ChapterPDF Available

Parasocial Interaction, Parasocial Relationships, and Well-Being

Tilo Hartmann
An important communication-scientific approach that offers both theoretical ideas and empirical
insights into how mediated others may affect people’s well-being deals with parasocial interac-
tion and relationships (Cohen, 2009; Dibble, Hartmann, & Rosaen, 2016; Giles, 2002; Horton
& Wohl, 1956; Tsao, 2004). This approach focuses on the way users seemingly interact with and
develop personal relationships with others that they only encounter in the media. Because a paraso-
cial interaction, in a nutshell, is about users’ illusionary feeling of being in a mutual social interaction
with another character while actually being in a one-sided non-reciprocal situation, the approach
traditionally focuses on non-interactive media like television (see, for a conceptual adaptation to
interactive media, Hartmann, 2008). A typical example of a parasocial interaction would be if a user
intuitively feels a sense of mutual awareness and attention towards the host of a TV news show who
looks into the camera to greet the audience. A typical example of a (positive) parasocial relationship
would be if users, through repeated exposure, develop a long-lasting social bond and sense of inti-
macy and proximity towards TV hosts, almost as if they were real friends. Based on a more detailed
conceptualization of parasocial phenomena, the present chapter will highlight theoretical discussions
and empirical findings from the literature that illuminate how people’s encounters with mediated
others may impact their well-being.
Conceptualization of Parasocial Phenomena and Well-Being
Since Horton and Wohl (1956) first addressed parasocial interaction and parasocial relationships, the
two concepts have represented the core of research on parasocial phenomena, i.e., on users’ social
responses to mediated others (for overviews, see Cohen, 2009; Giles, 2002; Dibble et al., 2016;
Tsao, 2004; for closely related approaches, see “media equation,” Reeves & Nass, 1996, and “social
presence” or “copresence,” e.g., Campos-Castillo & Hitlin, 2013; Schroeder, 2002). A parasocial
interaction can be understood as a “simulacrum of conversational give-and-take” (Horton & Wohl,
1956; p. 215) that takes place during a media-exposure situation between users and a media char-
acter, e.g., a TV host (Horton & Strauss, 1957). It is important to note that a parasocial interaction
is not identical to merely observing a character on a screen (Horton & Wohl, 1956, p. 215). Rather,
as the name suggests, a parasocial interaction deals with users’ immediate illusionary feeling of being
in a real social interaction with a media character, despite knowing that they are not (Hartmann &
Goldhoorn, 2011; Dibble etal., 2016; Horton & Wohl, 1956; Horton & Strauss, 1957). Despite the
fact that in a parasocial encounter communicational roles do not change because the mediated other
Tilo Hartmann
always maintains the role of the addresser and users always the role of the addressee, users nevertheless
experience the encounter as “immediate, personal, and reciprocal” (Horton & Strauss, 1957, p. 580).
From a psychological perspective, parasocial interaction is not very different from other illusion-
ary experiences, including optical illusions, in which, despite better knowledge, observers intuitively
sense something that is not objectively true. A parasocial interaction actually builds on two different
illusionary experiences (Hartmann, 2008). The first illusion is about social cognition. Users intui-
tively experience physical stimuli – pixels on a screen (or any other technology-generated physical
stimulation) – as a social being to which they, in turn, respond socially (e.g., “mind-perception,”
Epley & Waytz, 2010). Whether the represented other actually exists (like a camera-recorded TV
host or a Vlogger on YouTube) or not (like a computer-generated TV host or fictional creature) does
not seem to profoundly influence this illusionary experience and related social responses (Reeves &
Nass, 1996). Accordingly, in a parasocial interaction, users mindlessly and immediately perceive
“pixels on the screen” as a social or living being, irrespective of whether the other actually exists
or not. The second illusion that defines a parasocial interaction builds on a sense of copresence and
mutual awareness (Campos-Castillo & Hitlin, 2013). In a parasocial interaction, users intuitively feel
personally addressed by the other (although they are not, because the other addresses a mass audi-
ence), and they experience the seemingly social encounter as reciprocal (although it is not, because
it is one-sided or non-interactive). An indication of this illusionary experience is that users feel a
sense of mutual awareness, attention, and behavioral adaptation towards the other – although these
reciprocal qualities do actually not exist (Hartmann & Goldhoorn, 2011).
Parasocial relationships conceptually differ from parasocial interaction. Closely resembling ortho-
social social relationships, a parasocial relationship can be understood as any social relationship users
develop towards characters they only know from the media. Accordingly, parasocial relationships
can take various forms, reaching from extreme worshipping, to normal romantic relationships and
friendships, to more negative relationships qualified by indifference or even antipathy towards the
mediated other. The formation of parasocial relationships benefits from the often regular, reliable,
and stereotypical appearance of mediated others. For example, in contrast to potentially more unreli-
able and multi-layered real friends, users may reliably encounter their favorite TV news host, who
always plays the same communicational role, at the same time of the day. Studies suggest that para-
social relationships develop in similar ways to relationships with non-mediated others (e.g., Branch,
Wilson, & Agnew, 2013; Lakey, Cooper, Cronin, & Whitaker, 2014). For example, greater exposure
leads to more intense relationships (Bond & Calvert, 2014; Schiappa, Allen, & Gregg, 2007). Further,
knowledge about the other increases with relationship length (Rubin & McHugh, 1987). Likewise,
as in non-mediated relationships, the involuntarily break-up of parasocial relationships can be dis-
tressful (Eyal & Cohen, 2006). Accordingly, parasocial relationships with mediated others have much
in common with orthogonal relationships resulting from face-to-face encounters in real-life settings.
To avoid confusion, it is important to note that a couple of scholars have proposed a different
conceptualization of parasocial interaction and parasocial relationships in the past than the one sug-
gested here. These scholars have argued that both parasocial interaction and relationships refer to
an identical concept, namely to a (short- or long-term) social bond that users develop towards a
media character. From this perspective, both terms can be used interchangeably (e.g., Brown, 2015;
Rubin & McHugh, 1987). On an operational level, this view has resulted in the popular Parasocial
Interaction Scale (Rubin, Perse, & Powell, 1985) that, if viewed from the perspective suggested in
this chapter, despite its name, measures a positive relationship rather than users’ illusion of being in
a reciprocal interaction (Dibble etal., 2016).
In line with the conceptualization suggested in the present chapter, an increasing number of
scholars have called for parasocial interaction and relationships to be distinguished from each other
(Auter & Palmgreen, 2000; Cohen, 2009; Cummins & Cui, 2014; Dibble & Rosaen, 2011; Dibble
etal., 2016; Giles, 2002; Hartmann & Goldhoorn, 2011; Klimmt, Schramm, & Hartmann, 2006;
Parasocial Interaction and Relationships
Schramm & Hartmann, 2008; Tukachinsky, 2010). Indeed, it can be argued that parasocial inter-
action and relationships differ in many aspects. A parasocial interaction can be understood as the
illusion of being in a reciprocal social interaction (although one is not), whereas it is not necessary
to qualify the social relationships users develop towards media characters as illusionary (users may be
fully aware of their one-sided nature). Furthermore, a parasocial interaction is initiated by and, thus,
requires the presence of a mediated other, whereas a parasocial relationship can be experienced and
also continues to exist even if the mediated other is not present. Furthermore, a parasocial interac-
tion is neither inherently positive nor negative and it can be equally felt towards mediated others one
likes or dislikes. In contrast, parasocial relationships can be defined and distinguished by their valence
(e.g., friendship versus antipathy). A parasocial interaction and a parasocial relationship are triggered
by different factors – e.g., a parasocial interaction by forms of addressing like eye-gazing, a positive
parasocial relationship by the mediated other displaying attractive traits or behavior that instigate
liking. Furthermore, encounters triggering parasocial interaction may contribute to parasocial rela-
tionships, but intense parasocial relationships can be formed without any parasocial interaction ever
taking place. A typical and common example is if users develop parasocial relationships after only
observing rather than “seemingly interacting with” characters (Horton & Strauss, 1957), e.g., as in
most movies, TV series, or fictional formats in which characters do not “break the fourth wall.”
Clearly, parasocial interaction and relationships can be meaningfully distinguished.
Next to the two classic concepts, parasocial interaction and parasocial relationships, a third impor-
tant parasocial phenomenon is parasocial processing (Schramm & Hartmann, 2008; Klimmt et al.,
2006), which refers to users’ general cognitive, affective, and behavioral involvement with a media
character during an exposure situation. The concept differs from parasocial interaction as an illusion
of conversational give-and-take, because it:
captures all kinds of users’ responses towards personae, regardless of whether users have
or do not have the feeling that the personae adjust their behavior towards their presence.
Thus, parasocial processes may still occur if users do not feel like being part of a reciprocal
encounter. (Schramm & Hartmann, 2008, p. 387)
In addition and in contrast to parasocial interaction, as Schramm and Hartmann further explicate,
parasocial processing is best understood as a “meta-concept that is composed of some narrower con-
cepts, such as: attention, comprehension, knowledge activation, evaluation, social comparison,
sympathy, empathy, emotional contagion, or physical activity” (p. 387). Accordingly, parasocial
processing captures all (social) responses of users that set in as soon as they perceive a mediated other,
even if they just observe the other but do not feel observed by the other.
Although related research is relatively scarce, parasocial phenomena may be linked to well-being
in multiple ways (e.g., see a related discussion in the context of children’s well-being, Calvert &
Richards, 2014). Of all potential links that may be discussed, the present chapter focuses on the link
between parasocial phenomena and people’s need to belong, which plays a crucial role in well-being.
Parasocial Phenomena and Well-Being: The Need to Belong
The need to belong, i.e., the “need for frequent, nonaversive interactions within an ongoing rela-
tional bond” (Baumeister & Leary, 1995, p. 497), is one of the strongest and most fundamental
human needs. Baumeister and Leary argue that to satisfy the need to belong, two conditions must
be met. First, the social interactions an individual engages in should ideally be pleasant, but should
definitely be devoid of conflict or negative affect. Second, these social interactions should take place
in a relational context, characterized by an existing interpersonal bond or relationship with the other
that is “marked by stability, [mutual] affective concern, and continuation into the foreseeable future”
Tilo Hartmann
(Baumeister & Leary, 1995, p. 500). Human beings flourish if they establish such meaningful bonds
with others and feel socially supported. And it is painful if the need to belong is thwarted. If the
need remains chronically unfulfilled, human beings suffer and feel lonely, particularly if they desire
to establish meaningful interactions and relationships. And individuals who are socially excluded,
i.e., being cut off, rejected, or ignored by others, feel a sharp and immediate pain in the moment of
exclusion (Williams & Zadro, 2005). The need to belong is a fundamental pervasive human desire,
and a thwarted sense of belonging causes distress, if not pain. Accordingly, the need to belong is
evidently very closely tied to the well-being of individuals.
A satisfied need to belong promotes both objective and subjective well-being. The maintenance
of meaningful relationships, for example, influences health (see, for overviews, Gardner, Pickett, &
Knowles, 2005; Hawkley & Cacioppo, 2010). Socially integrated people are healthier, whereas social
isolation or lack of satisfying relationships is a risk factor for mortality (House, Landis, & Umberson,
1988). Furthermore, a fulfilled need to belong has been considered an important dimension (Ryff &
Keyes, 1995) or determinant (Deci & Ryan, 2008) of subjective well-being. In summary, the extent
to which people can satisfy their need to belong, i.e., maintain frequent, nonaversive interactions
within an ongoing relational bond (Baumeister & Leary, 1995), substantially affects their well-being.
People may satisfy the need to belong by seeking and engaging in interactions and fulfilling rela-
tionships in the real world – but they may also do so by turning to the media (Gardner etal., 2005).
Media representations of existing or fictional others are ubiquitously available and often easily and
reliably accessible, ranging from celebrities portrayed in advertisements; to actors or characters starring
in entertainment formats like films or series, hosts of TV shows, agents in video games or virtual envi-
ronments; to pictures of others on social media sites. Many of these “mediated others” are only known
from the media, either because they are completely fictional or because they are, like celebrities, TV
hosts, or actors, simply not part of people’s “ordinary” face-to-face networks.
Nevertheless, “mediated others” may be accepted as social partners (e.g., Gardner & Knowles,
2008; Giles, 2002). The reason for this is that people often respond to a mediated other in almost
the same way as they would if they encountered the other in a face-to-face setting. People tend to
respond automatically and intuitively to media portrayals of existing others in a social way, no matter
whether the others are existing persons displayed on a TV screen or fictional characters appearing in a
cartoon-like video game (Reeves & Nass, 1996; Rutherford & Kuhlmeier, 2013). And, surprisingly,
most people do not seem to substantially revise their initial impressions and established social bonds
upon later reflection that the other actually does not really exist. Accordingly, because mediated rep-
resentations of social others trigger immediate social responses in users, they may hold the potential
to satisfy the need to belong.
The Compensation Hypothesis
The question of whether parasocial relationships towards mediated others may satisfy the need to
belong, diminish loneliness, and eventually compensate for a lack of social benefits acquired in real-
world relationships has inspired a number of studies in the field. Related research was initiated by
Horton and Wohl (1956), who assumed that “the para-social . . . can properly be called compensa-
tory, inasmuch as it provides the socially and psychologically isolated with a chance to enjoy the elixir
of sociability” (p. 223). Since then, a number of studies have examined this compensation hypothesis,
albeit in different ways (Tsao, 1996; 2004). The compensation hypothesis has not been examined as
implying that parasocial relationships, over time, actually replace (or substitute) existing orthogonal
relationships. Rather, some scholars have examined a “skill-deficit compensation”, i.e., whether
parasocial relationships are more intense among people possessing disadvantageous social personality
characteristics (e.g., shyness, social anxiety, low empathy, introversion), while others have examined
whether loneliness is related to parasocial relationship intensity (“loneliness compensation”).
Parasocial Interaction and Relationships
A meta-analysis across 10 studies by Schiappa et al. (2007) concludes that the compensation
hypothesis cannot be confirmed. Indeed, most studies did not find simple and direct links between
either chronic loneliness or potential social deficits of users and parasocial relationship intensity
(Chory-Assad & Yanen, 2005; Eyal & Cohen, 2006; Levy, 1979; Vorderer & Knobloch, 1996;
Rosengren & Windahl, 1972; Rubin etal., 1985; Wang, Fink, & Cai, 2008). However, if one takes
a closer look at the research findings and distinguishes different interpretations of the compensation
hypothesis, the picture seems less clear-cut.
At first glance, research findings appear to clearly contradict the skill-deficit version of the com-
pensation hypothesis (Ashe & McCutcheon, 2001). As Cohen (2004, p. 192) concludes in his
overview about the field, “those who have difficulties with social relationships because they lack
either the ability to relate to the feelings of others or are extremely shy also have trouble developing
relationships with television characters.” Contrary to the skill-deficit compensation idea, research
has found that people who are both motivated and able to develop social relationships, e.g., extro-
verted individuals, may develop both more intense real and parasocial relationships. For example, in
a study by Vorderer and Knobloch (1996), individuals who were not very motivated to mix with
other people, but also were not shy, maintained the strongest parasocial relationships. Likewise, Tsao
(1996) found that socially skilled people, i.e., individuals with higher cognitive and affective trait
empathy, maintained the strongest parasocial relationships. In addition, in his study, trait extraversion
was positively related to parasocial relationship intensity, whereas trait introversion was unrelated.
Taken together these findings suggest that, contrary to the skill-deficit compensation hypothesis,
people with greater – not weaker – interpersonal skills develop more intense parasocial relationships.
Attachment Styles
However, some interpersonal personality characteristics may affect parasocial relationship intensity
in ways congruent with the skill-deficit compensation hypothesis. More specifically, individuals who
are both motivated to develop intimate relationships, but also anxious or skeptical if they succeed
in doing so, may be particularly attracted to parasocial relationships. This conclusion can be drawn
from research that has examined people’s attachment styles as a determinant of parasocial relation-
ships (e.g., Cole & Leets, 1999; Cohen, 2004; Greenwood & Long, 2011). An attachment style is an
important personality characteristic rooted in individuals’ early life experiences with their caregivers
(Bowlby, 1973). An attachment style defines how individuals feel about depending on others in
close relationships (e.g., Hazan & Shaver, 1987). Three attachment styles can be distinguished, based
on the degree to which people respond with anxiety or avoidance to close relationships. A secure
attachment style is typical for individuals who are optimistic about close relationships and neither
fear nor avoid them. Individuals with an avoidant attachment style tend to avoid intimate relation-
ships, either because they value independence or because they feel uncomfortable about intimacy.
An anxious-ambivalent attachment style (or preoccupied attachment style) is characterized by low
avoidance (i.e., individuals are motivated to engage in close relationships) but high anxiety (e.g., fear
of being abandoned or hurt).
Cole and Leets (1999) examined the influence of attachment styles on parasocial relationship
intensity. In their study, participants with an anxious-ambivalent attachment style yielded the
strongest parasocial relationships, and participants with an avoidant attachment style the weakest.
Cohen (2004) replicated this finding. Furthermore, in his study, individuals with an anxious-
ambivalent attachment style had stronger parasocial relationships than individuals with a secure
attachment style. In addition, his study showed that people with an anxious-ambivalent attachment
style anticipated the greatest parasocial break-up distress if their favorite television character were
to be taken off air. In another study, Greenwood and Long (2011) examined potential interactions
between relationship status (single or partnered), the need to belong, and attachment styles. They
Tilo Hartmann
found that singles with an anxious attachment style and a stronger need to belong reported the
strongest imagined intimacy towards favorite media characters. In summary, these findings may
be interpreted as supporting the skill-deficit compensation hypothesis: Those with an anxious-
ambivalent attachment style, i.e. people who are motivated to engage in intimate relationships but
are also anxious about their success, report the strongest parasocial bonds. A plausible reason is that
these individuals find the level of intimacy in parasocial relationships that they desire but fear to
realize in real-world relationships.
Evidence regarding the loneliness version of the compensation hypothesis, i.e., that lonelier people
may maintain stronger parasocial relationships, is ambivalent. As noted, many studies found no such
relationship. However, other studies did. For example, in a study by Jennings, Hunt, Altenau, and
Linebarger (2008), lonely children maintained stronger parasocial relationships to a character in The
Lion King than non-lonely children. Greenwood and Long (2009) found that the experience of
solitude as the “absence of valued others” (rather than, e.g., a time for self-expansion) particularly
predicted parasocial relationship intensity. Furthermore, in same study, the need to belong affected
parasocial relationship intensity, and this effect was mediated by the perception of solitude as marking
“the absence of valued others.” Wang, Fink, and Cai (2008) distinguished different types of loneli-
ness and found that greater family loneliness and romantic loneliness resulted in stronger parasocial
relationships among women (but not men). And Baek, Bae, and Jang (2013) found that loneliness
was related positively to the number of one-sided bonds people established with celebrities on social
network sites, but negatively to the number of mutual or interactive bonds that people established.
Social Snacking, Social Shielding, and Social Support
Further support for the idea that loneliness and parasocial relationships may be meaningfully linked
stems from social-psychological studies that have examined whether parasocial bonds bolster against
the effects of loneliness or social exclusion. Gardner, Pickett, and Knowles (2005) showed that to
regulate immediate belongingness needs (e.g., if feeling lonely or excluded), people engage in “social
snacking” (p. 232) by turning to tangible reminders of being connected and accepted (like a photo or
an email of a liked person). Furthermore, to bolster themselves against the painful experience of social
exclusion, people may engage in preventive “social shielding” processes. Gardner etal. (2005) argue
that parasocial relationships, too, may provide such a social snacking and social shielding function.
Experimental studies by Derrick, Gabriel, and Hugenberg (2009) support this assumption. They
asked participants to either describe a fight with a close other (relationship threat condition) or list
the contents of their residence (control condition). Participants in the relationship threat condi-
tion spent more time thinking about their favorite television program afterwards (and presumably
also a liked media character) than control participants. Whereas this finding relates more to social
snacking as a coping mechanism, another study by the same authors showed that thinking about
a favorite television program also buffered against feelings of rejection and self-esteem and mood
effects that arose from the applied relationship threat manipulation. Furthermore, as another study
by the authors showed, thinking about a favorite television program (compared to control) reduced
the cognitive accessibility of exclusion-related words (e.g., “reject,” “hate”), but did not improve
accessibility of words related to positive moods. Accordingly, thinking of one’s favorite television
program (and, thus, probably also a liked media character) may provide the experience of belonging
and buffer against social exclusion (see also Twenge etal., 2007). In summary, these studies suggest
that parasocial relationships may help in coping with threats to the need to belong. Accordingly, they
provide a particularly attractive social function for lonely people.
Parasocial Interaction and Relationships
Studies by Lakey etal. (2014) shed further light on this social function of parasocial relationships.
Their approach builds on relational regulation theory (Lakey & Orehek, 2011). This theory builds
on two arguments. First, social support providers primarily trigger positive affect. Second, they do
so because they offer ordinary conversations or shared activities rather than focused conversations
about stress and how to cope with problems. Lakey etal. (2014) extend this logic by arguing that also
simply observing other people’s conversations and activities, including those of mediated others, may
elicit positive affect and perceived support. Across three studies, Lakey etal. (2014) provide evidence
for this argument and show that the social support experienced by watching symbolic providers is
remarkably similar to that obtained from real providers.
In summary, these findings suggest that parasocial relationships can provide social support, and,
thus, shield against or diminish the effects of social exclusion and loneliness. Clearly, parasocial rela-
tionships appear to be able to at least partly satisfy a thwarted need to belong. From this perspective,
the “loneliness compensation hypothesis” seems correct.
The Enjoyment of Encountering Mediated Others
Maybe mediated others simply provide social support (and, thus, affect well-being) because people
enjoy their company (Lakey etal., 2014). Accordingly, a simple explanation of why parasocial
phenomena may trigger social support is that their presence fosters enjoyment. Indeed, many
studies have found that parasocial phenomena induce enjoyment in users (Klimmt etal., 2006).
A number of studies conducted in the wake of the uses-and-gratifications approach suggest that
parasocial gratifications are closely tied to users’ entertainment motivation (e.g., Levy & Windahl,
1984). But more direct evidence for the assumption that parasocial interaction fosters enjoyment
comes from experimental studies. For example, a study by Auter and Davis (1991) found that par-
ticipants who watched film clips of a comedy show in which they were directly addressed by the
protagonist (and, thus, presumably experienced stronger parasocial interaction) enjoyed these clips
more than participants who watched the same clips without being addressed. In addition, addressed
participants found the clips to be more sophisticated (deeper, more complex, etc.) than did non-
addressed participants. Similarly, Hartmann and Goldhoorn (2011) manipulated both the bodily and
verbal addressing style of a presenter in a short video clip. They found that both forms of addressing
triggered stronger parasocial interaction, while parasocial interaction, in turn, resulted in greater
enjoyment of the film clip. Converging evidence stems from a non-experimental post-exposure
study examining parasocial processing. Hartmann and Klimmt (2005) found that both cognitive and
affective forms of parasocial processing positively predicted users’ evaluation of a popular German
TV show. In summary, these findings suggest that stronger parasocial interaction and parasocial pro-
cessing result in greater enjoyment.
In addition, parasocial relationships may influence users’ enjoyment, too. For example, Perse and
Rubin (1989) found that the stronger users’ parasocial relationship towards a liked character of their
favorite TV soap opera, the more they were satisfied with watching the show. Hartmann, Stuke,
and Daschmann (2008) found that parasocial relationships determined what driver users rooted for
(or against) in a racing competition. Users’ hope for good outcomes and fear of bad outcomes, in
turn, predicted their level of thrill and suspense while watching the competition. Accordingly, para-
social relationships seem capable of intensifying users’ enjoyment (Klimmt etal., 2006).
Taken together, these findings imply that parasocial phenomena affect well-being, simply by
providing “a good time” and turning media exposure into an enjoyable experience. Because
parasocial phenomena are inherently bound to media characters, their effect on enjoyment is
inherently social too. Accordingly, the presented findings provide indirect evidence for Lakey
etal.’s (2014) assumption, according to which users may receive social support simply by watch-
ing symbolic providers in the media. Social support, in turn, improves well-being. As the previous
Tilo Hartmann
section has shown, this may be particularly true for individuals who feel temporarily lonely; these
individuals may remind themselves of an existing intimate parasocial relationship or they may
actively turn to the media to encounter their favorite character in order to satisfy their thwarted
belongingness need.
Beyond Well-Being: Extreme Parasocial Relationships
and Celebrity Worshipping
Parasocial phenomena are a common and almost inevitable social response of users to the presence
of mediated others (Giles, 2002), but in rare circumstances they may take extreme forms that may be
considered detrimental to the long-term social adaptation of a user. Extreme and delusionary forms
of parasocial relationship and celebrity worshipping may diminish rather than improve personal well-
being. Similarly, Horton and Wohl (1956) argued that “it is only when the para-social relationship
becomes a substitute for autonomous social participation, [or] when it proceeds in absolute defiance
of objective reality, that it can be regarded as pathological” (p. 223). The question is, of course, at
what point do parasocial relationships become a dysfunctional substitute for the real life, or proceed
in defiance of objective reality?
This problem is not easy to solve, but a general answer could be that, first, parasocial rela-
tionships turn dysfunctional if their maintenance results, on average, in exclusion (rather than
inclusion) of the individual from existing social groups. In other words, if individuals become
more alienated and estranged from their peers as a result of their obsessive maintenance of a
parasocial relationship, potential short-term positive effects on personal well-being (e.g., induced
by the perceived social support they obtain from the media character) may be outweighed by
the more detrimental long-term negative effects resulting from the alienation among really-
existing peers. Second, parasocial relationships may turn dysfunctional if they become delusional,
i.e., if individuals become ignorant towards or start forgetting about their one-sided character
and increasingly desire or even expect reciprocity. Both arguments follow the same underlying
logic, namely that extreme parasocial relationships may be harmful to an individual’s well-being,
because – in the long run – they may hamper an individual’s healthy adjustment to and inclusion
in relevant real-world social settings.
It is important to note that results showing that parasocial phenomena are more pronounced
among “needy” individuals do not suggest that real-world relationships are, therefore, substi-
tuted. For example, the above sections already revealed that, to a small but measurable extent,
parasocial relationships are more pronounced among individuals who desire intimate real rela-
tionships but are anxious about their realization. However, related studies do not provide direct
evidence for a substitution effect. A similar example is provided by research that examined
how parasocial relationships affect self-perceptions among individuals with low self-esteem. In
several experiments, Derrick, Gabriel, and Tippin (2008) showed that parasocial relationships –
but not real relationships – helped low self-esteem individuals to perceive themselves closer to
their ideal self. For example, in one study, either their favorite celebrity or a close relationship
partner was primed among low self-esteem college students. Cognitive salience of the celebrity,
but not of the close relationship partner, induced a self-perception shift towards the ideal self
among participants. Apparently, low self-esteem individuals get a benefit from one-sided paraso-
cial relationships that they rarely acquire in reciprocal real-world relationships, namely that the
relationship helps them to perceive themselves in a more positive way. While these examples
suggest that parasocial relationships provide social benefits to some individuals that reciprocal
relationships do not offer, they do not show that, as a consequence, real-world relationships are
actually substituted, to either a mild or an extreme extent.
Parasocial Interaction and Relationships
In contrast, extreme and even compulsive forms of celebrity worshipping (e.g., McCutcheon,
Lange, & Houran, 2002) have been discussed as parasocial relationships that may be detrimental to
the social adaptation of an individual. Devoted fans of celebrities may show similar behavior and
engage in similar rituals to those known from religious worshipping (Giles, 2000). According to
the theoretical approach of McCutcheon etal. (2002), low levels of celebrity worshipping are most
common, and also functional, because they focus on the celebrity’s ability to entertain and on the
social community-building implications of being a fan (see also Stever, 2011). However, moder-
ate forms of celebrity worshipping are considered problematic, partly, because they seem to appeal
particularly to individuals with a compromised identity structure. Moderate forms are characterized
by intense and somewhat compulsive feelings towards and a mental preoccupation with a celebrity
(e.g., “I consider my favorite celebrity to be my soulmate.” Maltby, Giles, Barber, & McCutcheon,
2005; p. 23). They result if the celebrity provides a strong sense of fulfillment and potential distrac-
tion from a person’s own problems. Intense forms of celebrity worshipping, in turn, are addressed as
borderline-pathological, because they are characterized by exaggerated devotion (“If someone gave
me several thousand dollars to do with as I please, I would consider spending it on a personal posses-
sion (like a napkin or paper plate) once used by my favourite celebrity.” Maltby etal., 2005, p. 25) as
well as compulsive and potentially delusional qualities (e.g., erotomania, stalking, intense devotion).
Extreme celebrity worshipping may result in maladaptive social behavior, and, as a consequence,
negatively affect the well-being of an individual.
Building on an explication of parasocial phenomena, the present chapter reviewed empirical evidence
to illuminate the role of these phenomena, particularly parasocial interaction and relationships, in foster-
ing well-being. The chapter focused on links between parasocial phenomena and the need to belong,
a crucial factor in the formation of well-being. Based on the reviewed insights, a tentative overarching
interpretation of the reviewed evidence can be offered that deserves, however, further empirical scrutiny.
Parasocial Interaction Contributes to Well-Being
Baumeister and Leary (1995) argue that social interaction satisfies the need to belong and fosters well-
being only if it is both pleasant, and embedded in a relational structure. Parasocial interaction may
meet these conditions. First, the reviewed literature shows that parasocial interaction is correlated
with users’ satisfaction and enjoyment, which may suggest that users often experience parasocial
interaction as pleasant. Second, parasocial interaction and parasocial relationships may mutually rein-
force each other, e.g., if users maintain a positive relationship towards a mediated other, they may
experience stronger parasocial interaction if encountering the other in the media. From this perspec-
tive, parasocial interaction may typically be embedded in the structure of a parasocial relationship.
Accordingly, the experience of parasocial interaction (Hartmann & Goldhoorn, 2011) may trig-
ger personal well-being, because it commonly meets the two conditions identified by Baumeister
and Leary (1995). This assumption also strongly overlaps with the argument of Lakey etal. (2014)
that merely observing mediated others may provide social support by inducing positive affect, with
the caveat that parasocial interaction requires “something more than mere running observation”
(Horton & Wohl, 1956, p. 215). Future research may test this partly speculative summary of the
reviewed evidence. Related efforts should also look into potential specifications, e.g., to what extent
the well-being-inducing effect of encountering mediated others depends on individuals’ thwarted
need to belong (or loneliness) versus disadvantageous social skills, and whether simply observing
mediated others versus experiencing a parasocial interaction matters.
Tilo Hartmann
Parasocial Relationships Contribute to Well-Being
Most research reviewed in this chapter directly or indirectly examined links between the need
to belong and parasocial relationships. Research in the context of the compensation hypotheses,
including studies on attachment styles, and social snacking and shielding, provides converging evi-
dence that parasocial relationships may contribute to well-being. Although the socially more skilled
(and, therefore, maybe less lonely) individuals seem to maintain the most intense parasocial rela-
tionships, mediated others may contribute to the well-being of (temporarily) lonely individuals,
because their actual presence, or simply bringing them to mind, may provide social support and
shelter. Furthermore, converging evidence exists that individuals with conflicting social tenden-
cies, namely an anxious-ambivalent attachment style, maintain stronger parasocial relationships. A
plausible explanation is that these people particularly appreciate the reliable, predictable, and safe
relationship offered by a mediated other.
One question that remains is whether or not parasocial relationships contribute to the well-being
of chronically lonely people, because “for as many as 15–30% of the general population . . . lone-
liness is a chronic state” (Hawkley & Cacioppo, 2010, p. 2). However, the literature provides
an ambivalent picture regarding this question. For example, as the literature suggests, chronically
lonely people do not seem to maintain more, or more intense, parasocial relationships. Accordingly,
only a speculative conclusion can be offered that tries to integrate some of the reviewed findings.
Individuals with a chronically unfulfilled need to belong are more likely to turn to the media
(e.g., Perse & Rubin, 1989). However, they may primarily do so to fill their idle time, whereas it
seems less clear whether they do so to deliberately seek social company. Nevertheless, as a conse-
quence, they may encounter mediated others more frequently than individuals who use the media
less frequently. But only for some chronically lonely people will this result in more and stronger
parasocial relationships. The reason may be that the factors that determine a person’s loneliness can
differ, but these factors may also influence how people respond to mediated others. Some people
may be lonely because they lack certain social skills, e.g., the capability to empathetically under-
stand others. These people may, despite their frequent encounters, also struggle to develop intense
parasocial relationships. Others may be socially intelligent, but may be too anxious to approach
others, may be stigmatized by others, or may simply lack the means (e.g., time or mobility) to main-
tain sufficient meaningful orthogonal relationships. It may be particularly this group of chronically
lonely individuals among whom frequent encounters with mediated others could turn into fulfilling
parasocial relationships that either partly satisfy their need to belong (i.e., feeling less lonely), or at
least promote well-being by partly diminishing the painful effects of a chronically thwarted need to
belong (i.e., feeling as lonely, but less sad).
In addition, the exact type of chronic loneliness may matter too (for a good example, see
Wang etal., 2008). Parasocial relationships may have different effects on well-being depend-
ing on whether people are emotionally lonely (lack of intimate attachment) or socially lonely
(lack of membership in desired groups; Ernst & Cacioppo, 1999). For example, Greenwood and
Long (2011) found that single as compared to partnered participants maintained more intense
parasocial relationships towards a character of the opposite gender. This finding may suggest that
mediated others may particularly satisfy the need to belong among emotionally lonely people
(Wang etal., 2008). Maybe romantic relationships’ qualities are particularly important in that
regard (Tukachinsky, 2010).
Of course, this summary of the reviewed evidence is interpretative, but the assumptions can be
empirically tested. Future research should take several factors (determinants and type of chronic
loneliness, frequency of media use) and their potential interactions into account to provide a more
comprehensive understanding of the breadth (e.g., number and type) and intensity of people’s para-
social relationships and their potential effects on well-being.
Parasocial Interaction and Relationships
New Interactive Technologies
Another challenge for future research about parasocial phenomena and well-being arises from the wide-
spread use of interactive media technologies. The challenge already is of a conceptual nature. Unless
one would fall back on a very broad definition and consider any mediated social encounter as parasocial
(e.g., even a video-chat between two persons), it is questionable whether interactive media provide
parasocial illusions at all. The reason is that interactive media – including the Internet, video games,
or virtual reality applications – provide actual reciprocal encounters with mediated others rather than
only illusions of reciprocity. Hartmann (2008) suggests that interactive encounters may still be called
parasocial, for example, if the other is an artificial agent that is perceived as an (existing) social being.
In this case, the parasocial illusion is not that the encounter is reciprocal, but that it is social (i.e., that
the other is an authentic being). But in this case, would parasocial interaction still differ from related
concepts? Scholars should carefully compare parasocial interaction theory with related approaches like
social presence or believable agents (e.g., Schroeder, 2002) to further clarify these conceptual questions.
Apart from these conceptual problems, a lot of non-interactive and truly parasocial encounters
may still take place in seemingly interactive environments (e.g., Baek etal., 2013). Twitter provides
an example. Many users may follow the tweets of others without ever replying to these tweets. They
may feel like they are encountering the other if reading a tweet and, over time, develop a parasocial
relationship towards the other. Video-blogs (Vlogs) – often established as YouTube channels – are
person-centered, informal, and regular formats that provide another typical opportunity for para-
social encounters. These and other new media applications may trigger parasocial phenomena and
affect people’s wellbeing in exactly the same way as their more traditional counterparts did before.
But they may also differ. For example, users could experience encounters on Twitter or YouTube
as more informal and intimate than encounters on television, which may positively affect social sup-
port. Furthermore, users may perceive it as easier to respond to and get in contact with the other in
interactive media settings (e.g., as compared to writing a letter to a TV personality). This perception
may intensify their parasocial encounters and relationship formation. In summary, it seems impor-
tant to examine the potential of new media applications to affect people’s well-being by fostering
parasocial phenomena. Related research should identify the aspects in which new media applications
systematically differ from traditional non-interactive formats, and should illuminate how these dif-
ferences affect both parasocial phenomena and well-being.
Ashe, D. D., & McCutcheon, L. E. (2001). Shyness, loneliness, and attitude toward celebrities. Current
Research in Social Psychology, 6(9), 124–133. Retrieved March 22, 2016, from
Auter, P. J. & Davis, D. M. (1991). When characters speak directly to viewers: Breaking the fourth wall in
television. Journalism Quarterly, 68(1), 165–171. doi: 10.1177/107769909106800117
Auter, P. J., & Palmgreen, P. (2000). Development and validation of a parasocial interaction measure: The audi-
ence-persona interaction scale. Communication Research Reports, 17, 79–89. doi: 10.1080/08824090009388753
Baek, Y. M., Bae, Y. B., & Jang, H. J. (2013). Social and parasocial relationships on social network sites
and their dierential relationships with users’ psychological well-being. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social
Networking, 16(7), 412–517. doi: 10.1089/cyber.2012.0510
Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R., (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fun-
damental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117(3), 497–529. doi: 10.1037//0033-2909.117.3.497
Bond, B. J., & Calvert, S. L. (2014). A model and measure of US parents’ perceptions of young children’s para-
social relationships. Journal of Children and Media, 8, 474–490. doi: 10.1080/17482798.2014.890948
Bowlby, J. (1973). Attachment and loss: Vol. 2. Separation: Anxiety and anger. New York: Basic Books.
Branch, S. E., Wilson, K. M., & Agnew, C. R. (2013). Committed to Oprah, Homer, or House: Using the
investment model to understand parasocial relationships. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 2, 96–109.
doi: 10.1037/a0030938
Tilo Hartmann
Brown, W. J. (2015). Examining four processes of audience involvement with media personae: Transportation,
parasocial interaction, identication, and worship. Communication Theory, 25(3), 259–283. doi: 10.1111/
Calvert, S. L., & Richards, M. N. (2014). Children’s parasocial relationships. In A.B. Jordan & D. Romer (Eds.),
Media and the well-being of children and adolescents (pp.187–200). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Campos-Castillo, C. & Hitlin, S. (2013). Copresence: Revisiting a building block for social interaction theories.
Sociological Theory, 31(2), 168–192. doi: 10.1177/0735275113489811
Chory-Assad, R. M. & Yanen, A. (2005). Hopelessness and loneliness as predictors of older adults’ involvement
with favorite television performers. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 49(2), 182–201. doi: 10.1207/
Cohen, J. (2004). Parasocial break-up from favourite television characters: The role of attachment styles and rela-
tionship intensity. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 21, 187–202. doi: 10.1177/0265407504041374
Cohen, J. (2009). Mediated relationships and media eects: Parasocial interaction and identication. In R. Nabi
& M. B. Oliver (Eds.), The SAGE handbook of media processes and eects (pp.223–236). Thousand Oaks, CA:
Cole, T. & Leets, L. (1999). Attachment styles and intimate television viewing: Insecurely forming relationships
in a parasocial way. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 16, 495–511. doi: 10.1177/0265407599164005
Cummins, R. G., & Cui, B. (2014). Reconceptualizing address in television programming: The eect of address
and aective empathy on viewer experience of parasocial interaction. Journal of Communication, 64, 723–742.
doi: 10.1111/jcom.12076
Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2008). Hedonia, eudaimonia, and well-being: An introduction. Journal of Happiness
Studies, 9, 1–11. doi: 10.1007/s10902-006-9018-1
Derrick, J., Gabriel, S., & Hugenberg, K. (2009). Social surrogacy: How favored television programs
provide the experience of belonging. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45(2), 352–362. doi: 10.1016/j.
Derrick, J. L., Gabriel, S. & Tippin, B. (2008). Parasocial relationships and self-discrepancies: Faux
relationships have benets for low self-esteem individuals. Personal Relationships, 15, 261–280. doi:
Dibble, J. L., Hartmann, T., & Rosaen, S. F. (2016). Parasocial interaction and parasocial relationship:
Conceptual clarication and a critical assessment of measures. Human Communication Research, 42(1), 21–44.
doi: 10.1111/hcre.12063
Dibble, J. L., & Rosaen, S. F. (2011). Parasocial interaction as more than friendship: Evidence for parasocial
interactions with disliked media gures. Journal of Media Psychology, 23, 122–132. doi: 10.1027/1864-1105/
Epley, N., & Waytz, A. (2010). Mind perception. In S. T. Fiske, D. T. Gilbert, & G. Lindsay (Eds.), The hand-
book of social psychology (pp.498–541). New York: Wiley.
Ernst, J.M., & Cacioppo, J.T. (1999). Lonely hearts: Psychological perspectives on loneliness. Applied and
Preventive Psychology, 8, 1–22. doi: 10.1016/s0962-1849(99)80008-0
Eyal, K. & Cohen, J. (2006). When good friends say goodbye: A parasocial breakup study. Journal of Broadcasting
and Electronic Media, 50(3), 502–523. doi: 10.1207/s15506878jobem5003_9
Gardner, W. L., & Knowles, M. L. (2008). Love makes you real: Favorite television characters are perceived as
real in a social facilitation paradigm. Social Cognition, 26, 156–168. doi: 10.1521/soco.2008.26.2.156
Gardner, W. L., Pickett, C. L., & Knowles, M. (2005). Social snacking and shielding: Using social symbols,
selves, and surrogates in the service of belonging needs. In K. D. Williams, J. P. Forgas & W. von Hippel
(Eds.), The social outcast: Ostracism, social exclusion, rejection, and bullying (pp.227–242). New York: Psychology
Giles, D. (2000). Illusions of immortality: a psychology of fame and celebrity. London: MacMillan.
Giles, D. (2002). Parasocial interaction: A review of the literature and a model for future research. Media
Psychology, 4, 279–305. doi: 10.1207/s1532785xmep0403_04
Greenwood, D. N., & Long, C. R. (2009). Psychological predictors of media involvement: Solitude experi-
ences and the need to belong. Communication Research, 36, 637–654. doi: 10.1177/0093650209338906
Greenwood, D. N., & Long, C. R. (2011). Attachment, belongingness needs, and relationship status predict imag-
ined intimacy with media gures. Communication Research, 38, 278–297. doi: 10.1177/0093650210362687
Hartmann, T. (2008). Parasocial interactions and paracommunication with new media characters. In
E. A. Konijn, S. Utz, M. Tanis, & S. Barnes (Eds.), Mediated interpersonal communication (pp.177–199).
Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Hartmann, T., & Goldhoorn, C. (2011). Horton and Wohl revisited: Exploring viewers’ experience of paraso-
cial interaction. Journal of Communication, 61, 1104–1121. doi: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2011.01595.x
Parasocial Interaction and Relationships
Hartmann, T. & Klimmt, C. (2005). Ursachen und Eekte Parasozialer Interaktionen im Rezeptionsprozess
[Causes and eects of parasocial interaction]. Zeitschrift für Medienpsychologie, 17(3), 88–98. doi: 10.1026/
Hartmann, T., Stuke, D., & Daschmann, G. (2008). Parasocial relationships with drivers aect suspense in racing
sport spectators. Journal of Media Psychology, 20(1), 24 – 34. doi: 10.1027/1864-1105.20.1.24
Hawkley, L. C. & Cacioppo, J.T. (2010). Loneliness matters: A theoretical and empirical review of conse-
quences and mechanisms. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 40(2), 218–227. doi: 10.1007/s12160-010-9210-8
Hazan, C., & Shaver, P. R. (1987). Romantic love conceptualized as an attachment process. Journal of Personality
and Social Psychology, 52, 511–524. doi: 10.1037//0022-3514.52.3.511
Horton, D., & Strauss, A. L. (1957). Interaction in audience-participation shows. The American Journal of
Sociology, 62, 579–587. doi: 10.1086/222106
Horton, D., & Wohl, R. (1956). Mass communication and para-social interaction: Observations on intimacy at
a distance. Psychiatry, 19, 215–229.
House, J. S., Landis, K. R., & Umberson, D. (1988). Social relationships and health. Science, 241, 540–545.
doi: 10.1126/science.3399889
Jennings, N. A., Hunt, K., Altenau, M., & Linebarger, D. L. (2008). Electronic company: Children’s parasocial
relationships and loneliness. Retrieved September 2009 from
Klimmt, C., Schramm, H., & Hartmann, T. (2006). Parasocial interactions and relationships. In J. Bryant &
P. Vorderer (Eds.), Psychology of entertainment (pp.291–313). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Lakey, B., Cooper, C., Cronin, A., & Whitaker, T. (2014). Symbolic providers help people regulate aect
relationally: Implications for perceived support. Personal Relationships, 21(3), 404–419. doi: 10.1111/
Lakey, B., & Orehek, E. (2011). Relational regulation theory: A new approach to explain the link between
perceived support and mental health. Psychological Review, 118, 482–495. doi: 10.1037/a0023477
Levy, M. R. (1979). Watching TV news as para-social interaction. Journal of Broadcasting, 23(1), 177–187.
doi: 10.1080/08838157909363919
Levy, M. & Windahl, S. (1984). Audience activity and gratications: A conceptual clarication and exploration.
Communication Research, 11, 51–78. doi: 10.1177/009365084011001003
Maltby, J., Giles, D., Barber, L., & McCutcheon, L. E. (2005). Intense-personal celebrity worship and body
image: Evidence of a link among female adolescents. British Journal of Health Psychology, 10, 17–32. doi:
McCutcheon, L. E., Lange, R., & Houran, J. (2002). Conceptualization and measurement of celebrity worship.
British Journal of Psychology, 93, 67–87. doi: 10.1348/000712602162454
Perse, E. M., & Rubin, R. B. (1989). Attribution in social and parasocial relationships. Communication Research,
16, 59–77. doi: 10.1177/009365089016001003
Reeves, B., & Nass, C. (1996). The media equation: How people treat computers, television, and new media like real
people and places. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Rosengren, K. E. & Windahl, S. (1972). Mass media consumption as a functional alternative. In D. McQuail
(Ed.), Sociology of mass communication (pp.166–194). Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin.
Rubin, R. B. & McHugh, M. P. (1987). Development of parasocial interaction relationships. Journal of
Broadcasting and Electronic Media, 31(3), 279–292. doi: 10.1080/08838158709386664
Rubin, A. M., Perse, E. M., & Powell, R. A. (1985). Loneliness, parasocial interaction, and local television
news viewing. Human Communication Research, 12(2), 155–180. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2958.1985.tb00071.x
Rutherford, M. D., & Kuhlmeier, V. A. (2013). Social perception. Detection and interpretation of animacy, agency, and
intention. Cambridge, MA/London: MIT Press.
Ry, C. D., & Keyes, C. L. M. (1995). The structure of psychological well-being revisited. Journal of Personality
and Social Psychology, 69,719–727. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.69.4.719
Schiappa, E., Allen, M., & Gregg, P. B. (2007). Parasocial relationships and television: A meta-analysis of the
eects. In R. Preiss etal. (Eds.), Mass media eects: Advances through meta-analysis (pp. 301–314). Mahwah,
NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Schramm, H. & Hartmann, T. (2008). The PSI-Process Scales. A new measure to assess the intensity and breadth
of parasocial processes. Communications – The European Journal of Communication Research, 33, 385–401.
doi: 10.1515/comm.2008.025
Schroeder, R. (2002). Social interaction in virtual environments: Key issues, common themes, and a framework
for research. In R. Schroeder (Ed.), The social life of avatars: Presence and interaction in shared virtual environments
(pp.1–18). London: Springer.
Stever, G. (2011). Fan behavior and lifespan development theory: Explaining para-social and social attachment
to celebrities. Journal of Adult Development, 18, 1–7. doi: 10.1007/s10804-010-9100-0
Tilo Hartmann
Tsao, C. (1996). Compensatory media use: An exploration of two paradigms. Communication Studies, 47,
89–109. doi: 10.1080/10510979609368466
Tsao, C. (2004). Research on parasocial involvement: An overview. Journal of Hsuan Chuang Information and
Communication, 1, 1–21.
Tukachinsky, R. (2010). Para-romantic love and para-friendships: Development and assessment of a multiple
parasocial relationships scale. American Journal of Media Psychology, 3, 73–94.
Twenge, J. M., Zhang, L., Catanese, K. R., Dolan-Pascoe, B., Lyche, L. F., & Baumeister, R. F. (2007).
Replenishing connectedness: Reminders of social activity reduce aggression after social exclusion. British
Journal of Social Psychology, 46, 205–224. doi: 10.1348/014466605x90793
Vorderer, P. & Knobloch, S. (1996). Parasoziale Beziehungen zu Serienguren: Ergänzung oder Ersatz? [Parasocial
relationships with characters from a TV series: Supplement or functional alternative?] Medienpsychologie, 8,
Wang, Q., Fink, E. L. & Cai, D. A. (2008). Loneliness, gender, and parasocial interaction: A uses and gratica-
tions approach. Communication Quarterly, 56(1), 87–109. doi: 10.1080/01463370701839057
Williams, K. D. & Zadro, L. (2005). Ostracism: The indiscriminate early detection system. In K. D. Williams,
J. P. Forgas, & W. von Hippel (Eds.), The social outcast: Ostracism, social exclusion, rejection, and bullying
(pp.19–34). New York: Psychology Press.
... Parasocial relationships are defined as asymmetrical relationships media users establish with media figures (Hartmann, 2016). The defining feature of these relationships is the lack of reciprocity or the inability to have access to the admired media figure. ...
... Recent studies have also explored how the development of PSR in the social media environment is linked to social media use and social media addiction. Parasocial relationships are known to play a role in media use (Giles, 2002;Hartmann, 2016;Klimmt et al., 2006;Liebers & Schramm, 2019;Tukachinsky & Stever, 2019) and are also associated with problematic social media use (de Bérail et al., 2019;Baek et al., 2013;Baek et al., 2014). The association between social media addiction and PSR is presented in our study based on a cognitive and behavioral framework of online addiction. ...
... Social media are different from pre-Internet media in that they allow users to easily interact with media figures. Although social media provide opportunities for actual reciprocal encounters with media figures, recent literature about parasocial phenomena agrees that social media are environments conducive to parasocial experiences (Hartmann, 2016;Hartmann, 2008;Rihl & Wegener, 2017;Stever & Lawson, 2013). Studying parasocial phenomena on Twitter, Stever and Lawson (2013) argued that, in spite of the occasional reply a fan might receive from celebrities, the relationships that users establish with celebrities are still parasocial. ...
Full-text available
YouTube is a popular social media platform that fosters the development of social bonds between viewers and YouTubers called parasocial relationships (PSR). These relationships might be associated with both viewer characteristics, such as social anxiety, and YouTuber video characteristics, such as self-disclosure. Additionally, PSR might be associated with the level of addiction to the platform. Data from 370 college students were extracted from a previous study and 360 videos of 72 YouTubers were coded to (a) explore the different dimensions of PSR and (b) examine a mediation model of YouTube addiction. The results support the existence of three PSR dimensions. The results also showed that PSR dimensions were associated with both viewers’ social anxiety and YouTubers’ evaluative self-disclosure. One PSR dimension was positively associated with YouTube addiction. This study encourages the development of qualitative studies to more precisely identify the different facets of PSR with social media figures.
... For instance, previous research has demonstrated that thinking or writing about favored television programs helps cope with belongingness threats (e.g., Derrick et al., 2009;Gabriel et al., 2017). More specifically, social surrogates like immersion into fictional social worlds (Mar and Oatley, 2008;Gabriel and Young, 2011) or parasocial relationships with media figures (for an overview, see Hartmann, 2017) as presented in novels or on TV help cope with threatened belongingness (for overviews, see . These mechanisms are in line with general theoretical assumptions about how fictional narratives impact the boundaries of the self (e.g., Green, 2005;Mar and Oatley, 2008;Slater et al., 2014), for instance, by creating links to past experiences (Green, 2005) or prompting simulations of various selves (Mar and Oatley, 2008). ...
... hampering it) might be more important during longer exposures or when the surroundings make it harder to engage. The context of reading a short story should not be generalized to longer narratives and situations in which cognitive load could hamper the engagement (Das et al., 2017;Sukalla et al., 2020) or in which the narrative itself poses challenges (Bartsch and Hartmann, 2017;Hartmann, 2017;Rieger et al., 2022). Such challenges could include affective (including negative emotions like horror or gore or moral decisions and dilemmas) as well as cognitive (including complex content or structure). ...
Full-text available
The TEBOTS model predicts that narratives are sought after more often in times of depletion. The present study aimed at expanding this idea by testing whether engagement with narratives is also intensified under self-threatening conditions. Further, we examined whether narratives can serve coping functions. In a 3(Threat: mortality salience vs. ostracism vs. control condition) × 2(Review of the narrative: positive vs. negative) online experiment (N = 228), we tested whether self-threats and the expectation towards the narrative increase entertainment experiences and facilitate self-serving attributions. The results demonstrated that self-threats and a positive review indeed increased the entertainment experience. Narratives could support coping with an existential threat through enhancing self-serving attributions. The findings are discussed in light of the TEBOTS model and its application in the context of self-threats.
... According to the compensation hypothesis, individuals who lack substantial social relationships may seek out asymmetric ones to compensate (Hartman, 2016). On the other hand, PSR may be positively related to PWB by satisfying one's need to belong (Hartmann, 2016), which can occur when social interactions are pleasant and characterized by stability, mutual concern, and intention to LIVE-STREAMING USE, SOCIAL CAPITAL & WELL-BEING 14 continue a relationship (Baumeister & Leary, 1995). If satisfied, the need to belong promotes subjective well-being (Hartmann, 2016). ...
... On the other hand, PSR may be positively related to PWB by satisfying one's need to belong (Hartmann, 2016), which can occur when social interactions are pleasant and characterized by stability, mutual concern, and intention to LIVE-STREAMING USE, SOCIAL CAPITAL & WELL-BEING 14 continue a relationship (Baumeister & Leary, 1995). If satisfied, the need to belong promotes subjective well-being (Hartmann, 2016). Interactions with a mediated other may trigger enjoyment or the perception of social support which improves well-being (Lakey et al., 2014). ...
Full-text available
This study examines how active participation, financial commitment, and passive participation in the leading social live-streaming service,, relate to individuals' psychological well-being. The three dimensions of social capital-structural, relational, and cognitive-as well as parasocial relationship are explored as mediators. Cross-sectional survey data from 396 respondents was analyzed by comparing two fully saturated structural equation models. Findings indicate actively participating in a favorite streamers' Chat is positively associated with increased well-being. Structural social capital, or having more social interaction ties, positively mediates the relationship between active participation and well-being, as well as financial commitment and well-being. Greater cognitive social capital, or shared values and goals with a favorite streamer, is related to decreased well-being. Parasocial relationship does not significantly mediate the relationship between use and well-being. Our results demonstrate the importance of tangible social ties over the perceived relationships or identification with a favorite streamer.
... Previous research has found that social aspects of podcast listening include feeling connected to hosts and fellow listeners [8][9][10][11]35]. Feeling connected to a podcast host can lead to a parasocial relationship: a one-sided relationship people form with a media figure or celebrity [36,37]. Research has found that podcast listeners form stronger parasocial relationships with their favorite podcast host when the host shows an interest in listeners, shares personal information, and is seen as more competent, authentic, and unpredictable [36]. ...
... These associations extend prior work on the potential gratifications of podcast listening [8][9][10][11]. The relatedness finding is consistent with past research which has found that entertainment media can satisfy basic psychological needs [41] and that parasocial relationships can meet belonging needs [37]. The meaning findings could stem from several factors, including the satisfaction of basic psychological needs, positive affect, curiosity, coherence, and narrative elements [47][48][49][50]. ...
Full-text available
The aim of this preregistered study was to identify dispositional predictors of podcast listening and examine the associations between aspects of podcast listening, dispositional predictors, and psychological outcomes. Three hundred and six adults from a range of countries completed an online questionnaire that assessed individual difference predictors (the Big Five personality factors, curiosity, need for cognition, need to belong, age, and gender), aspects of podcast listening (amount, format, setting, device, and social aspects), and potential outcomes (autonomy, competence, relatedness, meaning, mindfulness, and smartphone addiction). As predicted, openness to experience, interest-based curiosity, and need for cognition positively predicted podcast listening. Contrary to predictions, need to belong negatively predicted podcast listening, and time spent listening to podcasts was not associated with autonomy, competence, relatedness, meaning, mindfulness, or smartphone addiction. However, certain aspects of podcast listening (e.g., parasocial relationships and social engagement) were related to positive outcomes and to our predictor variables. Furthermore, neuroticism negatively predicted podcast listening. Overall, the findings support the idea that informational motives can play a role in podcast listening, and that some aspects of listening are associated with positive outcomes.
... Still though, fully embodied sex robots are likely important for satisfying sexual interactions for many users [41]. Indeed, sex robots may have uses for "parasocial relationships," where humans identify with media characters [42]. By providing a physical medium for users, sex robots could manifest a fictional character in material form to satisfy a person's sexual and emotional fantasies. ...
Full-text available
Abstract Purpose of Review Developments in human-like and personified sex tech require familiarity with a range of technologically sophisticated sex toys. Most sex toys approximating full-sized human bodies are inanimate, but recent advances in robotics, artificial intelligence, and digital interfaces are being incorporated into sex toy designs with the aim of providing humanized sexual and emotional experiences for users. This narrative review of scholarship on sex dolls, sex robots, and other forms of personified sex tech covers theoretical debates, recent empirical findings, and identifies gaps for future research in this field. Recent Findings Review of 87 scholarly books, articles, and essays reveals several trends in the field. First, despite continued calls for empirically driven work, the bulk of research on sex dolls, sex robots, and personified sex tech continues to be theoretical. In some cases, theoretical models discussing how people might be affected by human-like and personified sex tech have outpaced the technological capabilities of sex toy manufacturers. Another trend is the noticeable focus on developments and users in North American and European countries. Finally, sex doll ownership is primarily researched and theorized in ways that center heterosexual men as the primary users. While empirical research shows that single middle-aged heterosexual men use sex and sex robots more than women, developments in personified sex tech may push the industry in new directions. Summary Current debates about sex dolls, sex robots, and personified sex tech frame such devices around the potential for escalation and harm reduction. Although more empirical attention is being paid to users' motivations and experiences, a dearth of research directly addresses these debates. More research in needed to refine theoretical assertions about the potential benefits and harms of human-like and personified sex tech. Specifically, robust quantitative data and samples from outside of Western contexts are needed to better assess how such technologies affect users.
... However, probably the most pressing open research question about, if not conceptual challenge for, the PSI concept arises from now ubiquitous interactive media. One might argue that PSI does not apply to the myriad occasions of (computer-)mediated interaction, simply because in these cases the situation objectively is reciprocal, and thus it is unclear why one should speak of illusionary, seeming, or parasocial interaction at all (Hartmann, 2008(Hartmann, , 2016Stever, 2013). If true, this argument would imply that the PSI concept cannot be applied, or at least would lose its unique explanatory power, in examining timely research questions such as how streamers, influencers, bloggers, vloggers, or micro-celebrities, in short: online performers 1 , interact with their followers and develop a sense of intimacy (e.g., Kim & Song, 2016;Kowert & Daniel, 2021;Lee & Jang, 2013;Lee & Shin, 2012;Stever, 2013). ...
This chapter takes a close look at the conceptualization of parasocial interaction (PSI), i.e., users' illusionary experience, during media exposure, of being in a reciprocal social interaction with a media performer (while objectively this is not the case). The chapter discusses existing conceptual challenges and boundary conditions, and proposes future research avenues. A review of PSI theory reveals that a performer's anticipated user response, and implicit forms of address have been neglected in empirical research to date. The biggest conceptual challenge to the PSI concept, however, poses the "interactivity problem." Do user interactions with online performers (influencers, streamers, etc.) and other characters in (at least partially) interactive settings still qualify as PSI? The chapter proposes that the concept can still be applied under certain conditions. PSI can be germane to interactive modalities if an individual user (a) feels like being in a reciprocal interaction with the performer; (b) feels like being directly personally addressed by the performer; and feels as if the interaction is reciprocally intimate - while it can be demonstrated that these three qualities are objectively not true.
... The powerful bonding that an audience can experience with a television personality or character has been amply demonstrated (Giles, 2002;Hartmann, 2016;Schiappa, et al., 2007;Tukachinsky et al., 2020). So has the capacity of entertainment-educational programming to deliver prosocial and health messages (Moyer-Gus e, 2008). ...
Full-text available
Cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Mehmet Oz, until recently the host of a nationally syndicated U.S. television show, is among the media figures who have espoused health views unsanctioned by established medical authorities such as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration. In a large, probability-based national longitudinal study, we examine the prevalence and consequences of consuming alternative health media (AHM), such as The Dr. Oz Show. Drawing on data from a naturally occurring and time-varying quasi-experiment, we demonstrate that such programming may be able to shift the attitudes of its audience on consequential health topics. Specifically, Oz’s endorsement of the MMR vaccine was associated with a shift in acceptance among a segment of his audience. Our study demonstrates both the persuasive power of AHM and its capacity to align the views of its low-knowledge audience members with CDC and FDA-consistent science, should its trusted sources choose to do so.
... To that extent, based on social and psychological circumstance, parasocial interactions can meet individuals' desire for social contact (Hartmann, 2016), which in turn improve the sense of social connectedness. ...
Full-text available
The pandemic has disproportionately affected African American college students, who have experienced significant work‐related, academic, financial, and socio‐emotional challenges due to COVID‐19. The purpose of the study is to investigate how African American students cope with the severe impact of COVID‐19 on their emotional well‐being leveraging the benefits of self‐care coping measures, COVID‐19 knowledge, and communication with others to enhance perceived control and social connectedness. A structural equation modeling and a path analysis of 254 responses from a Historically Black College and University showed that emotional well‐being was positively predicted by self‐care coping strategies, feelings of being in control in life, and social connectedness. In addition, respondents who adopted mind−body balance coping strategies, those who are knowledgeable about COVID‐19, and those in more constant communication with others attained a strong sense of being in control, and in turn the empowerment increased their emotional well‐being.
Full-text available
The idea that the success of media personae in attracting audiences and maintaining their loyalty depends on the creation of a pseudo-friendship, known as para-social relationships, has been a mainstay of mass media research for more than half a century. Expanding the scope of para-social relationship research into the political realm, the notion that political support could be predicted based on the intensity of para-social relationships between voters and political figures was demonstrated in a recent study. The current exploration tests the predictive power of Political Para-Social Relationship (PPSR) in the context of the April and September 2019 Israeli election campaigns. Findings from online panel data (n = 1,061) demonstrate that PPSR toward Netanyahu was a positive predictor of voting for Netanyahu's Likud party and a negative predictor of voting for opposition leader Benny Gantz's Blue and White party in both campaigns. The opposite was true for PPSR toward Benny Gantz. The PPSR constructs also predicted shifts in party support from the February to October (post-election) waves of the study, and loyalty toward the parties. In all models, the PPSR constructs were among the strongest predictors of political support.
Background Few studies have elucidated the mechanisms linking social anxiety and academic engagement. This study aimed to explore the link between social anxiety and academic engagement through a series of mediating effects of social media addiction and sleep quality among college students. Methods 2661 college students completed the Liebowitz Social Anxiety Scale, the Bergen Social Media Addiction Scale, the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index, and the Utrecht Work Engagement Scale for Student. The serial mediation analysis was conducted using Hayes' PROCESS macro (Model 6). Results Social anxiety had a significant direct effect on academic engagement (c = −0.162, p < 0.001) and through three significantly indirect pathways: (1) through social media addiction (B = −0.019, 95% CI: −0.027 to −0.011), accounting for 11.7% of the total effect; (2) through poor sleep quality (B = −0.043, 95% CI: −0.052 to−0.034), accounting for 26.5% of the total effect; and (3) through the serial mediators involving in social media addiction and poor sleep quality (B = −0.007, 95% CI: −0.009 to −0.005), accounting for 4.3% of the total effect. The total mediating effect was 42.5%. Limitations This cross-sectional study prevented us from establishing causality. Conclusions This study highlights the serial mediating role of social media addiction and sleep quality, the behavior and lifestyle factors, in the relationship between social anxiety and academic engagement. Therefore, social media addiction and sleep quality interventions for college students with social anxiety have the potential to improve their academic engagement.
Full-text available
Parasocial-relationships (PSR) are viewers' imaginary relationships with media personae. Despite the growing body of research on PSR, the field is still lacking a clear conceptualization and precise measure of this phenomenon. The present study suggests a novel theorization of PSR as para-friendship and para-love. Study 1 demonstrates construct validity of a new Multiple-PSR scale using the logic of a multi-trait multi-method approach. Study 2 replicates the factorial solution using confirmatory factor analysis. Finally, Study 3 provides evidence for the criterion validity of the scales. Together, these findings suggest that PSR encompass several types of relationships that might mediate different media effects.
Full-text available
Measures of shyness, loneliness and attitudes toward a favorite celebrity were administered to 150 participants. We hypothesized that shyness and loneliness would be linked to the strength of one's "parasocial" relationship with celebrities, and to "highly visible" celebrities in particular. Of the 16 correlation coefficients we obtained, 15 were in the predicted direction, but none exceeded .24. Either shy and lonely people are not predisposed to seek strong parasocial bonds with celebrities or the hypothesized relationships are so weak that they account for very little variance.
Full-text available
The proliferation of visual media worldwide during the past 50 years has made mediated personalities, both real people and fictional characters, powerful agents of social change. Communication theorists have explored various forms of involvement with these personalities, generally referred to as media personae. The current academic literature that explores various forms of audience involvement with media personae lacks conceptual clarity. The present article discusses distinctions among four processes of involvement—transportation, parasocial interaction, identification, and worship—and provides an integrated theoretical model for assessing these powerful forms of social influence.
Full-text available
Parasocial interaction and parasocial relationship are often conflated conceptually and methodologically, leaving researchers unclear as to which concept is being tapped. This research clarifies these concepts and experimentally compares the most common measure of parasocial interaction, the Parasocial Interaction Scale (PSI-Scale), with a newer measure, the Experience of Parasocial Interaction Scale (EPSI-Scale). Participants (N = 383) viewed a brief videorecording of a woman who either bodily addressed the viewer or not, then completed a questionnaire. The EPSI-Scale was a better measure of parasocial interaction, understood as a within-viewing experience of mutual awareness, whereas the PSI-Scale may measure short- or long-term liking, or something else. To avoid conceptual and empirical confusion, researchers must choose measures with greater care.