15 Parasocial Relationships Examples

15 Parasocial Relationships ExamplesReviewed by Chris Drew (PhD)

This article was peer-reviewed and edited by Chris Drew (PhD). The review process on Helpful Professor involves having a PhD level expert fact check, edit, and contribute to articles. Reviewers ensure all content reflects expert academic consensus and is backed up with reference to academic studies. Dr. Drew has published over 20 academic articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education and holds a PhD in Education from ACU.

parasocial relationship examples and definition

A parasocial relationship is a unidirectional, imaginary relationship between a media user and a media personality. Fans imagine they have a close connection to the personality even though the personality has never met them.

This connection is often fostered through exposure to their persona, image, and life events via media, such as television, social media, or other forms of entertainment.

This imagined relationship can be directed towards famous actors, celebrities, fictional characters, animated characters, and more recently, social media influencers.

Parasocial relationships are generally perceived to be harmful because they are unrealistic and can lead to obsessiveness and loss of critical thinking skills (see: harms section at the end of this article).

Parasocial Relationship Definition

The term parasocial relationship was first used by Horton and Wohl (1956).

In their 1956 paper, Horton and Wohl remark on the profound impact that mass media has on viewers:

“One of the striking characteristics of the new mass media – radio, television, and the movies – is that they give the illusion of face-to-face relationship with the performer.”

The audience begins to not just play the role of observers of action, but become:

“…subtly insinuated into the programme’s action and internal social relationships” (p. 215).

The relationship may be formed through highly emotive media such as songs or long-form in-depth content such as podcasts and YouTube videos.

Parasocial Relationships Examples

  • Joe Rogan – Many fans of the Joe Rogan Podcast arguably have a strong parasocial relationship with Joe Rogan. People purchase his products, hang onto his every word, and deeply respect what he says.
  • The Royal Family – One of the most longstanding parasocial relationship examples is the connection between royal watchers and the royal family (particularly the late Queen Elizabeth II). Fans adore the Royal Family as an ideal family that encompasses the British spirit. As a result, they command large crowds and public events.
  • Mr Beast – Fans of Mr Beast feel a close connection with him as a YouTuber. He often interacts with his audience and is known for his charitable donations and fun challenges on his channel. This has led to many ‘superfans’ who feel like they know him personally and are invested in his content.
  • PewDiePie – Before Mr Beast, PewDiePie was the most successful YouTuber of all time due to his ability to connect with his audience. In his YouTube videos, he had a tone that welcomed people into his personal life. As a result of this, his (often controversial) opinions were taken very seriously by his audience.
  • Technoblade – The third YouTuber on this list, Technoblade’s fans developed an extremely strong parasocial relationship with him after learning of his terminal cancer diagnosis. This led to very emotional videos that built a caring community around him in his final months.
  • Elon Musk – Fans of Elon Musk feel a deep connection with him due to his huge business success across several businesses that are household names. One thing that draws people to him is his unconventional personality and vision for the future. Many people are invested in his companies precisely because of their parasocial relationship that they have with him.
  • The Beatles – Well before social media, The Beatles had obsessive fans who knew the ins and outs of the lives of each member to an almost creepy degree! The band members were swamped with adoring fans at airports and outside their hotels, which led them to needing security wherever they went.
  • Warren Buffet – Fans of Warren Buffet feel a close connection with him because of his extremely popular investment strategy and advice. Many people look up to him as a role model and follow his investment strategies closely.
  • Oprah Winfrey – Through the 1990s and 2000s, fans of Oprah Winfrey felt an extremely strong connection with her due to her strong emotional connection with women across America. She has shared intimate details about her life on her talk show and in her books which made people feel connected to her and her story.
  • Kim Kardashian – Fans of Kim Kardashian feel a close connection with her and her family through the reality TV show “Keeping Up With The Kardashians”, as they got an intimate inside look at her lifestyle.
  • Taylor Swift – Fans of Taylor Swift feel a close emotional bond with her music and her personal life, as she shares details about her relationships and personal struggles in her songs and interviews.
  • Ariana Grande – Ariana Grande is another character who commands an extremely strong following from young women who deeply admire her. They feel a strong connection with her music and her personal style. Her mix of vulnerability and coolness make her a strong modern-day influencer.
  • Josh and Chuck (Stuff you Should Know) – Twoof the longest-standing podcasters, Josh and Chuck from Stuff you Should Know have managed to develop an extremely strong relationship with their fans. This is likely because of the rapport between the two presenters as well as the sheer amount of time they spend in the ears of their listeners.
  • Sam and Shaan (My First Million) – Like Josh and Chuck, Sam and Shaan are breakout podcasting stars on a business podcast that rose to prominence in 2022. Since, they’ve managed to sell out audience halls wherever they go because their adoring fans want so badly to see them in person.
  • Emma Chamberlain – The famed vlogger on YouTube had such an adoring and demanding fan base that she ended up taking several hiatuses from YouTube to decompress. Nevertheless, her fans continue to buy her branded coffee and listen to her on podcasts.

Case Studies and Research Basis

1. The Celebrity Worship Scale (McCutcheon et al., 2002)

Psychologists have studied celebrity status from several angles, from identifying characteristics of prominent individuals that distinguish them from the general population to identifying the disadvantages of celebrity status.

The other side of this coin tells us that

“…social dramas surrounding celebrities’ reported activities and life-events profoundly affect some people, evoking responses ranging from mildly unusual to the profoundly pathological” (McCutcheon et al., 2002, pp. 68-69).

To study any psychological construct, it is essential to measure it in some way.

Therefore, McCutcheon et al. developed a questionnaire that defines celebrity worship as existing on a continuum. At one end exists low worship, such as watching and reading about a celebrity on a regular basis.

On the other end exists psychological absorption and addiction. This end of the continuum involves an obsession with details of a celebrity’s life and a progressively stronger need to feel connected.

As social media demonstrates, PSRs are not going away anytime soon. The CWS is a vital tool to develop a better understanding of this growing phenomenon.

2. Parasocial Relationships And Perceived Susceptibility To Disease (Walter et al., 2022)

Not all aspects of parasocial relationships (PSRs) are destructive. In addition to fulfilling some personal voids in an individual’s life, there may also be benefits to physical health.

For instance, having a PSR with someone that has contracted a contagious disease may increase the likelihood of that individual engaging in health-compliant preventative measures.

Walter et al. (2022) investigated this possibility. More specifically, the researchers examined if having a PSR with a celebrity that contracted a flu-like illness would increase perceived susceptibility.

The researchers conducted a national survey in the U. S. consisting of nearly 500 participants.

The results revealed “…that having a parasocial friend contract [the illness], is related to increased perceived susceptibility, especially for those for whom it would otherwise seem abstract and vague” (p. 601).

Although many people believe they are unlikely to contract a disease, the possibility becomes more real when a PSR is infected. As the researchers explain, when a PSR contracts a disease, it attenuates the optimism bias that many people possess.

3. Parasocial Relationships in Collectivist Societies (Dinkha et al., 2015)

Most research on parasocial relationships (PSRs) has been conducted in individualistic Western cultures. There are far fewer studies on how a collectivist culture affects PSRs.

Dinkha et al. (2015) hypothesized that a collectivist culture may lead to stronger PSRs, stating:

“…with the collectivist nature of the society often hindering the expression of the authentic self, so media may provide an outlet of expression of the true self by allowing many to bond with media characters as substitute” (p. 113).

The researchers collected survey data from 259 undergraduate students at a private English-language university in Kuwait. Approximately 40% of participants were males and 60% were females.

The surveys asked about the nature of respondents’ attachment to their favorite TV personality, including:

“My favorite TV star makes me feel comfortable, as if I am with a friend.”
“I sometimes make remarks to my favorite TV star when he or she makes a mistake.”

The authors conclude that “…Kuwaitis and those living in Kuwait may be turning to relatively stable TV characters as a means of satisfying their unrealistic and often unmet relational needs” (p. 116).

4. Parasocial Relationships And YouTube Addiction (Bérail & Bungener, 2022)

Every day, over a billion hours of video are watched on YouTube, with over 2 billion viewers logged-in each month (YouTube, 2020).

Given these numbers alone it is clear that the platform offers individuals an easily accessed opportunity to form a variety of PSRs with multiple YouTube figures.

Bérail and Bungener (2022) analyzed data from 370 YouTube viewers in France that named 72 different YouTube figures as their favorites.

Characteristics of the viewers were assessed via an online survey, and included dimensions regarding: YouTube addiction, PSR intensity, social anxiety, attachment style, and loneliness.

Several interesting findings were reported:

“…viewer social anxiety was positively associated with the desire to engage in parasocial processes…” (p. 191).
“…individuals with high avoidant attachment scores tend to report less intense feelings of attraction toward their favorite YouTuber…” (p. 191).

“…socially anxious individuals develop more intense PSR to satisfy their need to belong by engaging in parasocial processes…” (p. 191).

Parasocial Relationship Benefits and Harms

BenefitsHarms
Provides a sense of companionship and connection with media personalities who are positive role models for youths during a vulnerable time of life.Can lead to feelings of loneliness or social isolation if the individual invests more time and energy into the parasocial relationship than their real-life relationships
Can provide comfort and escape from real-life problems or stressors, especially for young people struggling socially at school.Can lead to unrealistic expectations or beliefs about the media personality or fictional character, and can result in disappointment or disillusionment when the personality does not reciprocate.
This relationship inspire and motivate individuals to pursue personal goals or passions, especially if they aspire to be like the role model or if the role model gives sound advice to their fans.Can lead to a loss of personal identity or individuality, as the individual may adopt the beliefs, attitudes, or behaviors of the media personality or fictional character unquestioningly.
Can be a source of entertainment and enjoyment, especially if the fan realizes that the relationship is ‘just for fun’ and does not let it affect their personality or decision-making skills.Can become obsessive or compulsive, and interfere with daily functioning or responsibilities.
Can foster a sense of community and belonging among individuals who share similar interests or fandoms, leading to real-life friendships among fan groups on forums such as reddit.Can contribute to the objectification and commodification of media personalities or fictional characters, which may cause harm to the personality themselves.
Can be a source of inspiration for creativity, such as fanfiction, fan art, or cosplay.Can lead to boundary violations or inappropriate behavior and may even lead to real-life harm to the personalities.

Conclusion

A parasocial relationships (PSR) is a one-sided emotional connection with figures in the media. Researchers began studying PSRs when television viewing became increasingly popular back in the 1950s.

Viewers can form an imaginary bond with a celebrity or media figure that can vary from simple admiration to becoming an intense obsession.

Research has revealed that characteristics of viewers, particularly those that suffer from social anxiety or need to fill a psychological void, are more prone to form a PSR.

Research has also identified several benefits to a PSR. For example, during times of a pandemic, having a PSR with an individual that contracts the disease can alter their followers’ perceptions of susceptibility. This may encourage them to engage in preventive behaviors.

Other benefits include possibly reducing prejudice, filling emotional needs brought about by social isolation, or encouraging heathy habits such as exercising and dieting.

References

Bérail, P., & Bungener, C. (2022). Parasocial relationships and YouTube addiction: The role of viewer and YouTuber video characteristics. Psychology of Language and Communication, 26, 169-206. https://doi.org/10.2478/plc-2022-0009

Klimmt, C., Hartmann, T., & Schramm, H. (2006). Parasocial interactions and relationships. In J. Bryant & P. Vorderer (Eds.), Psychology of Entertainment (pp. 291–313). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.

Liebers, N., & Schramm, H. (2019). Parasocial interactions and relationships with media characters–An inventory of 60 years of researchCommunication Research Trends, 38(2), 4-31.

Horton, D., & Wohl, R. R. (1956). Mass Communication and Para-Social Interaction: Observations on Intimacy at a Distance. Psychiatry, 19(3), 215-229. https://doi.org/10.1080/00332747.1956.11023049

Dinkha, J., Mitchell, C., & Dakhli, M. (2015). Attachment Styles and Parasocial Relationships: A Collectivist Society Perspective, Construction of Social Psychology, Advances in Psychology and Psychological Trends Series, 105-121. In Science Press.

McCutcheon, L. E., Lange, R., & Houran, J. (2002). Conceptualization and measurement of celebrity worship. British Journal of Psychology 93(1), 67–87. https://doi.org/10.1348/000712602162454

Walter, N., Cohen, J., Nabi, R. L., & Saucier, C. J. (2022). Making it real: The role of parasocial relationships in enhancing perceived susceptibility and COVID-19 protective behavior. Media Psychology, 25(4), 601-618. https://doi.org/10.1080/15213269.2021.2025110

YouTube (2020). YouTube for press. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/intl/en/about/press/

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Dr. Cornell has worked in education for more than 20 years. His work has involved designing teacher certification for Trinity College in London and in-service training for state governments in the United States. He has trained kindergarten teachers in 8 countries and helped businessmen and women open baby centers and kindergartens in 3 countries.

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This article was peer-reviewed and edited by Chris Drew (PhD). The review process on Helpful Professor involves having a PhD level expert fact check, edit, and contribute to articles. Reviewers ensure all content reflects expert academic consensus and is backed up with reference to academic studies. Dr. Drew has published over 20 academic articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education and holds a PhD in Education from ACU.

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