Today I learned about this psychological phenomenon called Parasocial relationship.
The kind of one-way friendship I have with these reality stars has a name in the sociology world: It’s called a “parasocial relationship,” which is an emotional relationship with a media figure. The term was coined in the 1950s by two sociologists who observed that dominant mass media — at the time, TV and radio — created the illusion of a friendship between spectator and performer, and “the most remote and illustrious men are met as if they were in the circle of one’s peers.”
Social media has added another dimension to this dynamic, because occasionally the performers will interact with you, which perpetuates the illusion that you have involvement in their lives.
Though explaining these friendships may make you feel like a creep, they are normal, and quite common, said Alex Kresovich, a doctoral student at the U.N.C. Hussman School of Journalism and Media who has published research on parasocial relationships. “The feelings people have with these media persona are nearly indistinguishable from their friends in real life,” despite the fact that the celebrity in question usually (but not always) has no idea you exist, he said. (A small subset of people may develop an unhealthy obsession with celebrities — it’s called “celebrity worship” in the clinical literature — but that’s not the norm.)
Why does this article say “Parasocial relationships” can be nourishing when all I feel about it is profound alienation? Are people treating celebrities like role models? It doesn’t feel quite the same. You wouldn’t care about your role model’s daily drama.
For parents of young children in particular, these parasocial relationships may be especially nourishing, because we don’t always have much time for socializing, and parasocial relationships don’t require any maintenance.
Also reminds me of this reporting about Chinese streams.
In China, people pay to interact with these streamers online, who create an illusion of a sincere relationship.
More on this phenomenon: