Starstruck: The parasocial relationship between you and your celebrity crush

Parasocial  party jam
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Celebrities: we all have our favorites, whether singers, athletes, actors, or even (more recently, streamers and Tiktokers. The more popular the star, the larger and often more dedicated the fan base. The stereotypical mental image, likely fueled by chick flicks and pop novels, is of teen girls with posters of the latest boy band spattered across their bedroom walls and ceilings. But did you know that, whether you have immortalized your idol on your wall space or not, there is a specific name for the unique “long-distance” relationship you have with your celebrity crush?اضافة اعلان

A parasocial relationship is a one-sided relationship that a media user has with a media persona (celebrity,. This persona can either be a real celebrity or a fictional character. The relationship can take the form of a friendship between the user and the persona, a kind of mentorship, or a pseudo-romance (hence the term “celebrity crush”,. Thanks to the rapid spread of social media, parasocial relationships are more common nowadays than ever.

From interaction to attachment
The phenomenon of the parasocial relationship was first identified in 1956. It is built on another similar concept, known as parasocial interaction, which occurs when an individual actually interacts with or observes a famous persona. The relationship, on the other hand, consists of sentiments and thoughts that last beyond these moments of interaction.

These two concepts can best be illustrated through movies and TV shows. The directors try to immerse the audience in the drama or action of the film, allowing watchers to feel that they are actually in the room with the characters, and experience similar emotions. Watching a scene and experiencing these things is considered a parasocial interaction.

After the movie or show is over, more dedicated fans may continue to think about the film and actors, or even adopt some of their behaviors and mannerisms. This is an example of a parasocial relationship.

In some cases, parasocial relationships can go a step further: a user can develop a deep bond with the persona, similar to the bond between caregivers and children or between romantic partners. This phenomenon, where the celebrity serves as a source of comfort and security for the user, is known as parasocial attachment.

Another kind of breakup
Parasocial relationships begin with exposure to the media personality. Perhaps a friend has recommended a book, or you stumbled upon clips of a celebrity interview. At this point, as you read or watch, you experience parasocial interactions. If the persona impacts you, you may remember and think about them even after the interactions. This would be considered a parasocial relationship and is further strengthened by continual parasocial interactions. Eventually, depending on how much time and energy you spend obsessing over your star, the relationship could reach the point of parasocial attachment.

Of course, we are all familiar with the other side of the relationship coin, the breakup. All good things must come to an end. Eventually, the show (or movie, or career, will reach its close, or the celebrity will pass away, causing a parasocial breakup to take place. At this point, it is common for someone who experienced a strong parasocial relationship or attachment to suffer a loss similar to a normal breakup.

A biological effect
Although this entire phenomenon may seem strange, our biology helps explain it. Humans are social creatures. We have an advanced capacity to recognize faces and voices. When we see certain faces regularly, we develop a sense of familiarity. If social interactions are positive, it can lead to feelings of closeness and community.

Although media is relatively new in the course of human history, these biological phenomena still apply. Especially with the spread of social media, humans are constantly bombarded with the faces and voices of celebrities. Moreover, fan bases on message boards and online forums can even give us a sense of community.

In the early years of parasocial research, these relationships were considered potentially harmful and abnormal. However, parasocial relationships are now generally accepted as normal, and most individuals experience them to some degree.

Bringing strangers together
In most cases, a parasocial relationship is considered not only normal but also beneficial. Public figures can serve as a role models for their fans, and positive role models can inspire individuals to engage in constructive activities. Thus, the relationship can result in increased self-confidence and stronger feelings of belonging. Some celebrities, aware of their impact, also use their platforms to spread awareness about social causes.

More recently, parasocial relationships played a role during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result of widespread lockdowns, normal social interactions decreased, causing a spike in loneliness and depression. Research on parasocial relationships during lockdowns is limited, however, many reports suggest that people turned to media to meet their social needs.

Although parasocial relationships may sometimes replace social interactions, they often serve to enhance them. Since parasocial relationships are one-sided, several people can share the same feelings for a single persona without jealousy. This provides friends, family, and even strangers online with a topic of discussion and a whole realm of media content to enjoy together.

A word to the wise
As with almost everything, moderation is key in parasocial relationships. Celebrities, as authority figures, can influence political views, purchasing behaviors, and more. Just like positive role models have a positive impact, negative role models can negatively impact their followers. This can be seen most clearly in current times in the surge of misinformation, especially in the medical field.

One 2013 study tested the effects of parasocial relationships compared to those of normal social relationships within the context of social media. The researchers found that those who were more reliant on parasocial relationships while using social media reported greater feelings of loneliness compared to those who used social media to enhance real social relationships. Similarly, those who used social media for parasocial relationships reported lower feelings of trust compared to those who used it for normal social relationships.

It should be noted that this study speaks more to correlation than causation. Nevertheless, the main takeaway should be that parasocial relationships are normal, but if they have a negative impact on social interactions, they can damage overall well-being.

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