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Parasocial Relationships

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Parasocial Relationships

Have you ever had a crush on someone who did not know you existed? Have you ever loved a celebrity who will never know who you even are? If so, then you have experienced a parasocial relationship.

In this article, we will look at the characteristics of parasocial relationships before considering the absorption-addiction model as an explanation for these relationships. Finally, we will evaluate parasocial relationships and their explanations using research findings.

What are parasocial relationships in psychology?

Parasocial relationships are unreciprocated, one-sided relationships.

An example of a parasocial relationship would be a fan’s relationship with a celebrity.

Psychologists such as McCutcheon (2006) have theorised why such relationships form and sometimes lead to compulsive behaviours such as stalking. For McCutcheon, one possible explanation is the absorption-addiction model.

What are the levels of parasocial relationships?

McCutcheon et al. (2002) developed the Celebrity Attitude Scale in conjunction with Maltby et al.’s (2006) research to identify the three levels of parasocial relationships:

  1. Entertainment-social the least intense level, where celebrities serve only to entertain.

    For example, you watch a movie because you like Brad Pitt. Most people have experienced this level and do not go beyond it.

  2. Intense-personal a sense of greater personal connection with the celebrity where you feel compelled to learn more about their likes and dislikes and mirror them.

    For example, you may feel that you have an intense emotional connection with Brad Pitt. This is most often the case with teenagers.

  3. Borderline pathological the most intense level, including fantasies and extreme behaviour. This extreme behaviour may include financial investments, such as spending a lot of money to attend a premiere or illegal behaviour such as stalking. At this level, it is also common for the fan to believe their feelings will be reciprocated when they meet the target of their adoration.

What are some explanations for parasocial relationships?

Let’s now look at some models and research studies on parasocial relationships.

Absorption-addiction model

McCutcheon (2002) suggests that people who enter into parasocial relationships do so because they lack something in their own lives, such as a personal identity, relationship, or self-esteem.

For example, perhaps they do not have a romantic relationship but desire a partner, fantasising about a relationship with a celebrity. As their attachment to the celebrity makes up for a lack in their own life, their attachment becomes stronger and more addictive, called absorption.

Absorption is an intense, all-encompassing focus on a celebrity, such as constantly checking the news for mentions of that celebrity.

Addiction means that a person is compelled to become personally involved with the celebrity, which can lead to extreme behaviours such as stalking and delusions or camping outside a celebrity’s home in hopes of meeting them.

Research into parasocial relationships

  • Maltby (2005) supports McCutcheon’s (2002) theory of parasocial relationships. Their study found that girls with body image issues were more likely to form parasocial relationships. This supports McCutcheon’s suggestion that people form parasocial relationships because they lack something in their lives, in this case, body image.
  • Schiappa et al. (2007) found a positive correlation between the number of TV participants and the extent to which they perceived a TV character as ‘real’. This finding indicates that the more someone is ‘absorbed’ in a parasocial relationship, the more they are attached to that relationship and perceive it as ‘real’.
  • Greenwood and Long (2009) found that people can develop parasocial relationships to cope with loss or loneliness. This finding supports McCutcheon’s theory that people form parasocial relationships to compensate for lack of human contact in their own lives.
  • In contrast, Chory-Assad and Yanen (2005) found no significant relationship between loneliness and parasocial relationships, so the effects of loneliness on parasocial relationships are unclear.
  • Research by Kienlen et al. (1997) supports the hypothesis that disrupted attachment in childhood can lead to borderline pathological parasocial relationships. They examined the childhoods of stalkers and found that 63% experienced the loss of an attachment figure, and/or 50% experienced emotional and physical abuse.
  • Cole and Leets (1999) examined the parasocial relationships teenagers developed with TV personalities and found that those with insecure-resistant attachment types were more likely to develop parasocial relationships.

Evaluation of parasocial relationships

  • Maltby (2003) found correlations between different personality types (extraverted, psychotic, and neurotic) and different levels of parasocial relationships.
    • He found that extraverts were most likely to have parasocial relationships at the entertainment-social level. Neurotics, on the other hand, were most likely to have intense-personal parasocial relationships, while psychotics were most likely to have borderline-pathological relationships.
    • This finding supports McCutcheon’s Celebrity Attitude Scale and suggests that researchers can use research on parasocial relationships to improve the understanding and treatment of mental disorders.
  • Cross-cultural research on celebrity worship has revealed a cross-cultural phenomenon of parasocial relationships.

    • Schmid and Klektiv (2011) examined parasocial relationships with characters from Harry Potter in different cultures.

    • They found that adoration was similar in both individualistic cultures like Germany and collectivistic cultures like Mexico.

    • This finding suggests that research on parasocial relationships is applicable around the world.

  • Correlational research: most research on parasocial relationships is based on self-reports such as interviews and questionnaires. This factor makes research on parasocial relationships less valid because participants may not answer truthfully to make themselves look good, satisfy ‘social desirability bias’, or satisfy the hypothesis demand characteristics required by the study.

  • Limited explanation: the absorption-addiction model is well suited to explain the characteristics of those who engage in parasocial relationships, but it is not successful in explaining how or why they occur. Thus, the model offers only a limited explanation of parasocial relationships.


Parasocial Relationships - Key takeaways

  • Parasocial relationships are one-sided, nonreciprocal relationships, such as a fan’s adoration for a celebrity.
  • McCutcheon et al. (2006) developed the Celebrity Attitude Scale, which shows the stages of parasocial relationships.
  • The levels of parasocial relationships are entertainment-social, intense-personal, and borderline-pathological.
  • The absorption-addiction model states that people enter into parasocial relationships to compensate for a deficiency in their lives. Since this is rewarding, they become addicted to the relationship.

Frequently Asked Questions about Parasocial Relationships

Parasocial relationships are unreciprocated, one-sided relationships.

The levels of parasocial relationships are entertainment-social, intense-personal, and borderline-pathological. 

Parasocial relationships can lead to extreme behaviours such as stalking and delusions or camping outside a celebrity’s home in hopes of meeting them. This extreme behaviour may include financial investments, such as spending a lot of money to attend a premiere or illegal conduct, such as stalking.

Final Parasocial Relationships Quiz

Question

What is a parasocial relationship?

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Answer

Parasocial relationships are unreciprocated, one-sided relationships. An example of a parasocial relationship would be a fan’s relationship with a celebrity.

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Who proposed the absorption addiction model?

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Answer

McCutcheon et al. (2002).

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What issues does the model say people have to form parasocial relationships?

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The model suggests people have self-identity issues and find their own life deficient. 

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What is absorption in the absorption addiction model?

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Absorption means that the person is absorbed in the following of a celebrity. They get the sense of fulfilment that they lack, whihc motivates them to become more intensely attached. Usually, this means they buy merchandise, listen to music, watch shows, and engage in any form of entertainment or information related to the celebrity.

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What is addiction in the absorption addiction model? 

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Addiction means that the person becomes dependent on the sense of fulfilment and satisfaction that being included in the celebrity's life give them, and in turn they become more and more obsessed with the celebrity or the object of their adoration.

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What behaviours can someone engage in that are a result of addiction in this model?

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Stalking is an abnormal behaviour that is a result of addiction.

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What are the three levels of parasocial relationships?

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  1. Entertainment-social.
  2. Intense-personal.
  3. Borderline-pathological.

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How does the absorption addiction model link to the three levels of parasocial relationships?

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Absorption is linked to the first level (entertainment-social), and addiction is linked to the second and third levels (intense-personal and borderline-pathological respectively). 

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What did Maltby et al. (2001) find in their study?

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In this study, they found a connection between parasocial relationships and the effects it has on mental health, suggesting there is a link between this obsession and poor mental health/low functioning. Anxiety and depression were positively correlated with extreme parasocial relationships.  

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What did Schiappa et al. (2007) find in their study?

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This study analysed the findings of multiple studies that looked into parasocial relationships and found that these relationships could primarily be defined as normal or acceptable. 

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When did McCutcheon et al. propose the absorption addiction model?

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Answer

In 2002.

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Absorption is a form of _______.

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Answer

Escapism.

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The absorption addiction model is problematic because it is _______.

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Stigmatising.

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The absorption addiction model is ethnocentric. True or false?

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True.

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What is CAS?

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Answer

The Celebrity Attitude Scale. 

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What did McCutcheon (2006) suggest about parasocial relationships?

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McCutcheon (2006) suggested that people form Parasocial Relationships due to things lacking in their own lives 

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What are parasocial relationships?

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Answer

Parasocial relationships are where a person develops a one-sided relationship, usually with someone of higher status who is not aware of this infatuation. This is seen typically in celebrities, as well as people in the community who are well-known or liked, and fictional characters.  

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What does attachment theory suggest about parasocial relationships?

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Answer

Attachment theory suggests parasocial relationships develop as a result of childhood development issues. 

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What does Bowlby specifically suggest about childhood attachment and parasocial relationships?

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Specifically, Bowlby's explanation suggests that people who fail to form close relationships with their caregivers when they're young, struggle to bond and establish relationships with others when they grow older.  

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What is Ainsworth's insecure-resistant type of attachment style?

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Exhibit clingy behaviours but then rejects caregiver, not comforted by caregiver, non-exploratory, difficult to soothe.

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What did Hazan and Shaver (1987) suggest about how an insecure-resistant attachment style in adulthood?


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Answer

An insecure-resistant attachment type manifests in adulthood through clingy, jealous behaviour which makes it difficult for them to form relationships with other people, meaning that they are more likely to form parasocial relationships.  

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Bowlby's ______ deprivation theory suggests that those who do not form strong attachments in early life will seek out attachment substitutes in adulthood.  

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Answer

maternal

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What does the internal working model state about future relationships?

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Answer

The internal working model states as your first relationship, your attachment to your primary caregiver become a template for all your future relationship 

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According to the internal working model, if your caregiver did not comfort you, did not respond to your needs or make you feel secure, you will ______.

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Answer

seek out similar relationships in adulthood.  

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What did McCutcheon et al. (2006) find in their study?

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They found no correlation between insecure-resistant attachment and more intense levels of parasocial relationships 

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What did Cole and Leets (1999) find in their study?

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Answer

They found that those with anxious-ambivalent attachment types were more likely to develop parasocial relationships, and avoidant styles were least likely to develop parasocial behaviours. 

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Kienlen et al. (1997) found that ______ childhood attachment was linked to a borderline pathological disorder 


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disturbed

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What did Roberts (2007) find in their study?

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Answer

Roberts (2007) fond that insecurely attached people were more likely to engage in some form of contact with celebrities. 


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What's an issue with the correlational research into parasocial relationships?

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Answer

Most research into parasocial relationships is correlational meaning that we cannot claim direct cause and effect relationships in the research. 

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Why would children form a parasocial relationship with a celebrity when they grow up, according to attachment theory?

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Answer

Children form relationships with celebrities because they didn't have close relationships with their parents when they were young, so they form an insecure attachment to the celebrity.  

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