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Social psychological explanations (parasocial relationships and absorption addiction model)
A parasocial relationship is one in which an individual is attracted to another individual (usually a
celebrity), but the target individual is usually unaware of the existence of the person who has created the
relationship. Such relationships, common among celebrities and their fans, might be particularly
appealing to some individuals because the relationships make few demands. Because a fan does not
have a `real' relationship with a celebrity, they do not run the risk of criticism or rejection, as might be the
case in a real relationship.
A researcher carried out a metaanalysis of studies of parasocial relationships. From this they concluded
that parasocial relationships were most likely to form with TV celebrities who were seen as attractive and
similar in some way to the viewer. An important additional factor appeared to be that they were
perceived as real or that they acted in a believable way. Schiappa et al believed that if a celebrity acted
in a believable way, viewers were able to compare how they would behave in similar situations.
Further research found that loneliness was not a predictor of the formation of parasocial relationships. In
fact, some research suggests that people who are more socially active and socially motivated are more
likely to engage in parasocial relationships than those who are not (Sood and Rogers)
Parasocial interactions with celebrities offer many social benefits. They provide models of social
behaviour (such as intimacy and generosity) and an opportunity to learn cultural values (such as the
importance of marriage).
A study of parasocial relationships with soap characters (1989) found that, due to the fact that people are
exposed to the same characters over and over again, one benefit of parasocial interaction is a
perceived reduction in uncertainty about social relationships
However problems with research is that most simply ask people about their attitudes to celebrities.
However, it was argues that experimental manipulations may be more effective in determining the
causes of identification with a celebrity.
In an experimental study 2 viewing conditions were created a cinema environment and TV. He found
that identification with media characters arose more readily in a darkened cinema environment where
viewers were isolated from everyday reality. TV viewing did not invite identification as readily as the
`lights on' environment made people more aware of their own identities, thus preventing them from
`merging' with the on screen characters.
Evaluation: High external validity, Field experiment, therefore has demand characteristics, Dated
other viewing technology is available.
Absorption addiction model
Argues that most people never go beyond admiring celebrities because of the celebrities' entertainment
or social value. However, the motivational forces driving this absorption may eventually become
addictive, leading the person to more extreme (and even delusional) behaviours in order to sustain
satisfaction with the parasocial relationship they have developed with the celebrity.
Three levels of this process was identified, the entertainmentsocial level whereby fans are attracted to a
favourite celebrity because of their perceived ability to entertain and become a source of social
interaction and gossip. The second level is intensepersonal: This aspect of celebrity worship reflects
intensive and compulsive feelings about the celebrity. Akin to the obsession tendencies of fans my
favourite celebrity is my soul mate. And lastly borderlinepathological: This dimension is typified by
uncontrollable behaviours and fantasies about their celebrities my favourite celebrity would be pleased
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The intensepersonal dimension of celebrity attraction can lead to the development of a
passive parasocial relationship (e.g. if something bad happens to my favourite celebrity I feel it too).With
the borderlinepathological dimension, the relationship may go way beyond the parasocial, with the
person believing there is a real relationship between themselves and the celebrity.…read more