A / AS Level Psychology - 3 - The Psychology of Celebrity

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3. The Psychology of Celebrity The Syllabus: The topics which must be covered Media Psychology PY4 - See Appendix for issues and debates in Psychology Media influences on social  Explanations of media influences on pro- and antibehaviour social behaviour  The positive and negative effects of computers and video games on behaviour Media and Persuasion  The application of Hovland-Yale and Elaboration Likelihood Models in explaining the persuasive effects of media  Explanations for the persuasiveness of television advertising The psychology of  The attraction of ‘celebrity’, including social ‘Celebrity’ psychological and evolutionary explanations  Research into intense fandom, including, celebrity worship and celebrity stalking

The attraction of Celebrity, including Social Psychological and Evolutionary Explanations

What is a Celebrity?

Holt & Lewis (2009): A modern phenomenon meaning, ‘Well known’ linked with the popularity of Reality TV shows such as

In 2008 Simon Cowell was named as the most popular person in the world, followed by God and the Queen.


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3. The Psychology of Celebrity The Attraction of Celebrity According to Holt and Lewis (2009) society seems to be obsessed with the multi-million pound celebrity industry: Magazines devoted to celebrities; television programmes such as the X-Factor and Britain’s Got Talent. The adoration of celebrities, as idols or role models, is a normal part of identity-development in childhood and adolescence (Giles & Maltby, 2004). However, this parasocial can be an abnormal phenomenon whereby individuals become virtually obsessed with one or more celebrities. An addiction develops, leading to more extreme (and perhaps delusional) behaviours to sustain the individual’s satisfaction with the parasocial relationship.

Social Psychology Explanations Parasocial relationship: an entirely one-sided relationship between two people in which one person feels strongly attached emotionally to the other person, who is typically completely unaware of the existence of the first person. The majority of relationships between fans and celebrities are parasocial ones, where the fan possesses a lot of knowledge about the celebrity. Eyal and Cohen (2006) found that the break up distress reported by viewers of the last ever episode of Friends reflected the extent of their parasocial relationship with the show’s characters. There were emotional scenes when the last broadcast was shown in Times Square, New York. There is convincing evidence that parasocial relationships resemble real ones, and that they fulfil the needs fulfilled by real relationships. Evidence: What kinds of people are most likely to seek parasocial relationships? It is argued that those most attracted to celebrities are shy and lonely. Eyal and Cohen found that lonely participants experienced more distress than non-lonely ones after the last episode of Friends. An important factor influencing attraction to celebrities is age. Giles (2000) found teenagers and young adults engage in celebrity worship. In a study by Giles and Maltby (2004) of British adolescents aged between 11 and l6, those with intense personal interest in a celebrity reported low levels of security and closeness to others and low attachment to parents. Giles and Maltby said celebrities provide adolescents with a secondary group of psuedo-friends during a time of increasing independence from parents. An important factor in determining the intensity of an individual’s parasocial relationship is his or her attachment style. Using Ainsworth’s Strange Situation, three major types of attachment were found. Secure, avoidant or resistant ambivalent. It was found that students having ambivalent attachment were likely to form parasocial relationships; those having avoidant attachment least likely to; and the secure ones in the middle.


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3. The Psychology of Celebrity Explanation of the findings: Individuals with a resistant or ambivalent attachment style are often very emotional but have negative views about themselves. Intense attraction to a celebrity allows them to express their emotions without fear of rejection. Evaluation: Considerable support that individuals, who worship a celebrity, often have a parasocial relationship with that celebrity. A limitation of the social psychological approach is that there is a danger of over simplifying matters. There is no single answer to, “what types of people engage in parasocial relationships”  Other comments: Give the Psychodynamic Approach: Childhood behaviour crucial to explaining how we behave as adults: 5 psychosexual stages: oral, anal, phallic, latency, genitals. Adult personality influenced by these stages.

Evolutionary Explanations Many millions of people are intensely attracted to glamorous celebrities of the opposite sex. This suggests a major reason for celebrity worship is they are perceived as being desirable as sexual and / or romantic partners. Men and women differ in parental investment. In humans the parental investment of women is much greater than that of men. Females can only bear a limited number of children and they invest heavily in each one during 9 months of pregnancy and for several years after. Women should therefore prefer men who have good resources and are willing to be committed to them over a long period of time. In terms of celebrity worship females would be attracted to male celebrities who command high levels of resources (money) and are successful, which celebrities usually are. By contrast, men can maximise their reproductive potential by having sex with numerous females. This should lead them to seek young, attractive fertile women. Male fans are free to select female celebrities who are very young and beautiful, and females free to select male celebrities who are incredibly wealthy and successful. As the reality is that we may not attract the people we would like, it is fairly easy to select a celebrity who has the attributes that are desired. Evidence: The evolutionary theory is consistent with the view that females are attracted to male celebrities because they are successful with considerable resources. According to the theory men focus mostly on external physical features when assessing the sexual attractiveness of women. In “Lonely hearts” advertisements the differences predicted by evolutionary theory are typically found. Women who described themselves as physically attractive in their advertisements made higher demands on the type of man they wanted, than women not focussing on physical attractiveness. Men offering good resources made higher demands on the type of woman they wanted than men not offering good resources. Based on the evolutionary hypothesis, we might expect that celebrity worship would generally involve fans selecting a very sexually attractive celebrity of the opposite sex. McCutcheon (2002) carried out a study on young adults, average age of 20. Only 61% of female participants selected a male in a glamorous profession as their favourite celebrity. Only 24% of male


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3. The Psychology of Celebrity participants chose a female in a glamorous profession. Presumably people’s favourite celebrities are often selected because of their specific skills (singing, acting) rather than their attractiveness. Evaluation:  The evolutionary approach offers interesting insights. The fact that fans can choose who they want without constraints means we can see their genuine preferences. The evidence is consistent with the theory.  However, the assumption that our mate preferences reflect our motivation to ensure the survival of our genes is questionable.  The birth rate in Europe has been going down for many years. (In Spain and Italy the population is starting to decrease). Such changes are difficult to explain.  It does not explain why a person is strongly attracted to one celebrity but not to numerous others equally attractive. Millions of people have not strong attraction at all.  Much of evolutionary psychology is guesswork as we do not know which behaviours existed in the past.  Evolutionary theory says that behaviours which are adaptive increase our survival. Celebrity worship has no benefits or advantages as there is no actual physical relationship between two people. It is difficult to see how evolutionary theory can even be suggested as a possible explanation. Even though the theory is reductionist, a better explanation is cognitive sociocultural, as the ‘relationship’ is totally delusional based on lack of meaningful social relationships. What is missing? Consider other approaches.

Research into Intense Fandom: Celebrity Worship and Celebrity Stalking



Celebrity Worship is at the extreme end of the continuum and is characterised by a preoccupation with celebrity that affects daily life and could be described as obsessional.

Celebrity Worship

Outline and evaluate findings of research into intense fandom. June 2011

Much research has been conducted about who engages in celebrity worship and what drives the compulsion. Celebrity worship for purely entertainment purposes likely reflects an extraverted personality and is most likely a healthy past- time for most people. This type of celebrity worship involves harmless behaviours such as reading and learning about a celebrity. Intense personal attitudes towards celebrities, however, reflect traits of neuroticism. The most extreme descriptions of celebrity worship exhibit borderline pathological behaviour and traits of psychoticism.


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3. The Psychology of Celebrity This type of celebrity worship may involve empathy with a celebrity’s failures and successes, obsessions with the details of a celebrity’s life, and over-identification with the celebrity. One study of 372 participants examined celebrity worship, personality, coping style, general health, stress, positive and negative affect, and life satisfaction. 

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The researchers concluded that celebrity worship is associated with poorer mental health, illustrated by characteristics of neuroticism and disengagement. This is a generalisation based on questionnaires which is self-report and open to social desirability. Some studies have pointed out that people with poor mental health are more prone to extreme celebrity worship, while others conclude that depression, anxiety, and decreased self-esteem develop from unhealthy celebrity worship Several studies have also demonstrated a connection between celebrity worship and drug and alcohol use, smoking, and eating disorders. Yet another study concluded that celebrity worship involves a psychological model based on absorption, which leads to delusions of actual relationships with celebrities, and addiction, which leads to a progressively stronger need to feel connected with the celebrity.

Celebrity worship is not all bad. Idolising or admiring someone for their accomplishments, and then pushing yourself to excel in the same way are positive elements. But, are we worshipping celebrities for the sake of addiction, which is a pathology. But, is celebrity worship an addiction which is a pathology, or a strong need to feel connected with the celebrity?

Celebrity Attitude Scale: Celebrity Attitude Scale (CAS) was created by psychologists Lynn McCutcheon, Rense Lange, and James Houran in the USA and UK to rate the problems related to celebrity worship.  

This was a 34 item scales administered to 262 persons living in central Florida. McCutcheon et al. suggested that celebrity worship comprised one dimension in which lower scores on the scale involved individualistic behaviour such as watching, listening to, reading and learning about celebrities whilst the higher levels of worship are characterised by empathy, over-identification, and obsession with the celebrity. But why are we drawn to celebrities in the first place? It certainly seems that most people in the Western world are on first-name terms with Jen, not to mention Kylie, Russel, Nicole, Britney and Brangelina. On-screen, they play out our collective dreams about love, hate, good and evil. Off-screen they do it even better.

Why the fascination? Why do we care about the personal lives of people we have never met?

One is that we're bored, and living through movie stars is a way of alleviating that boredom


Social psychologists agree that the reasons are complex.

Another is that we're searching for identity, the evidence for which is that teenagers usually score highest on the CAS

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3. The Psychology of Celebrity Could be due to social fragmentation: as family and community values are lessened by the cult of individualism and an omnipresent media, perhaps fantasy relationships are becoming easier to form than real ones. John Maltby, a lecturer in psychology at Britain's University of Leicester, has found that people who spend more time fantasising generally score highly on the CAS. Lynn McCutcheon, associate professor of psychology at DeVry University in Illinois and one of Maltby's collaborators, relates the story of an actor who for several years played the role of a physician in a U.S. television series. "People would stop him on the street and ask for medical advice, as if they couldn't separate the role from the person." Evaluation:  CAS is ethnocentric (US study) – question of generalisation. But is celebrity worhsip so unusual? If a person is playing a role, you associate them with the role.  Social roles as demonstrated by Zimbardo are powerful.  Also some actors almost live on the screen and love being recognised: they are also benefitting from and playing up to “the worship”. They often appear on chat shows when they are not playing roles in order to always be in the public eye. This is relevant to the findings by Maltby below:  Later research among a large U.K. sample have suggested there are three different aspects to celebrity worship;  Maltby, and the psychologists examined the Celebrity Attitude Scale using 1732 United Kingdom participants (781 males, 942 females) aged between 14 and 62 years.

He found the following three dimensions to celebrity worship: Entertainment-social



This dimension comprises attitudes that fans are attracted to a favourite celebrity because of their perceived ability to entertain and become a social focus such as “I love to talk with others who admire my favourite celebrity” and “I like watching and hearing about my favourite celebrity when I am with a large group of people”.

The intense-personal aspect of celebrity worship reflects intensive and compulsive feelings about the celebrity, like the obsessional tendencies of fans; for example “I share with my favourite celebrity a special bond that cannot be described in words” and “When something bad happens to my favourite celebrity I feel like it happened to me’”.

This dimension is typified by uncontrollable behaviours and fantasies regarding scenarios involving their celebrities, such as “I have frequent thoughts about my favourite celebrity, even when I don’t want to” and “my favourite celebrity would immediately come to my rescue if I needed help”.

Maltby et al (2002 suggests that celebrity worship is associated with poor body image. A survey of229 adolescents, 183 university students, 289 adults using the CAS scale found a strong association between intense personal celebrity worship and body image, but only in female adolescents. The relationship seems to disappear in early adulthood.


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3. The Psychology of Celebrity This supports previous research suggesting that the most important psychological influence of media during adolescence is in the development of parasocial relationships. Parasocial relationships can develop into obsessional interest in people in the media. McCutcheon, et al (2002) named it ‘‘absorption–addiction’’ model to explain such cases of celebrity worship. According to this model, an undeveloped identity structure in some individuals helps to develop psychological involvement with a celebrity in an attempt to establish an identity and a sense of fulfilment. Absorption has addictive qualities so individuals go to further and further lengths to maintain a sense of fulfilment via the parasocial relationship. They indulge in extreme delusional behaviour. Evidence to support this was found by Houran, et al (2005) who argued that the absorption and addiction shown by celebrity worshippers involve an excessive identification with their favourite celebrity. This implies that they do not see clear boundaries between themselves and other people. Individuals high on the borderline-pathological celebrity worship had weak boundaries at the interpersonal level.

Evaluation  Celebrity worship research has established (a) three kinds of worship; (b) each associated with a personality type (c) plus the absorption-addiction model; all explain how the individual develops the compulsive addictive behaviour.  However the evidence is correlational therefore we cannot infer causality. For example, it could be the intenseness of involvement with the celebrity which might alter someone’s personality, rather than their personality which causes them to worship a celebrity.  People may also be attracted to celebrities not because of their celebrity status but because of their outstanding abilities, e.g. Stephen Hawkins, David Attenborough.

Celebrity Stalking Stalking is obsessive behaviour focused on an individual which is unwanted and creates fear in the victim. Most victims of stalking are not celebrities.

How common is stalking?

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Spitzberg and Cupach (2007) reviewed findings from 175 samples. 25% had experienced stalking, with females (28%) more likely to be victims than males 11%). On average stalking lasts 22 months. In 80% of cases, the pursuer and the victim knew each other; In 50% of the cases, pursuer and victim had a romantic involvement.


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3. The Psychology of Celebrity Therefore the media reporting that all stalkers are psychopathic is not accurate. A well publicised case was John Hinckley a lonely young man who became infatuated with Jodie Foster. He stalked her while she was at Yale University, sent her love letters and talked to her on the phone. Two days before he tried to assassinate President Ronald Reagan, he wrote a letter to Jodie Foster asking “Don’t you like me just a little bit?” Then on 30 March 1981 he fired a gun at Ronald Reagan damaging his left lung. Two weeks later he asked if the incident was on TV and “Am I somebody?” He was found not guilty due to insanity. As research has shown, stalkers vary in terms of their motives for stalking. Hinckley wanted to be famous. However he became famous for the wrong reasons.

What makes a stalker?

Attachment theory of stalking Based on Bowlby’s theory of the internal working model, Bartholomew (1990) suggested 4 types of adult attachment: SECURE PREOCCUPIED DISMISSING FEARFUL

Kienlen (1998) – Stalking and Insecure Attachment Types: PREOCCUPIED STALKER

Poor self image; constantly seeking approval from others’ Stalking results from real or imagined rejection and is an attempt to restore a positive sense of self.


Poor self image, but sees others as unsupportive and unreliable. Stalking is a result wanting someone to boost self image but rejecting them because of a lack of trust. Stalking is a way of boosting self image. Is distant and aloof from others in order to maintain an inflated self image. When relationships fail this person may stalk out of revenge.


Support for Attachment Theory of Stalking • •

Kienlen et al (1997) – studied records of 25 stalkers and found disrupted childhood attachment and loss of an important relationship in the 6 months prior to stalking Lewis et al (2001) found that stalkers have traits typical of insecure attachment such as ambivalent attitudes to those they have relationships with and emotional instability.


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3. The Psychology of Celebrity •

McCutcheon et al (2006) 266 university students, measured correlations between insecure attachment style and attachment to celebrities and tendency to condone celebrity stalking. Found that insecure attachment types more likely to condone celebrity stalking and are more likely to form parasocial relationships. This does not necessarily mean that they will.

Evaluations:  Attachment theory has many problems. Stalking may not be the result of childhood deficits; in some respects it could be a cognitive decision to engage with a famous person because they seem so much larger than life.  Research is correlational. Researchers need to apply theory to all aspects of human behaviour and the evolutionary theory could also be applicable. We have very little idea of how people behaved in the past and the theory is used to explain group behaviour such as was. Stalking could be considered an example of wanting to have relationships with an attractive person, or in the case of Catherine Zeta-Jones, the stalker was infatuated with Michael Douglas!  Due to media over-coverage there is the idea that stalking is widespread, but this is debatable.

Relational Goal Pursuit Theory of Stalking proposed by Spitzberg and Cupach (2007) states that:    

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People’s goals are organised in a hierarchical fashion. Lower-order goals are more easily discarded or replaced, but higher-order goals are more ingrained. Goal linking occurs when an individual perceives that particular lower-order goals are essential for achieving higher-order goals. Obsessive relationship pursuers link their lower-order goal of possessing a particular relationship with higher-order goals such as life happiness and self-worth. Because of this linking, obsessive pursuers come to believe that their happiness and selfworth are based on successful attainment of the particular relationship that is sought. Consequently, the relational goal takes on exaggerated importance and it is pursued in a vigorous and persistent manner, even in the face of obstacles and resistance. To the extent the relational goal is thwarted, linking promotes rumination (deep thoughts). The relational pursuer experiences the nagging, persistent, and unpleasant thoughts that derive from failing to achieve an important goal. Obsessive pursuers amplify the anticipation of sadness, distress, fear, and anguish that would attend failure to achieve the desired relationship. Given the linking of the relational goal to higher-order goals, goal abandonment is unlikely. Instead, constant thinking about the relationship motivates persistence and tenacity in striving for the desired goal.

Evaluation Strengths: There are findings that have supported relational goal pursuit theory. Dutton-Green (2004) found that those who engaged in the most pursuit were those who experienced the most rumination, anger and jealousy. There is convincing evidence that motives of stalkers vary considerably. There is understanding of the type of personality possessed by many stalkers such as low agreeableness and neuroticism. Stalking is not a violent crime carried out by mentally ill people. Spitzberg and Cupach (2007) say most stalking represents a


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3. The Psychology of Celebrity distorted version of courtship and romantic relationship failure, which is a powerful insight into many cases of stalking. The theory identifies some of the processes involved, e.g. when thwarted stalkers engage in rumination and emotional flooding which results in increased motivation to stalk. Weaknesses: Evidence tends to be correlational, therefore causality cannot be inferred. The motives of stalkers are very diverse therefore it is difficult to develop a general theory to account for most cases of stalking. Internet sites to look at: http://www.prisonplanet.com/240903celebrityworship.html: Celebrity Worship Syndrome: Is America’s Obsession with Stardom Becoming Unhealthy? Celebrity Stalkers: In the world of celebrity, there are fans, and then there are stalkers. Unfortunately, in the glitzy and glamorous world of Hollywood, the line between reality and fantasy blurs for those on the outside looking in, and bad things happen. Here's a look at some of the more recent, and famous, cases of celebrity stalking.



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3. The Psychology of Celebrity APPENDIX Issues and Debates in Psychology  The A2 course requires that you have knowledge of ‘issues and debates’ in psychology that allows you to go beyond the analysis and commentary that you were introduced to at AS level.  Not every issue or debate is relevant to all psychological topics, so in the exam, you will need to selectively apply your understanding of these to those topics you have studied during the year.  It is important that you contextualise and elaborate your point – you won’t get marks for saying a certain theory is reductionist or deterministic without explaining why. What is an Issue? An ‘issue’ in psychology refers to a source of conflict that if ignored could undermine the value of our theories and research. Key issues that are a concern for psychologists are:  Gender bias: This form of bias in psychological theories and studies is not the same as gender differences. In committing this form of biasness there are a range of consequences including:  Scientifically misleading  Upholding stereotypical assumptions  Validating sex discrimination  Avoiding gender bias does not mean pretending that men and women are the same  Cultural bias  Psychology is predominantly a white, Euro-American enterprise  In some texts, >90% of studies have US Participants  Samples predominantly white middle class  Ethical challenges in both human and non-human participant research

What is a Debate?  You can think of a ‘debate’ in psychology as being an academic argument that lasts over many years and often appears to have no resolution.  However, the important thing about a ‘debate’ on a particular topic is that it enables us to gain a better understanding of any other potential factors involved.  Today, many psychologists prefer to take an ‘interactionist’ approach to explain an aspect of behaviour rather than remaining on one side of a debate. Three debates that have a long history within philosophy and psychology are:  Free will versus determinism  Reductionism  Nature versus nurture

How to evaluate (and compare/contrast) an approach The Debates Nature/nurture AAFoster

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3. The Psychology of Celebrity   

Does the approach explain behaviour through the role of the environment (nurture) or the role of innate factors (nature)? Can it be reductionist in its approach to human behaviour? If it focuses too much on nature, does it neglect any nurture explanations (or vice versa)? Or does it take a more holistic approach by taking into account both nature and nurture explanations and the interaction between them?

Determinism/freewill   

Does the approach state that we are free to choose our behaviour (freewill) or are we controlled by internal or external factors beyond our control (determinism). Or does the approach use a combination of the two? If an approach is deterministic, it is scientific as it assumes all behaviour is a product of cause and effect. Freewill conversely then can be seen to be unscientific and difficult to prove. However, a deterministic approach would imply that people have no control over their behaviour; can you completely hold someone responsible for their actions? Free will on the other hand assumes that people are empowered to shape their own lives.

Reductionism/holism   

Does the approach try to break down complex behaviour into more simple components (reductionist) or does it view behaviour as a complex system, which cannot be understood by examining the component parts (holistic)? Reductionist explanations are very scientific, and the principle of reductionism underlines nearly all psychological research. Holistic theories on the other hand are much less scientific and it can be difficult to investigate the interaction of different components of a whole A reductionist approach however can oversimplify complex behaviour. Reductionist explanations often ignore the interaction of phenomena, and so can be limited in terms of its ability to explain. However, holistic explanations take into account these complex interactions; the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Ideographic/nomothetic 

Does the methodology of the approach focus on the study of individuals as a way to provide unique insights into human behaviour (ideographic) or does it study large groups of people with the aim of developing general laws and theories that can be generalised to all people (nomothetic)? The nomothetic approach is in line with scientific principles, as it means that rules can be generated that allow us to compare between groups of people, as well as making testable predictions. The ideographic approach conversely does not produce results that can be generalised to all people, which limits its usefulness. The ideographic approach however allows for a greater understanding of the individual, treating each person as a distinct individual. The nomothetic approach does not take into account the uniqueness of each person, meaning that it can only give a superficial understanding of an individual.

The scientific nature of the approach

 Does the approach meet the following scientific criteria? o It tests assumptions by collecting data through direct observations or experiments (empirical data) o The theory is based upon evidence, and will change in the light of conflicting evidence


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3. The Psychology of Celebrity o It makes refutable predictions about human behaviour that can be investigated and falsified o It explains human behaviour in a parsimonious way (providing the greatest possible explanation in the simplest way) o It is objective and systematic in the way that research is carried out, meaning experiments can be repeated

Research methodology

 Does the approach use scientific methodology? (see above)  Does it collect qualitative or quantitative data? Qualitative data is in depth rich data but is open to interpretation. Quantitative data gathers data in a numerical form and can be used to generalise, but it can lack validity.  Are animals used in studies? Can we generalise from animals to humans?  Is the sample of participants used in the research representative of all humans? Is there a gender/culture/historical bias?  Does the research methodology reflect real life (ecological validity)?

Practical/ therapeutic applications  

Has the approach led to practical real world applications? How beneficial have these applications been? Has the approach been applied in a therapy? If so, what does research suggest about the effectiveness of this therapy? Are there any drawbacks to this therapy?

Benefit to psychology/society    

How has the approach benefited psychology? Did the approach change the way we think about human behaviour? What is the current status of the approach? Is it still respected, or has it been overturned by another approach? Does the approach have historical significance?

Anything else     

Does the approach explain individual differences between people? Does the approach focus on the “here and now” or is it too focused on past events in a person’s life? (retrospective) Does the theory fully reflect the complexity of human behaviour? Does the approach “fill the gaps” of another approach? Anything else!


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