One of the most enduring theories of mass communication is referred to as functional analysis, or structural functionalism. It is based largely on older theories of sociology, economics, psychology, and political science. From the sociologist’s point of view, functional analysis is concerned primarily with examining ‘those consequences of social phenomena that affect the normal operation, adaptation, or adjustment of a given system individuals, subgroups, and social and cultural systems. Other disciplines view the process of individual and institutional checks and balances in much the same way. Obviously, mass media and their audiences can be analyzed along these lines.
The basic functions of the media were first proposed by Harold Lasswell in 1948 and expanded by Wright in 1960. They postulated that media serve the functions of surveillance (surveying the environment and offering news reports about what is going on), correlation (interpreting information about the environment and editorializing or prescribing how people should react to those events), transmission of culture (binding time across generations, by educating people about information, values, and social norms), and entertainment (amusing people without necessarily offering any other functional values). These four basic functions were introduced in chapter 1 as being the information, persuasion, transmission of culture, and entertainment functions of both interpersonal and mass communication. Lasswell maintained that the media serve these functions for society as a whole, as well as for individuals and subgroups within that society
In a recent work, Wright has outlined how each of these four functions can be seen to have negative effects or dysfunctions for both the individual and society. Being exposed to information about deviant social behavior can help individuals recognize the value of stability or can serve as a training ground for delinquency. Hearing numerous alternative persuasive political or commercial messages can bring about sophistication or render us unable to make decisions. Spending time on nonproductive entertaining diversions can bring pleasurable relaxation or detract from those things that need to be done. Naturally, the producers of the above media fare would insist that their purpose is strictly functional (even if only to entertain), and they have been known to go to court to prove they were not responsible for any dysfunctional effects
Other observers have maintained that the four terms described here are inadequate explanations of the full range of media functions, that the functions-and dysfunctions-operate in a subtle chorus of harmony or disharmony, withoui either the sources or receivers understanding the full score. Daytime soap operas, in addition to the obvious function of selling soap the function of relieving viewers of their personal burdens, and offering in their place numerous vicarious burdens and adventures of an extended “family” of television friends. Meanwhile, the shows also serve as a guide to personal behavior, establish fashion, cultural, and language trends for the hinterlands, and give viewers something to talk about. “Days of . Our Lives” suggests a fascinating case study in media usage; one might find out which functions and dysfunctions it activates in its
largely female and teenage audience
A rather broad typology or classification of structural functionalism has been proposed by McQuail. After merging functional analysis with newer types of research, he maintained that we should consider the fact that media serve audiences in at least the following ways
1.Diversion, including escape from the constraints of routine by people whose job or family circumstances make them feel as though they are in a rut. Those who use the media for this purpose are also more likely to be less gregarious, so they seek diversion via media without leaving their homes;
2. Escape from the burdens of problems, sought by people whose jobs are taxing and tension-producing, or who are in difficult family situations, or who are troubled by personal and life-cycle worries such as ill health and old age, and those Ill-equipped to cope with their problems, such as those with little education, in low status positions, or downward mobile;
3. Emotional release, sought by lonely people, introverts, or others whose inadequate personal relationships or cultural and psychological conditioning do not allow them normal emotional outlets;
4. Substitute companionship, for people with limited opportunities for social contacts or those who have losttouch with former friends 6. Social utility, for people who use media to “lubricate” social contacts, to aid conversation, or to gain information and opinions in case they find themselves serving as
Another effort to analyze a large variety of specific media functions maintained that mass communication is used by individuals to connect (or sometimes disconnect) themselves with (or from) themselves, their families, friends, nation, and so forth. The study attempted to determine what it means “to be connected” and to comprehend the whole range of individual gratifications associated with each means of being connected. It uncovered definite patterns showing which kinds of people, demonstrating which kinds of needs, utilized which kinds of media to serve as which kinds of connections
What has happened is that the traditional structural functionalist approach to mass communication research has been questioned by many contemporary researchers as being too simplistic. In some ways, older models have I been discarded or modified to include newer concepts, such 88 the argument that greater importance be placed on analyzing what people do with
the media, rather’ than merely what the media do to people. Regardless of its modifications, the functional view of mass media continues to focus on communication as though it were a systematic interaction between audience and media, a process in
which balanced environments are sought between the opposing stress of audience needs and motivations on one end, and media functions and stimuli on the other.
Because the structures and functions approach represents insights from theories of psychology, sociology, political science, and economics, it remains a broad and disparate body of knowledge. Nevertheless, it is proving to be an especially useful framework for understanding the process of mass communication, what makes the media the way they are, and how audiences make of them
Uses and Gratifications
One of the most influential frameworks for media analysis in recent years is an offshoot of structural functionalism. Going by the name uses and gratifications research, it centers around a generalization stated earlier, that we should investigate how people use the mass media, rather than merely worry about how the media use people. The term “uses” implies that audiences are active rather than passive members of the communication process, and that they are willingly exposed to media; the term “gratifications” refers to the rewards and satisfactions experienced by audiences, and helps explain motivations behind and habits of media use. Pioneers in the field suggested that many research findings make more sense if communication is interpreted as a link between audiences and their environment and if communication is explained in terms of the role it plays in enabling people to bring about more satisfying relationships between themselves and the world around them.
Three general groups of uses and gratification studies have been conducted. One type looks at the satisfactions derived from communication, another looks at the social and environmental circumstances that lead people to turn to the media in the first place, and the third looks at the needs audience members are attempting to satisfy. Evidence from all three will be cited in the following.
“What reading does to people is not nearly so important as what people do to reading, ” Wales concluded as long ago as 1940. Maintaining that the effects of reading are determined by readers’ predispositions, Wales posed two guiding questions to be utilized in the study of reading effects: “Who is the reader and what does he do and want and get?” and “What and how does the publication contribute to his wants?” The researchers ascribed the social effects of reading to the readers’ search for prestige, for respite, for identification, for security and ~assurance, and the enjoyment of artistic merit.
Likewise, 1940s research on the impact of movies,
drawing from recent insights into selective perception, concluded
that “The motion picture is not a fixed pattern of meanings and ideas which are received by a passive mind. Rather, what the
individual ‘gets’ is determined by his background and his needs.
He takes from the picture what is useful for him or what will
function in his life
A 1961 book about television and children put the
argument in still clearer terms, when Schramm and his coleagues
wrote: “In a sense the term ‘effect’ is misleading because it
suggests that television ‘does something’ to children. …. Nothing
can be further from the fact. It is the children who are most active
in this relationship. It is they who use television rather than
television that uses them.
The uses and gratifications research conducted in the
19408 and 1950s gave rise to a great many fascinating but
unrelated studies on why people use the media. Surveys, case
studies, and other audience analyses elicited information from
media consumers on what functions they believed the media
served for them.
Research culminating in such generalizations gave us
insightful descriptions of audiences and subgroups of audiences
and ·their orientations to various media content. People’s
attachment to media was carefully documented, in case after
unrelated case. One Imitation of these early studies was their
inability to determine whether the gratifications sought and the
gratifications received were one and the same. It was not easy to
discriminate between the two when doing the kinds of research
projects conducted prior to the 1960s. Researchers managed to
find out who the media junkies were, but oftentimes-perhaps
because the question was not always asked-those junkies did not
articulate precisely what they were getting out of the
The 1960s saw the first attempts to carefully observe sociological characteristics and to relate them to various patte of media usage. Extensive quantitative analyses were conducted, and definite patterns and trends cataloged Among the most ambitious projects of this nature was the 1961 study of American children and their television viewing behavior, cited earlier. Scrammed and his colleagues made a key distinction between the kinds of rewards children received from “fantasy” content and “reality” content. The former was associated with immediate gratifications and the latter with deferred gratifications. The concept of reward–immediate and
delayed-has arisen from this and other studies of both entertainment and news media, and has been applied in many
studies that attempt to distinguish between the ways in which media are used for escape or as coping mechanisms. Sometimes the results are not as clear as researchers or subjects expect. For Instance, on more than one occasion people have told researchers they watch television news to learn about current events in the world; however, a simple comprehension test indicates they have actually learned very little from watching the news. In other words, the needs remained gratified, even though audiences (and probably media gatekeepers) persisted in their perception that the medium in question was the source of gratifying those needs.
Among the studies focusing on audience rewards are an entire series of newspaper readership projects, from which we have learned that:
Newspapers have their greatest followihg amonr:
people of higher education and social status. Those who are habitual readers tend to be mature people rooted by material self-interest and emotional attachments to the community that the newspaper represents. They generally are home owners, taxpayers, and parents of school-age children; as shoppers and voters, they feel tied to their community
News about public affairs is the backbone of the newspaper; it is the key content which draws readers in the first place. Yet nonpolitical fare is the content which separates the regular newspaper reader from the occasional reader. Occasional readers typically use the newspaper to get specific information, whereas daily readership has more elements of “enjoyment” or “passing the time.” Daily readers devote more time to crime and sports news than do less-frequent readers. Young people use newspapers less than older people. All readers, however, learn how to use newspapers .
“Use of all media seems to be largely a habit learned early in life–like party identification and brand loyalty,” an American Newspaper Publishers Association news research report concluded. The ANPA has pursued uses and gratificettona research as one of its priority areas on the basis of preliminary: insights it gained into why some people develop into newspaper readers and others do not. It agreed that diehard non-readers were unlikely to become newspaper customers, but the occasional newspaper readers may be brought into the ranks of regular readers once more was learned about adapting the newspaper to their needs. This most assuredly is not the type of conclusion adherents of the hypodermic needle theory of communication would have reached. To them, the task would have been to change the audience rather than adapt the medium to the audience’s preexisting characteristics.
Early uses and gratifications research indicated that newspapers, along with radio and television, seem to connect individuals to society, whereas books and cinema appear to cater to more “selfish” needs such as those dealing with self-fulfilment and self-gratification. Further research, however, led to the argument that the same set of media materials is capable of serving a multiplicity of audience needs. A more contemporary view of the situation is that the relationship between the content of specific media and the needs of audiences is rather complex, and that one person’s source of escape from the real world is a point of anchorage for another person. Thus it could be true that our reason for going to a violent war movie is a catharsis, diminishing our problems at school or work, while ‘the person sitting next to us may be intently taking mental notes on how to become a soldier of fortune.
Meanwhile, studies over the past decade or two have shown a positive association in American adult television viewers between the level of stress they feel and the amount of “escape” rather than “reality” viewing they engage in. High anxiety hag been found to lead to fantasy viewing primarily for those who are i low in cultural participation and status. Similarly, those who are heavy consumers of popular fiction tend to have subjective feelings of depression and low scores on gregariousness, Of course, there’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem here; these studies do not necessarily tell us whether the people hooked on low brow television, checkout counter tabloid newspapers, and pulp novels got that way because they were already anxious, anti-social, and low status, or whether they got that way from their unbalanced media diet. That chicken-and-egg problem-the question of causality-remains one of the difficulties in uses and gratifications research.
As this research agenda continues, logical and rigorous methodologies are being applied to solving the causality dilemma. Substantive theory, rather than mere speculations, is the goal. In the words of one scholar, current researchers are concerned with .
(1) the social and psychological origins of (2) needs, which generate (3) expectations of (4) the mass media or other sources, which lead to (5) differential patterns of media exposure (or engagement in other activities), resulting in (6) need gratifications and (7) other consequences, perhaps mostly unintended ones. Obviously, such research is a long-term proposition, and is not limited to a single methodology. Labor-atory and field experiments, case studies and surveys have all proven of value in the drive to make theory out of uses and gratifications investigations.An entire book devoted to gratification research concluded that whatever model and theory emerge from these investigations will have to take into consideration several points:
1. The audience is active and is using media to achieve certain goals;
2. Any links drawn between media and audience must consider the fact that the audience member can and does exercise choices;
3. Media compete with other sources that satisfy audience members’ need, so any conclusions about the meeting of
needs must also consider the variety of ways in which media, in isolation or in conjunction with other sources, can satisfy a constantly shifting body of audience needs
Research on audiences’ needs has wide significance, and numerous scholars hope that a more rigorous methodology will
convert the research studies into extremely useful theory. To date, that research still has not given definitive answers to the following basic questions. Why do we use the mass media? What individual needs lead us to use one mass medium more often than others or to choose some types of media content over others? How successful are the media in actually fulfilling these needs? It has not yet been determined precisely whether the media actually are fulfilling audience members’ needs or whether the media are fulfilling needs that are only assumed to exist.
Eventually, an understanding of exactly why we use the media the:,way we do should result in improvements in both the media and in our expectations of them. We as audience members will serve as a constant source of challenge to the media producers, who will cater to the multiplicity of requirements and roles we expect of our media.