Peacock Scholarship

Parasocial Relationships: A Look into How We Know So Much About People We’ve Never Met

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Directioners. Believers. Beatlemania. Swifties. Selenators. Trekkies. Hiddlestoners. All of these fandoms are based on one very important factor -- parasocial relationships. A term coined by Donald Horton and Richard Wohl in 1956, a parasocial relationship is used to describe the form of communication between ordinary people and performers in the mass media. These relationships are controlled by the performer based on what they chose to share with their audience. They also lack reciprocity, as the performers don't know nearly as much about each individual as the audience as a whole knows about them. Nonetheless, nearly 70 years after being defined, this perception of a relationship between a performer and a fan has expanded and intensified as mass media consumers our lives and we, the fans, begin to think of the people who we once idolized as friends. The study conducted took a look at parasocial relationship and the way in which they affect our interactions with celebrities on social media. In addition to basic questions used to understand the demographics of the sample, participants were asked a series of questions involving social media, celebrities, and their tv-watching and music-listening behaviors using Likert scales to allow the individual to express how much they agree or disagree with a particular statement. Although the participants may disagree, some questions were simple, asking for their favorite television shows and musicians. Others required more self-reflection and thought about how they relate to these strangers they say are their favorite people and why they even like them in the first place. Finally, participants were asked to criticize their own use of social media, from the posts they like, their willingness to unfollow a celebrity, and their tendency to comment on posts, if they do at all. Since this study was conducted at a primarily Hispanic, majority-female institution, ethnicity and gender are not as relevant in this study but it is still remarkable that females seem to be more open about their interactions with their favorite celebrities. More often than not these are people we have never met or spoken to yet we know more about them at times than we know about our friends, family members, or even ourselves. Why is this a thing? How is this a thing? Is there a benefit to it all? These are just some of the questions that arose throughout the study. Through the research conducted, it seems that although there is no end to the extent of a parasocial relationship, there are ways in which they can legitimately benefit people. Of course, today parasocial interactions have grown from simply what we see of television personalities on the shows the star into celebrities and influencers in general, really anyone we interact with through social media.

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  • 06/09/2020
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