Parasocial relationships: what you need to know

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A parasocial relationship involves a lasting, one-sided connection between a viewer and a public figure. The viewer imagines that he has a powerful and lasting connection with the media figure, who does not reciprocate and does not know the viewer.

The media character is often a musician, celebrity, or fictional or television character. More recently, people have entered into parasocial relationships with bloggers, podcasters, and social media influencers.

Read on to learn more about parasocial relationships and their impact on people.

A fan is someone who admires or is interested in someone or something, such as a movie or a sports team. A fan can show loyalty, enthusiasm, and dedication to a person and their work. A public figure can inspire a fan to create meaningful work or champion a cause. However, unlike someone in a parasocial relationship, a fan does not feel connected to the media figure.

There are several pros and cons of parasocial relationships to consider when it comes to mental health.

Benefits of Parasocial Relationships

Parasocial relationships can help people improve their relationships, personal development skills, and overall well-being. A real or imagined connection to a talented and successful personality can help a person feel better about themselves.

Parasocial relationships have links to attachment styles and can allow people to feel a sense of interpersonal intimacy while avoiding rejection.

Research from 2021 found that people with an avoidant attachment may be more likely to identify with television characters who display positive, attractive characteristics such as autonomy and independence. They may try to embody these traits, which can be an effective coping strategy.

Parasocial relationships frequently occur in adolescence and can play an important role in social development.

A study 2017 suggests that parasocial relationships can help adolescents develop autonomy and form an identity. Researchers believe adolescents may use parasocial relationships to imagine relationships they want, which may have associations with gender and developmental goals. The study also indicated that boys were more likely to see celebrities as mentors, role models or authority figures, while girls were more likely to imagine friendships with media personalities.

Parasocial relationships can also:

  • provide support, inspiration and motivation
  • have a positive influence
  • improve self-esteem
  • create a sense of connection and community
  • give life lessons
  • help people overcome challenges
  • give sense
  • prevent criticism
  • to offer company
  • reduce prejudice
  • provide purpose and fulfillment
  • encourage healthy behaviors
  • reduce health-related stigma

Disadvantages of Parasocial Relationships

Parasocial relationships can interfere with real relationships or a person’s daily life, especially if they replace real interactions and relationships. They can contribute to anxiety, loneliness, and social isolation, especially if they involve social media.

Over time, the one-sided nature of parasocial relationships can become unsatisfying and distract from an individual’s life.

Parasocial relationships can also:

In 1956, sociologists Donald Horton and Richard Wohl developed the term parasocial relationship to designate a one-sided relationship between a viewer and a media figure. The media figure can be a fictional character or a living or dead person.

A parasocial relationship develops over time through multiple viewing or listening situations, such as watching a TV show or listening to a podcast. During these experiences, the media consumer imagines they are interacting with the performer – a parasocial interaction.

Beyond the viewing experience, a person can think and talk about the media character as if they were a close friend. They may feel that they know and understand the media personality personally, even if the connection does not involve direct contact.

An individual may have a parasocial relationship with one or more of the following:

  • actor
  • TV or movie character
  • celebrity
  • player
  • avatar
  • athlete
  • musician
  • radio host
  • podcaster
  • presenter
  • presenter
  • talk show host
  • historical figure
  • politician
  • social media influencer

Parasocial relationships are a healthy and typical part of media consumption. An imaginary connection to a media figure can help a person overcome challenges, master new skills, or develop healthy habits. Someone may also use the accomplishments or admired traits of a public figure as motivation for self-improvement.

However, parasocial relationships can be a concern if they interfere with a person’s daily life or actual relationships. They can influence someone to engage in unhealthy behaviors, such as aggression, impulse buying, or restrictive eating. In extreme cases, a parasocial relationship can lead to obsession and harassment.

People should be aware that the perceived feeling of connection or closeness is an illusion. If a person feels like they’re investing too much time, energy, or emotion into the relationship, it’s a good idea to step back and re-examine the situation.

A parasocial relationship is a one-sided interaction between a public performer and a viewer. The viewer feels they have a close connection to the character, even if they don’t communicate or meet in real life.

For some people, parasocial relationships can be a source of inspiration and motivation. The media figure can exert a positive influence and encourage others to develop their talents and skills. However, parasocial relationships should not replace actual social relationships and interactions.

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