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Discuss what psychological research tells us about obsession with celebrities, why it comes about and what variations are evident in these behaviours

It is arguable that most individuals form attractions with celebrities due to their presence and dramatic lifestyles dominating the media today however the tendency to form obsessions and parasocial relationships with celebrities has been researched by psychologists. McCutcheon et al. (2004) argues that there are three levels to parasocial relationships including: the entertainment/social level, the intense personal level and the borderline pathological level which gives a description of different types of obsessions over celebrities however this could be arguably reductionist as there are only three specific levels explained which may not be universal and does not consider individual differences. 
In terms of how we view parasocial relationships Maltby et al. (2001) argues that there are two different views: the pathological view which takes the cognitive approach that they are formed due to poor psychological adjustment and the positive/active view which argues that they are healthy and fulfill important social functions, this could be considered a behavioural approach as it claims they have a positive effect on our social behaviours. The absorption-addiction model, which argues that people form these obsessions due to lacks within their real life in an attempt to escape these issues, supports the pathological view. People may follow celebrities to feel self fulfillment through another person’s successes, in general the model argues that the weaker the sense of personal identity of a person the more likely they are to reach the borderline pathological stage in the three levels of parasocial relationships which is also the stage where people may be likely to reach stalking of celebrities. This model is useful in that it explains in detail the reasons for obsessions with celebrities however there is little evidence to show that this is the main reason for the formation of parasocial relationships, it also fails to consider determinism as people may be able to make the choice not to form these obsessions and just because someone may feel a lack of personal identity does not necessarily mean they will go on to be borderline pathological or stalkers. Also the positive/active view suggests that not all formations of parasocial relationships should be seen in a negative way as they could help to create social networks with other fans.
Attachment theory is another explanation of obsession with celebrities which suggests that insecure attachment types are more likely to become strongly attached to celebrities than those with secure attachment types. This theory was supported by McCutcheon et al. (2001) who created a questionnaire to test the connection between insecure attachment types, mild celebrity following and the approval of stalking behaviours to find that there was no link between insecure attachment types and the tendency to form parasocial relationships with celebrities however they were more likely to find stalking of celebrities to be acceptable. However the validity of this could be questioned as the study was self-report meaning participants could have possibly lied in fear of being judged by peers or experimenters, also the study was completed between one group of 299 students suggesting culture bias again forcing us to consider the results may not have been relevant across all countries.
Taking a biological approach my focusing on health, Maltby et al. (2001) set out to look for links between poor mental health and celebrity worship. They found that there was a link as people with high celebrity worship tended to have some degree of social dysfunction however, to consider these results a reliable source for concluding that the pathological view is correct would be reductionist. The study involved clear culture bias as they used a sample of UK students living in South Yorkshire which means the results may not be relevant across other cultures such as less developed countries. There are also ethical issues in that identifying students having social dysfunctions could cause distress and they need the option to get help if necessary.
There is clearly a lot of evidence supporting theories of why we form obsessions with celebrities and what variations are evident however we cannot consider this reliable evidence without considering how this links in the real world. In a modern society it is generally considered ‘normal’ to read up and find information on celebrities daily or to request to take a photograph with them, therefore it is difficult to differentiate with what is acceptable and what is not. Also many of these studies do not consider evolutionary explanations such as Henrich and Gil-White’s (2001) prestige hypothesis. This suggests that we have the innate tendency to imitate members of a social group who have prestige or power… isn’t this exactly what people do with celebrities? Overall evidence suggests that a combination of these approaches would be the only valid explanation fo rour obsessions with celebrities.


About rachelpsychology

Psychology is cool man.

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