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The Absorption Addiction Model

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The Absorption Addiction Model

With the surge in social media use and the ability to follow every aspect of your favourite celebrity’s waking moments, you may have come across the absorption addiction model in real life. Despite how technical it sounds, the absorption addiction model essentially describes the parasocial relationship between a celebrity and a fan, but to an extreme extent. When reality is no longer satisfying or it is hard to cope with, some rely on their favourite celebrities for relief.

Psychologists are interested in exploring these types of relationships, especially with the recent uprising in social media access and the explosion of celebrity worship. Is our obsession with celebrities healthy? Or is there something more nefarious going on in our brains?

Absorption Addiction Model Celebrity icon with love emoticons on a phone screen StudySmarterWe are a celebrity-obsessed society. How healthy is that? flaticon.com/freepik.

What is the absorption addiction model?

The absorption addiction model was first proposed by McCutcheon et al. (2002) and states that those who have a weak sense of self-identity form parasocial relationships with celebrities to escape from their reality. This could be due to a multitude of reasons:

  • Lack of satisfaction with everyday life.
  • Deficient areas of life, such as work or friends, and an inability to form intimate relationships in those areas.
  • A need for excitement.
  • Extreme love for the object of obsession.

They choose to follow a celebrity to gain the sense of fulfillment they feel they are lacking.

Considering this model involves parasocial relationships, here’s a quick refresh on the definition of what they are:

Parasocial relationships are one-sided relationships between a person and a prominent, well-known individual, usually a celebrity, who is unaware of the other’s existence.

The model has two stages.

Absorption

In the model of parasocial relationships, absorption is:

The process where a person becomes absorbed in the following of a celebrity. Here begins escapism for the person. They achieve a sense of fulfillment they are lacking in their own lives, and this motivates a more intense attachment.

Absorption can come in many forms.

For instance, a person can search forums to find facts about their favourite celebrity, and follow the celebrity on every form of social media. They can listen, purchase, and engage in the celebrity's work to an extreme extent, and some dedicate their entire lives to being ‘loyal’ to their obsession.

Many celebrities are often hounded by media sources such as the paparazzi, who provide detailed (and often inaccurate) information about the personal life of a prominent figure. This can fuel absorption.

Addiction

Addiction in parasocial relationships is when this sense of fulfillment becomes somewhat of a problem for the person. They become addicted to the feeling of fulfillment and satisfaction that absorption in the celebrity’s life has given them, and in turn, they become more obsessed with the celebrity. They need to feel even closer to them. The person's behaviour escalates, becoming more extreme.

Where addiction is concerned, extreme cases can eventually lead to risky behaviours in an attempt to feed their obsession further.

An addicted person may engage in activities such as stalking to achieve a new sense of closeness with the celebrity.

Stalking Absorption Addiction Model Illustration of a man being stalked by another in a coat and hat StudySmarterMan being stalked by another in a coat and hat, flaticon.com/max.icons.

What are the three levels of parasocial relationships?

Parasocial relationships have three levels identified by Giles and Maltby (2006) through the Celebrity Attitude Scale (CAS).

  1. Entertainment-social: the relationship between fan and celebrity is purely for enjoyment here, and can be shared amongst friends.
  2. Intense-personal: the relationship has entered the first level of obsession, and questionable thoughts and feelings begin to arise concerning the celebrity.
  3. Borderline-pathological: the previous obsessive thoughts are now unrestrained, becoming fantasies and fake scenarios that further strengthen the obsession with the celebrity. Abnormal behaviours begin to occur, such as stalking.

The link between the absorption addiction model and the levels of parasocial relationships

The absorption addiction model has close ties to the different levels of parasocial relationships described above (entertainment-social, intense-personal, and borderline-pathological).

When a person is in the absorption stage of the model, they are engaging in the first level of parasocial relationships. They engage in celebrity worship that gradually worsens or becomes more intense.

If this obsession becomes addictive, they then enter the second and third levels of parasocial relationships, engaging in intense obsession, entertaining unrealistic thoughts and fantasies, and potentially reaching the level of stalking.

Absorption Addiction Model Parasocial Relationships Celebrity StudySmarterTwo people talking about their favourite celebrity with one obsessing, flaticon.com/noomtah.

Evaluation of the absorption addiction model

We need to evaluate the absorption addiction model to understand its strengths and weaknesses.

Strengths

  • Maltby et al. (2001): in this study, they found a connection between parasocial relationships and the effects they have on mental health, suggesting there is a link between obsession and how a person is operating mentally. They tested the validity of the absorption addiction model through the CAS and the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ), administering them to 126 men and 181 women from the UK. Those who were absorbed into the idealisation of celebrities and parasocial relationships were less functional (psychologically) than those who didn’t engage in such behaviours. Anxiety and depression, for instance, were positively correlated with extreme parasocial relationships. They suggested this was due to the failed attempts at coping with daily life and attempting to escape it.
  • Maltby et al. (2006): in this study, they found that celebrity worship for intense-personal reasons (one of the parameters of parasocial relationships) was correlated with fantasy proneness. Celebrity worship for borderline-pathological reasons was correlated with fantasy proneness and dissociation.
  • Entertainment-social level: most people admire a celebrity or prominent figure. For instance, supporting a public figure in a government office, or a favourite musician, or actor. This theory supports the first level of parasocial relationships, why people tend to float around this level, and why a small minority descend into the other, more obsessive levels.

Weaknesses

  • Schiappa et al. (2007): in this study, they analysed the findings of multiple studies that looked into parasocial relationships, and found that these relationships could be mostly defined as normal, or in the scope of acceptableness. Unlike what some studies suggest about personality traits and obsessing over celebrities, no such associations exist, suggesting poor mental health is not as closely correlated to parasocial relationships as once thought.
  • It’s too descriptive: the absorption addiction model is great at describing what is happening, to an extent. It depicts the relationships but fails to identify why they may occur, or what is causing them. For instance, what is the cognitive process that leads someone to go from intense-personal to borderline-pathological?
  • It’s stigmatising: by labelling this behaviour as unhealthy or obsessive, it may unfairly ascribe this nature to all fans, even though most simply admire a celebrity for their work. The absorption addiction model ignores the ‘good’ parts of being a fan and instead labels them as being obsessive and having poor mental health.
  • Correlation but no causation: the supporting studies of this model tend to suggest a correlation between poor mental health and parasocial relationships. They identify self-esteem issues and mental health problems within those who form parasocial relationships, but this is just a correlation. The studies can’t prove that poor mental health causes parasocial relationship formation.
  • It’s ethnocentric: as the model is based on Western ideas and conducted primarily in Western countries, the theory is not generalisable to the population or other cultures. It needs to be conducted on other cultures to see if the model applies universally to all. Until then, it is ethnocentric.
  • Self-reporting techniques: the research on the absorption addiction model is mostly done using self-reporting techniques, which has issues with validity, as we all know. People can lie, have a different perception of their relationship with a celebrity, and fall victim to social desirability bias.

The absorption addiction model - Key takeaways

  • The absorption addiction model was proposed by McCutcheon et al. (2002) and states that those who have a weak sense of self-identity form parasocial relationships with celebrities to escape the reality of their daily lives.
  • This is due to dissatisfaction with their life, and a failure to form intimate relationships with their peers.
  • Absorption is where the person becomes absorbed in the following of the celebrity in question. They achieve the sense of fulfillment they are lacking and this motivates a more intense attachment.
  • Addiction is where the person becomes addicted to the feeling of fulfilment and satisfaction that absorption in the celebrities life has given them, and in turn, they become more obsessed with the celebrity.
  • Some studies show that the absorption addiction model has demonstrated links between parasocial relationships and poor mental health or functioning.
  • However, the model is ethnocentric, has issues with social desirability bias, self-reporting validity, and stigmatises fans' admiration of a celebrity.

Frequently Asked Questions about The Absorption Addiction Model

According to Giles and Maltby (2006), there are three levels of parasocial relationships: entertainment-social, intense-personal, and borderline-pathological. 

The absorption addiction model was proposed by McCutcheon et al. (2002) and states that those who have a weak sense of self-identity form parasocial relationships with celebrities to escape the reality of their daily lives. This is due to dissatisfaction with their life, and a failure to form intimate relationships with their peers. 

It involves absorption in the prominent figure’s life (through engaging in their work, for instance, obsessively listening to their music or buying merchandise), and addiction from that fulfillment that descends into obsessive behaviours. 

This could be due to a multitude of reasons. According to the absorption addiction model, it is because they have a weak sense of self-identity (their own life or reality feels deficient) and seek fulfilment in their parasocial relationship with celebrities. 

You form parasocial relationships by having a one-sided relationship with a prominent figure who is unaware of your existence. 

Final The Absorption Addiction Model 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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Question

Who proposed the absorption addiction model?

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Answer

McCutcheon et al. (2002).

Show question

Question

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

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Answer

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

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Question

What is absorption in the absorption addiction model?

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Answer

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.

Show question

Question

What is addiction in the absorption addiction model? 

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Answer

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.

Show question

Question

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

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Answer

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

Show question

Question

What are the three levels of parasocial relationships?

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Answer

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

Show question

Question

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

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Answer

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). 

Show question

Question

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

Show answer

Answer

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.  

Show question

Question

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

Show answer

Answer

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. 

Show question

Question

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

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Answer

In 2002.

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Question

Absorption is a form of _______.

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Answer

Escapism.

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Question

The absorption addiction model is problematic because it is _______.

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Answer

Stigmatising.

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Question

The absorption addiction model is ethnocentric. True or false?

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Answer

True.

Show question

Question

What is CAS?

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Answer

The Celebrity Attitude Scale. 

Show question

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