Star struck

jessica_simpson_teen_choice.jpgThe Psychologist has just released an engaging open-access article on the psychology of celebrity worship [pdf] that attempts to explain why people spend time following the lives of celebrities and what benefits this attraction brings.

In adolescence, when celebrity fandom often peaks, research has suggested that celebrities might function as part of an extended social network.

In effect, these are pseudo-friendships that add to the existing social circle and provide opportunities for discussion, interest or intrigue.

However, there is now an increasing amount of research on people who take their fandom further than casual interest.

‘Celebrity worship’ is when someone spends a great deal of time thinking about a certain celebrity. Although not necessarily pathological, this level of intense interest has been correlated with a number of psychological disadvantages.

One finding is that people who worship celebrities for ‘intense-personal’ reasons (rather than just for the entertainment value) are likely to score badly on measures of cognitive flexibility – the ability to change strategy and switch ideas when problem solving.

It is unlikely that interest in Jessica Simpson affects your ability to reason (although sometimes I wonder), but perhaps those with poor cognitive flexibility are more likely to fixate on celebrities as a way of tackling minor difficulties with boredom or initiating social interaction.

It seems this interest can tip over into disorder for some people, leading to stalking or perhaps even de Clerambault’s syndrome – a psychotic disorder where the affected person has a delusion that the celebrity is in love with them.

The article is written by Drs David Giles and John Maltby, both of whom have conducted extensive research into ‘parasocial’ relationships with celebrities.

Although fascinating in itself, especially as we live in an increasingly celebrity-dominated media, this research has obvious implications understanding the psychology of obsession, stalking and related criminal behaviour.

pdf of article ‘Praying at the altar of the stars’.

One Comment

  1. Posted September 19, 2006 at 12:49 am | Permalink

    The idea that interest in celebrities could cause permanent damage to ones psychological state is a very interesting topic of discussion. Celebrity gossip and news was once thought of as a casual form of entertainment but recent research has shown that this obsession can severely affect ones psyche. I find it very interesting that celebrity news actually can change ones ability to reason in an efficient manner. This detrimental effect on ones reasoning skills may account for how people become celebrity stalkers and justify their obsessions with stars. I enjoyed how your posting has addressed the problems celebrity obsession can have on people’s health. The psychological effect that celebrity worship can have on consumers seems to be a growing area for concern. The more research that is conducted on the inner working of those who are “star struck” (as you put it) I believe will lead to a better understanding of how to prevent people from becoming too interested in celebrities and their everyday lives.


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