- What up world?
Myles Bess here.
Journalist, host, and person who owns not one but two different can openers.
All right, so this is our producer Lauren.
She's obsessed with Mindy Kaling and even though Lauren's never met her, she loves her.
- I really do.
- There's actually a term for this type of connection.
It's called a parasocial relationship.
It's basically where one person spends all this time and energy on another, usually a famous person and this second person has no idea that the first person even exists.
So I'm thinking, is this just an unhealthy obsession?
- [Lauren] What?
- Then again, maybe parasocial relationships are actually deeper than we think.
So today we're asking, are parasocial relationships a bad thing?
(upbeat music) Okay, so the concept of a parasocial relationship goes beyond just being a fan.
Here's Bradley Bond.
He's an Associate Professor that studies parasocial relationships.
- We tend to think of our connections to media persona as a spectrum.
On the high end of that is something that at least in psychology, we call celebrity worship to the point where we have a relationship with a celebrity or the idea of a celebrity that is more like a deity.
On the other end of that spectrum is probably just fandom, right, like, oh, I like that artist's music and it kind of stops there.
I would argue that this idea of parasocial relationship is kind of in the middle.
It's more than simply being a fan and maybe even less than being a stan.
- This actor, musician, athlete, influencer or whatever can feel like they're your friend.
Like I'm a fan of Steph Curry.
I watch the games, I follow him on Instagram but I don't feel like he's my friend.
Whereas Lauren, the producer from earlier.
- [Lauren] Hi.
- Lauren is in a pair of social relationship with Mindy Kaling.
- No, I'm pretty sure she loves me back.
- Oh, okay.
Well, you see the difference.
And what we know and understand about parasocial relationships has evolved over time.
The term parasocial relationship was going by my guys, Donald Horton and R Richard Wall in 1956.
- People were watching TV in their homes for the first time.
They had this screen where their newscasters or their favorite late night hosts were talking directly to the screen.
And so psychologists were interested in how we were processing those people that were seeing on screen.
- And the media landscape in our relationship to celebrities continues to change.
Take Will Smith, for example.
Back in the day, you wanted to see the Fresh Prince, you have to wait for his TV show to come on or you could watch or read a curated interview.
Now that man is forever in selfie mode.
There's no middle man.
Like there's zero mystery.
Celebs can connect to audiences via lives, reply to comments, DMs, sharing, post to fans on social media.
And there's also been a major cultural shift to perform vulnerability and authenticity and all those things can really fuel that feeling of connection.
Okay, so that's parasocial relationships.
But why do we form these types of bonds?
parasocial attachment theories suggest that some people are more prone to forming these types of relationships because of their attachment style.
Attachment styles describe how you, you relate to people and relationships, and it has to do with how you bonded with your primary caregiver when you were young.
At a basic level, there's four different attachment styles.
They're secure, avoidant, anxious, ambivalent and disorganized.
- So somebody who has more of an avoidance style, meaning they don't really need to rely or feel a strong connection to other people to have self-esteem, to have, you know, beliefs that they're capable of doing things.
Those are the same people that don't develop strong parasocial relationships.
People who are really attached, people who need validation, who need constant connection to others, tend to have at least a wider variety of parasocial relationships.
- There's also the parasocial compensation hypothesis which is basically the idea that people use parasocial relationships to compensate for the lack of real life relationships.
There is some research that suggests that people who feel lonely, socially isolated or have social anxiety disorder may develop more intense parasocial relationships.
But the evidence to back this up is a mixed bag.
Okay, so all that can help explain how and why we might form these relationships.
But Myles, just tell me already, are these good or bad for me?
Well, like most things, the answer is it depends.
- I've done a lot of interviews with people about their connections to characters and celebrities and I often get people who start their story with something like, "Well I'm embarrassed to tell you this, but" and there's no reason why you should be embarrassed because what we've found is that we process new faces the same way, whether we see those faces in person or see them on screen.
- Parasocial relationships can influence us much in the same way as our real life relationships which can be good or bad.
Like on the positive side, they can help improve personal development and wellbeing.
Like in the case of Talia who's in a parasocial relationship with musician, Dodie.
- I started getting really deep into her content around middle school when she made sort of like advice videos, and I took a lot of the advice to heart and kind of started implementing it into my life.
So that definitely helped me through some rough spots, you know, with my own self-esteem and self-image.
- We've seen a lot more work on this topic recently with marginalized groups and understanding how parasocial relationships might actually be really effective at reducing prejudices, reducing beliefs in stereotypes - And adolescents specifically, there's research that suggests that parasocial relationships can help with identity formation and developing autonomy.
- I feel like especially for, you know, younger people, it's more common and accepted to have parasocial relationships like this.
I don't necessarily see anything wrong with it as long as you don't take it like super far or try to like act or be just like those people.
- And Talia brings up a good point because on the flip side not all parasocial relationships are beneficial especially if they interfere with or take the place of real life relationships.
Research has found that they can contribute to anxiety, loneliness and social isolation especially if they involve social media.
And there's research that suggests that intense pair of social relationships can be linked to addiction to social media platforms.
And while these connections may motivate you to change something about yourself, in the extreme, they can lead to negative self comparison or unrealistic expectations for yourself or for a romantic partner if you're just comparing them to your celebrity crushes.
- That's me.
- And when we're so invested in these people, it can even affect our mood or change our actions.
- So when our celebrities are engaged in deviant behavior or problematic behavior, and it's glamorized in the media and there's no punishment for that behavior, if we identify with them or we see them as friends, we can learn those things as well.
- Now, it seems to me that forming parasocial relationships is kind of like human nature.
They tend to mimic our real life relationships.
So of course they're complicated.
And as ways to consume media keeps changing and evolving, I think it's important for us to examine what impacts it's having on us.
So I'm curious.
Do you have any pair of social relationships?
Do you think they're having an overall positive or negative impact on you?
Until next time, I'm your host, Myles Bess.