Media Psychology

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  • Created on: 05-04-14 09:47

Media on prosocial behaviour:

  • One explanation for media influences on prosocial behaviour is exposure to prosocial behaviour. Kunkel found in a content analysis that two thirds of children’s programmes sampled contained at least one act of violence. However, there is clear evidence of a comparable level of pro social content as well. Greenberg analysed popular children’s programmes in the US and found an equivalent number of prosocial and antisocial acts in any hour.
  • This explanation is supported by Woodard who found that US programmes for preschool children had high levels of prosocial content; 77% of the programmes surveyed contained at least one prosocial lesson. However, the survey also found that only 4 out of the top 20 programmes for under 17s contained any prosocial content.
  • Another explanation is the acquisition of prosocial behaviours and norms. Bandura’s Social learning theory claims that we learn by observation, we may then imitate these behaviours and the consequence of our behaviour will determine the likelihood of repetition. Unlike the depiction of anti social acts on television, prosocial acts are more likely to represent established social norms. These social norms are more likely to reinforce our social norms rather than contrast them. This also means that we are more likely to be rewarded for imitating prosocial acts than for anti social acts, therefore increasing repitition.
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Media on prosocial behaviour:

  • This has been supported by previous research into the acquisition on prosocial behaviour looking at short exposure to a prosocial model. However, more recent research found that children are most affected when they are shown exact steps for positive behaviour. This is because children are more likely to remember concrete acts then abstract ones.
  • Learning prosocial norms from the media may be less common, except possibly when viewing is accompanied by follow up discussions. Johnson found that the largest effects were found when the programme was viewed in a classroom and accompanied by teacher led discussions. However, there are cases where this is not the case. In a study of adolescents hospitalised for psychiatric problems, it was found that post-viewing discussions led to decreased altruism. This could possibly have happened because adolescents have a tendency to take up a view counter to that held by adults.
  • Another explanation is developmental factors. Eisenberg suggests that many of the skills associated with prosocial behaviour develop through childhood and into adolescence. Therefore we might expect strong developmental differences in the degree to which children of different ages are affected by prosocial content they view. This means that younger children may be less affected than adolescents.
  • This theory is contradicted by Mares who found that the weakest effect was for adolescents and the strongest effect for younger children. It is suggested that this is due to the fact that not only are younger children less ready to absorb such information from the media, but also that they are more affected by home experiences than by media exposure.
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Media on prosocial behaviour:

  • Parental mediation is becoming increasingly significant when influencing prosocial behaviour. Austin argued that effective parental mediation involves the parent discussing the programmed with the child and explaining any ambiguous material and follow up the concepts. Rosenkoetter also suggested that with parental mediation children as young as seven were able to understand the complex messages that were embed in adult sitcoms. This shows that parental mediation is an effective method of influencing prosocial behaviour.
  • However, Valkenburg suggested that only some forms of parental mediation were effective in enhancing the prosocial messages in television programmes. It was found that parents and children may watch the programmes together but would not necessarily discuss them. It is argued that this type of parental mediation is not effective as it only modifies the children's interpretation of television.
  • A further limitation of these explanations is that mixing prosocial and antisocial messages some how reduces the effectiveness of the prosocial message. Woodard, for example, found that children who watched mixed messages behaved more aggressively than children who watched aggression only.
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Media on antisocial behaviour:

  • Children observe the actions of media models and may later imitate these behaviours, especially when the child admires and identifies with the model. Television may also inform viewers of the positive and negative consequences of violent behaviour. Children can be expected to imitate violent behaviour that is successful in gaining the model's objectives. The more real children perceive violent televised scenes to be, and the more they believe the characters are like them (identification), the more likely they will be to try out the behaviour they have learned.
  • Bandura's research supports the view that children learn specific acts of aggression and also learn increased aggressiveness through imitating models, even when such models are not real; Bandura also found moderate levels of aggression when the model was a cartoon character. However such imitation is actually quite rare outside of Bandura-style studies. For example, the two boys who murdered James Bulger were said to be inspired by the film Child's Play, but no link was found.
  • A limitation is that there are methodological problems with Bandura's research which supports the explanation such as demand characteristics. For example, Noble quotes a 4 year old who, on the first day to the lab is heard saying "look mummy, there's the doll we have to hit". Therefore, this research may lack internal validity and therefore caution is needed when using this as support for the explanation.
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Media on antisocial behaviour:

  • Media violence may stimulate aggressive behaviour be desensitising children to the effects of violence. Frequent viewing may mean children are less anxious about violence, and may consider it more 'normal', therefore, these children being more likely to engage in violence themselves.
  • However, Cumberbatch argues that people might get 'used' to screen violence but that this does not mean a person will also get used to violence in the real world. He claims that screen violence is more likely to make children frightened.
  • Furthermore, a natural experiment carried out on St. Helena which received television in 1995 also contradicts the explanation that its introduction would produce an increase in antisocial behaviour due to it 'desensitising' children to the effects of violence. There were only two significant changes in antisolcial behaviour scores - both of which were lower after the introduction of TV.
  • Another explanation is justification. Violent behaviours on television may justify a child’s own violent behaviour, or they may provide moral guidelines concerning what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.
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Media on antisocial behaviour:

  • However, many television programmes have mixed prosocial and anti social messages. Liss suggest that the negative effects of such programmes support the concept of justification. The use of aggression by prosocial characters leed to moral justification to their violence, which children are then able to relate to.
  • A major methodological issue with all of the studies supporting the explanations is that they cannot be generalised. This is due to the fact that many of the studies concentrate on children and the effects of media violence on then. Children react differently compared to adults and understand things in a completely different way. Therefore, the results of the studies cannot be generalised across the entire population.
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Effects of Computers and Video Games: Negative

  • The negative effects of video games and aggression are seen in experimental studies such as that of Gentile. He demonstrated short term increases in levels of physiological arousal, hostile feelings and aggressive behaviour following sessions of violent game play compared to sessions of non violent game play. However, aggressive behaviour cannot be measured directly as it is not permitted on ethical grounds. Instead participants had to blast each other with white noise; those who played a violent game blasted opponent for longer and rated themselves higher on hostility scale than those who played non-violent game.
  • Also, Anderson found through a survey of 450 children that those who had high exposure to violent video games became more verbally and physically aggressive, and less prosocial.
  • However, a major weakness of experimental studies like that of Gentile is that experimenters cannot study real life aggression due to ethics, so instead must use artificial measures (white noise). These measures have no relationship to real life aggression. This then means that these sorts of studies lack mundane realism as there is no connection between the measure used and a real life measure, as well as only being able to measure short-term effects.
  • However, longitudinal studies like that of Anderson are able to measure long-term effects as well but through longitudinal studies, participants may be exposed may be exposed to other forms of media violence (e.g. TV), meaning that the effect from violent video game exposure alone is uncertain.
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Effects of Computers and Video Games: Negative

  • Charles investigated the effects of computers by using a focus group to investigate the Facebook habits of 200 students. He found that a significant number experienced anxiety linked to their use of the social networking site. The majority who reported anxiety had significantly more friends than other users and reported stress from deleting unwanted contacts and the constant pressure to be entertaining.
  • The stress associated with Facebook has been supported by a case study of a young man, whose asthma was stable until he split up with his girlfriend, and his asthma worsened when he saw her on Facebook. This indicates that social networking sites such as Facebook could be a significant sourse of psychological stress, and a triggering factor in asthmatics.
  • Karpinski found that the majority of students who use Facebook everyday underachieved by as much as an entire grade compared with those who do not use the site. This report also found that usersspent between 1 and 5 hours a week studying while non-users of the site studied between 11 and 15 hours a week.
  • However, Karpinski aknowledges hat her study does not suggest that excessive Facebook use directly causes lower grades, but that there is a relationship between the two. She suggests that there are other factors (e.g.personality) that are likely involved - might be that Facebook users are prone to distraction. However, others support the claim e.g. Greenfield who argued in the House of Lords that social networks sucvh as Facebook infantilise the brain by shortening the attention span - however, evidence of this is yet to be provided.
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Effects of Computers and Video Games: Positive

  • Research has shown that playing a prosocial video game can increase helping behaviour. Greitemeyer et al. found that participants who played prosocial video games (e.g. Lemmings) subsequently displayed significantly more prosocial behaviour than those who palyed an aggressive or neutral game. In fact, it was found that after playing the games for 8 minutes, and then seeing the researcher "accidently" knock a cup of pencils off the table, 672 of those who played the prosocial vidoe game helped to pick up the pencils, whereas only 332 of those who played the neutral game and 28% of those who played the aggressive game helped. Therefore, this shows how playing a prosocial game can increase helping behaviour.
  • However, a limitation of such research is that 85% of video games involve some kind of violence. Therefore, although the content of prosocial games can cause behavioural shifts in an altruistic direction, people who play video games are much less likely to experience this type of game, partly because they seen as less attractive. Therefore, this research may lack mundane realism as the majority of the participants would hardly play a prosocial game in real life anyway.
  • This research also has methodological limitations due to the lack of controls for young people's prior civic commitments and prosocial activities as well as their personality.
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Effects of Computers and Video Games: Positive

  • Gonzales argues that facebook walls can have a positive influence on our self esteem because feedback posted on them by others tends to be positive. In a study, students were given three minutes to either use their Facebook page, look at themselves in the mirror or do nothing. It was found that those who had interacted with their Facebook page gave much more positive feedback about themselves than the other two groups.
  • Such research about positive effects of Facebook use is suppoted by the Hyperpersonal model which claims that self-selection of the information we choose to represent ourselves can have a positive influence on self-esteem. Computer mediated communication (e.g. through Facebook) offers people such an opportunity for self-esteem as feedback on their wall is mostly positive.
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Explanation for persuasive effects of media:

  • The Hovland-Yale model shows how the effectiveness of persuasion could be achieved by focusing on who (source factors) says what (message factors) to whom (audience factors). One important source factor is the attractiveness of the communicator. Research has shown that attractive communicators are more persuasive than those who are less attractive.
  • However, a limitation of this explanation is that research on product endorsements suggests that celebrities are not as effective as imagined. Hume concluded that celebrity endorsements do not significantly increase the persuasiveness, and sometimes, the celebrity can even overshadow the product so tht people only remember the celebrity but not the product (such as Johnny Vegas and Monkey becoming instant celebrities whereas the product they were advertising - ITV Digital folded soon after).
  • It has been shown that a message can be more effective when a moderate level of fear is created. Research found that in a classroom, the fear relating to, for example, the timing of an upcoming exam positively correlated to examination performance if advice was given about how to use the time left effectively. However, when perceived as threatening, the negatively related to exam performance.
  • The explanation that fear works but only up to an extent is supported by research. The drug campaign 'ICE' used moderate fear through explicit images and consequences, but also emphasised choice as well as opportunities for change. It was found that 78% of young adults felt the campaign changed their perspective on drugs. This shows how fear can be a factor increasing persuasiveness without petrifying the audience.
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Explanation for persuasive effects of media:

  • In terms of the audience, it has been found that younger people are more susceptible to persuasive messages than older people. For example, children appeared to be more susceptible to the persuasiveness of advertising, whereas older children had a good understanding of the intent of advertisements.
  • Research supports the idea that the effectiveness of persuasive messages depends on the audience. Studies found that women were more easily persuaded because in most cases the topic used was one with which men were more familiar - and not so much women. Further evidence supports this claim. Findings found that males were more influenced by feminine content whereas females more with masculine content.
  • A limitation of the Hovland-Yale Model is that much of the early research included students and army personnel. It is therefore inappropriate to generalise to the general population. These groups had certain aspects (e.g. age, wealth etc) which was untypical to of the general public. Also, experiments demanded to pps to use full attention (e.g. when watching advertisements) which may lack mundane realism as most of the time, the majority of people way not give as much attention to adverts.
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Explanation for persuasive effects of media:

  • The ELM model shows that there are two routes to persuasion. If an audience is likely to focus on the arguments of the message (have a high level of cognition), then a central route of persuasion is more appropriate. If they focus more on the context of the message, then a peripheral route is more likely to be effective.
  • Students were asked to select a mobile phone through a virtual shopping mall based on consumer reviews which differed in terms of quality (e.g. based on facts or just emotional reaction) and quantity. Supporting the ELM model, it was found that those who had a high level of cognition placed greater importance on the review quality rather than quantity.
  • A positive of this research in explaining the persuasive effects of the media is that its findings contribute to a better understanding of the effect of online reviews. For marketing executives, the peripheral route shows the importance of generating as many reviews as possible, whereas the central route shows how the quality of the reviews is important. This information can also help in the design of promotional material in order to influence online shoppers effectively.
  • Vidrine showed that need for cognition is also relevant in health campaigns. Students were exposed to either a fact based (central) of emotional based (peripheral) smoking risk campaign. Those with higner need for cognition were more influenced by the fact based message and visa versa. However, it also shows that when people lack expertise, they are more likely to take the peripheral route. Explains why unsupported health claims often appeal to many people (e.g. organic food being more healthy).
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Explanation for persuasive effects of media:

  • However, it was found that peripheral route influence may only be temporary. A study found that no university students volunteered to help a person with AIDS carry out a school project. However, one week after a prominant US basketball player announced he had HIV, the helping rate soared to 83%. But nearly 5 months later, it was back to previous levels, indicating that although the peripheral route influence can be considerable, there is a strong likelihood that it may only be temporary.
  • Research supports the ELM model by explaining why people sometimes take the peripheral route. Taylor claimed that humans usuallly rely on simple and time-efficient strategies when making decisions. If the content of a message is not personally important, then individuals are more likey to be influenced by the context (therefore take the peripheral route).
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Explanation for persuasiveness of TV adverts:

  • Products and services are advertised in two different ways - hard sell advertising (presenting factual information about a product) and soft sell advertising (using more subtle and creative techniques). De Bono found that people who scored highly on a test of self-monitoring (more image conscious) had more favourable attitudes towards soft sell advertising, whereas people who scored lowly on the self-monitoring showed more favourable attitudes towards hard sell advertising.
  • Further research supports this. Through a study analysing differences in hard and soft sell advertising. It was indeed found that hard sell techniques focused on factual information whereas soft sell techniques focused more on other more general information. However, this research also found that as soft sell techniques focused more on generating positive emotions, they were associated with more positive attitudes towards the product than hard sell, suggesting that soft sell may be more effective. Backing this suggestion is the finding that hard sell techniques have a greater capacity to irritate viewers by being more direct which can come across as being confrontational, thus decreasing their ability to persuade.
  • Product endorsement is also popular amongst advertisers. Giles suggests that celebrities provide a familiar face as they are a reliable source of information due to the parasocial relationships that we form with them. However, it has been found that in general, celebrity endorsements are not regarded as overly convincing or believable. 
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Explanation for persuasiveness of TV adverts:

  • However, a limitation to celebrity endorsement research is that it has tended to focus more on the characteristics of the celebrity and less on that of the message being communicated by the advert. It has further been argued that research has not considered the varius different ways endorsement modes (explicit, implicit or co-present) in order to determine which is most effective.
  • A limitation of is not as effective as is believed. Martin suggests that young people like to make sure their product is fashionable amongst people who resemble them, rather than approved by celebrities. This is also supported by Hume, who in a study of over 500 TV commercials found that celebrity endorsement does not significantly increase the persuasiveness of the commercial.
  • When looking at children and advertising, using a meta analysis Martin found a strong correlation between age and the understanding of persuasive content. Older children could discriminate better between commercials and regular programming and could better understand the persuasive intent of adverts and trusted them less. Also, It is a commonly accepted belief that advertising to younger children increases the degree to which the child pesters their parents for the products they have seen on TV. In a test of this belief, Pine studied the relationship between the amount of TV commercials watched and the number of advertised items on a Christmas wish list to Santa and found a strong positive correlation.
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Explanation for persuasiveness of TV adverts:

  • However, a limitation of Pine's study was that factors such as whether the child watched the adverts on their own or with parents, and also the influence of peers were not taken into account. In fact, the correlation was stronger for children who watch TV on their own than for those who watched with their parents, suggesting that parents mediate the relationship between advertising and the subsequent behaviour. The influence of peers is also a factor, as conversations with friends about the things they have seen in television adverts inevitable shapes subsequent behaviour. Consequently it becomes difficult to predict a direct casual relationship between exposure to advertisements and consumer behaviour amongst children.
  • Also, the findings of the research have been found to be culturally biased. Pine investigated gift requests by children at Christmas in the US and Sweden. In Sweden, television advertising aimed at children is banned. They found significantly fewer gift requests amongst children in Sweden than among children in the US. Although there could be a number of different explanations for this cultural difference, the researchers suggest that the lack of direct advertising to Swedish children is a direct candidate.
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Explanation for persuasiveness of TV adverts:

  • There has been suggestments that TV adverts may be better remembered if they are embedded within programmes with the same type of content.This can be explained in terms of the viewer's motives for watching a particular TV programme.
  • To determine how persuasive an advert it, researchers usually measure how much viewers like a product after watching. However, for an advert to be persuasive, it should lead to the purchase of the product being advertised. This is a major problem with this type of research because what is being measured is not actual behaviour but the related attitude which then may or may not lead to a purchase.
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Attraction of celeb: social-psych explanation

  • A parasocial relationship is one in which an individual is attracted to another individual (usually celebrity), but the target individual is usually unaware of the existence of the person who has created the relationship(e.g. a fan). Such relationships might be particularly appealing to some individuals because the relationship make few demands, and does not run the risk of criticism or rejection, as might be the case in a real relationship.
  • A parasocial relationship is most likely to form with television celebrities who are seen as attractive and similar in some way to the viewer. An important additional factor appears to be if they are perceived as real or act in a believable way. If the celebrity acted in a believable way, viewers were able to compare how they would behave in similar situations.
  • Although it is commonly believed that parasocial relationships with celebrities are dysfunctional (formed on loneliness), research doesn’t support this. In fact, some research has found that people who are more socially active are more likely to engage in parasocial relationships than those who are not.
  • It has also been found that attachment style is an important factor when explaining why some people are more vulnerable to the formation of parasocial relationship. Cole reported that individuals with insecure resistant attachment types were most likely (to satisfy their unmet early relationship needs) and insecure avoident were least likely (who find it difficult to develop relationships).
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Attraction of celeb: social-psych explanation

  • Most of the research on parasocial relationships has simply involved asking people about their attitudes to celebrities. However, it has been argued that experimental manipulations may be more effectivein determining the cause of these relationships. For example, Noble found that these relationships were more likely to happen in a darkened cinema environmet where viewers are isolated from everyday reality, and not in a television viewing with the light on as viewers were more aware of their own identities, thus preventing them merging with the characters on screen.
  • The ‘Absorption-Addiction model’ suggests 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 behaviours in order to sustain satisfaction with the parasocial relationship they have developed with the celebrity Three levels in this process: Entertainment-social- Fans are attracted to a favourite celebrity because of their perceived ability to entertain and to become a source of social interaction and gossip. Intense social- This aspect of celebrity worship reflects intensive and compulsive feelings about the celebrity. Borderline-pathological- This dimension is typified by uncontrollable behaviours and fantasies about their celebrities.
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Attraction of celeb: social-psych explanation

  • The Eysenck Personality Questionnaire was used to assess the relationship between levels of celebrity worship and personality. They found that whereas the entertainment-social level was associated with extraversion, the intense-personal level was associated with neuroticism. As neuroticism is associated with anxiety and depression, this provides a clear explanation of why higher levels of celebrity worship are associated to poorer mental health.
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Attraction of celeb: evolutionary explanation

  • Human beings possess a love of novelty. For females choosing a mate, therefore, this would have led to demand for ever-more creative displays from potential partners. Mate choice through evolutionary adaptation could well have favoured creative displays, which would explain many of the characteristics that are universally and uniquely developed in humans such as music, art and humour. Because musicians, artists and actors display these talents in abundance, we are inevitably drawn to them.
  • There is evidence for an evolved love of creativity. Genetic differences mean that people produce different variations of the MAOA enzyme, researchers found that a form of this enzyme correlates with novelty-seeking tendencies, suggesting that there may be a genetic origin for our attraction to creative people.
  • However, suggesting that an attraction to creative people arose because early females preferred creative behaviour in potential mates tells us nothing about why they would prefer it. Sexual selection explanations are arbitrary because they argue that traits are preferred simply because they would have been ‘attractive’, and such explanations do not provide an adequate adaptive reason.
  • Another evolutionary explanation is celebrity gossip. The exchange of social information about other group members might have been adaptive for our ancestors when they started living in larger social groups. Gossip creates bonds within social groups and serves a similar adaptive function to social grooming by initiating and maintaining alliances.
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Attraction of celeb: evolutionary explanation

  • There is research support for the adaptive role of celebrity gossip. Through a survey of 800 participants, it was reported that gossip was seen as a useful way of acquiring information about social group members. It was concluded that media exposure would lead to the misperception that celebrities were actually a part of the social network, thus explaining the interest in celebrity gossip.
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Research into intense fandom:

  • One area is celebrity worship. Although it is commonly assumed that celebrity worship is an uncommon phenomenon, Maltby found that over a third of a sample of students and workers scored above the midpints of the celebrity attitude scale.
  • Celebrity worship has been associated with less desirable developmental outcomes. In a telephone survey, Cheung found that ‘idol worship’ was associated with lower levels of work or study and lower self-esteem and less successful identity achievement. Those teenagers who worshipped idols from television demonstrated the lowest levels of identity achievement.
  • It was concluded that celebrity worshippers have lower levels of psychological wellbeing which results from failed attempts to escape or cope with the pressures of everyday life.
  • The Cheung study found that teenagers who ‘worshipped’ key family members, teachers or other individuals with whom they came into regular contact tended to demonstrate higher levels of self-esteem and educational achievement than teenagers who worshipped television stars. This is supported and is understandable given that the admiration of those who are able to provide tangible benefits and inputs to the adolescents’ lives would be more likely to provide a greater positive impact than those celebrities with whom they enjoy only a PSR.
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Research into intense fandom:

  • Research supports negative consquences of celebrity worship. It has shown that high-profile celebrity suicides are often followed by an increased number of suicides among the general population. Sheridan made the point that these worshippers are often drawn to more entertaining, even antisocial celebrities, so we might therefore, expect fans of more rebellious celebrities to seek to emulate them, with negative consequences.
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Research into intense fandom:

  • However, there is an alternative explanation. Evolutionary psychologists suggest that it is natural for humans to look up to those individuals who receive attention because they have succeeded in our society. For our ancestors, this would have meant respecting good hunters and elders, but because hunting is no longer an essential skill, we may look to celebrities, whose fame and fortune we would like to emulate.
  • Another area of intense fandom is celebrity stalking. One in five stalkers develop an obsession or fixation with another person (such as a celebrity) with whom they have no personal relationship. stalkers of this type suffer from delusional thought patterns and may suffer from a mental disorder (e.g. schizophrenia). Since most are unable to develop normal personal relationships through more conventional means, they retreat into a life of fantasy relationships with individuals they hardly know.
  • Horowitz proposed that 'pre-occupied' attachment style has been linked to celebrity stalking. Individuals with this type of attachment style have a poor self-image and a positive image of others, therefore, they are likely to seek approval and personal validation from others through celebrity stalking, thus challenging their negative views of self.
  • There is evidence to support the idea that celebrity stalking might be explained in terms of abnormal attachment. Using retrospective data and self-report measures to investigate whether stalkers detained under the Mental Health Act were less securely attached than non-stalkers and found that stalkers had adult insecure attachment than control group.
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Research into intense fandom:

  • There is supporting evidence that celebrity stalkers may suffer from mental disorders. It was found that scores on a measure of OCD positively correlated with the Celebrity Attitude Scale, and stalkers sometimes behave irrationally towards their victims in ways that clearly reflect underlying psychopathology (e.g. "I will kill myself if you don't marry me").
  • A positive of this research such as that of attachment styles and their link to celebrity stalking is that it has real-world application such as police being able to draw up a psychological profile of an unknown offender based on the attachment style they seem to have. Also, clinical interventions can be designed to help them overcome their attachment difficulties.
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