The 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’.