically more influential than the media in the relationship, but not always” (P.139).

According to Haridakis and Whitmore (2006) Alan Rubin, a researcher who played an instrumental role in defining Uses and Gratifications Theory, believed that these assumptions allowed for a perspective on looking at the association of interpersonal and mass communication and how mediated and interpersonal approaches may assist as comparable substitutes to one another (P.768).

After these assumptions were conceptualized, Haridakis and Whitmore (2006) say that two types of media use orientation by audiences were identified by Alan Rubin: ritualized orientation (or using a specific type of media to kill time) and instrumental orientation (or using media for informational reasons).

These types of media orientation were found in Rubin’s (1993) studies on television and the audience’s involvement in watching television (P.102). Haridakis and Whitmore (2006) note that Rubin viewed television as an instrumental medium in determining audience’s motivations for satisfying their needs and gratifications (P.769). Stacks and Salwen (2009) report that the natural liking to television eventually leads to perceived realism being experienced by the audience (P.142).

This perceived realism, is according to Busselle and Greenberg (2000), when people see the images on television as very realistic and thus, are more easily influenced by television (P.251). Stacks and Salwen (2009) expand on this idea further and say that experiencing perceived realism can explain how different people respond to “TV messages based on motivation or specific content” (P.141).

Rubin and Windahl (1986) note that certain media such as television may lead some people to become dependent on it and may influence them to need it more than others would, especially when a person’s resources are poor and even the basic needs of the person are threatened (P.190).

Haradakis and Whitmore (2006) claim that television may even lead people to be dependent on it to fill the need of entertainment, the need to escape out of the world you’re in, the need of feeling belonged or loved and in general and the need of finding satisfaction in something (P.770).

Rubin and Windahl (1986) state that dependency is closely related with needs and motives with television use: “because it increases susceptibility to media use” (P.191). Stacks and Salwen (2009) believe that more research is needed in order to further understand dependency, because dependency has not been studied in media use other than television (P.145).

Busselle and Greenberg (2000) say that that television may also fill the need to identify with something, or “the extent to which viewers incorporate television content into their lives or involve themselves with the content elements” (P.257). Busselle and Greenberg (2000) state that the need to utilize something for information regarding events that had occurred in the audiences real life, may also be useful in some way to them.

Busselle and Greenberg (2000) believe that identifying with television and certain content for needs and gratifications can eventually lead to becoming very familiar with characters on the television, acting as if they were friends with them in real life (P.255). This process of identifying with television characters can also be known as parasocial interaction.

Parasocial interaction is defined by West and Turner, as (2010): “the relationship we feel we have with people we may know only through the media” (P.396). Lather and Moyer-Guse (2011) believe that the viewer’s connection with the people on television is dynamic and it takes time for the viewer to gain knowledge about the character, in terms of personality, morality and demeanor (P.198).

Lather and Moyer-Guse also report (2011) that parasocial relationships can make messages more persuasive, can allow marginalized groups to be accepted, because these television characters also show up in real-life relationships and are incorporated into our social life, as well as to provide enjoyment for the viewer.

Parasocial relationships may also, according to Hartmann and Goldhoorn (2011), make people conform to social norms, and violating these social norms may produce embarrassment or regret by the viewer (1108). Stacks and Salwen (2009) claim that media, in this case television, can meet interpersonal needs which include: “pleasure, escape, relaxation, inclusion, affection, and control” (P.140).

According to Lather and Moyer-Guse (2011), Cohen, a known researcher in the field, studied the ends of parasocial breakups and noticed people often felt sad and lonely after the end of the relationship, which further explained how parasocial relationships, mirrored real-life interpersonal relationships and the needs interpersonal relationships provide (P.199).

Hartmann and Goldhoorn (2011) say that parasocial relationships make the viewer feel like the person on the screen is aware of them and the viewer may make adjustments to their attitude and behavior, based on the person on the screen and believe the person on the screen is doing the same (P.1107).

Hartmann and Goldhoorn (2011) also suggest that the parasocial relationship is much different conceptually, than a real-life interpersonal relationship, in the sense of the parasocial relationship being one sided and controlled by the viewer (P.1105).

In general, this literature review discussed what the Uses and Gratification Theory is, it explained why people may select certain media to fill certain needs, television as a specific medium that helps us meet our sociological and psychological needs and the idea that we can create a parasocial relationships with characters we see on television.

I have found after reading the literature that I have chosen for this review and other literature related to the Uses and Gratifications Theory, there isn’t much dispute in the research of the theory. If there is a dispute, it is usually done in order to encourage expansion of the ideas within the theory.

In my research, I have found that the theory seems to cover how and why we use media such as television, newspapers and radio, but the theory doesn’t seem to extend to media that has been developed recently such as the internet, social media and so forth. After reviewing literature on the Uses and Gratifications Theory, I believe that the theory can explain why we choose the certain media we do but, needs to be expanded to accommodate media that has been developed recently.

The expansion into more recent technology would lead to more new ideas and fresh research in this field, something I believe it is lacking. Method for the research in the Proposal:


Bibliography Busselle, R. W., & Greenberg, B. S. (2000). The Nature of Television Realism Judgments: A Reevaluation of their Conceptualization and Movement. Mass Communication and Society. Volume 3, Issue 2/3, 249-268. Carter,B. (2013,Febuary 11). The Walking Dead Sets Records for AMC. The New York Times. pp. 1. Haridakis, P. M., & Whitmore, E. H. (2006). Understanding Electronic Media Audiences: The Pioneering Research of Alan M. Rubin. Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media.

Issue 4, 766-762. Hartmann, T., & Goodhoorn, C. (2011). Horton and Wohl Revisited: Exploring Viewer’s Experience of Parasocial Interaction. Journal of Communication. Volume 61, Issue 6, 1104-1121. Katz, E., Blumler, J. G., & Gurevitch, M. (1974). Uses and Gratification Research. Oxford University Press , 508-522. Lather, J., & Moyer-Guse, E. (2011). How Do We React When Our Favorite Characters Are Taken Away? An Examination Study of a Temporary Parasocial Breakup. Mass Communication and Society.

Volume 14, Issue 2, 196-215. Maslow, A. (1970). Motivation and Personality. New York : Harper and Row. Rubin, A. M. (1993). Audience Activity and Media Use. Communication Monographs. Volume 60, Issue 1, 98-105. Rubin, A. M., & Windahl, S. (1986). The Uses and Dependency model of Mass Communication. Cultural Studies for Mass Communication. Volume 3, Issue 2,184-199. Stacks, D. W., & Salwen, M. B. (2009). An Integrated Approach to Communication Theory and Research. New York: Routledge. Sutton, E.R. (2013). ‘The Walking Dead’: Fans know who they want defending them against zombies. Oklahoma City News Examiner.

Retrieved from West, R., & Turner, L. H. (2010). Introducing Communication Theory. New York: Mcgraw-Hill.

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