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Parasocial relationships perceived as more emotionally fulfilling than our acquaintances - study

Parasocial relationships perceived as more emotionally fulfilling than our acquaintances, study finds
Parasocial relationships perceived as more emotionally fulfilling than our acquaintances, study finds Copyright Canva
Copyright Canva
By Oceane Duboust
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A favourite YouTuber or a beloved book character may be more effective at cheering you up than an acquaintance, UK researchers say

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One-sided relationships with online stars may cheer us up more than reciprocated exchanges with acquaintances, according to new research.

From admiring a celebrity to getting regular updates on the daily life of a YouTuber unlikely to return the favour, these dynamics are known as parasocial interactions.

It’s a term that was coined by two American sociologists in 1956 to refer to people’s attachment to television personalities.

They’re sometimes known by the more extreme examples - such as fans resorting to stalking - but these parasocial relationships could also be positive for our well-being. 

That’s the conclusion from a team of researchers at the University of Essex in the UK who included more than 1,000 people in multiple surveys. 

They found people perceived this kind of relationship as fulfilling emotional needs more effectively than acquaintances and published the findings in the journal Scientific Reports.

People “actually felt that their strong parasocial ties would be more effective than their weaker ties at helping them fulfil an emotional need, like cheering them up or helping them calm down if they were feeling upset,” Veronica Lamarche, the study’s corresponding author from the University of Essex's psychology department, told Euronews Health.

One possible explanation is that one-sided relationships are seen as available and that people are “hesitant to reach out to their weaker ties”.

“So if you're feeling upset, it might feel much easier to open your favourite book, watch your favourite TV show, or watch your favourite YouTuber to feel that emotional fulfilment,” Lamarche said. “But you might not be as willing to reach out to someone you haven't spoken to in a long time, or to a neighbour or, a co-worker and share what's going on in your life,” she added.

Still, strong two-sided relationships, such as romantic relationships or very close friendships, were consistently seen as the most effective connections for fulfilling emotional needs.

Not just for lonely people

Though the average age of participants was 36, Lamarche highlighted that the age range in the study was between 18 and 70.

Just over half of the participants said they have a strong parasocial relationship, with 36 per cent saying they felt close to a YouTuber.

“While they maybe didn't have a YouTuber who was their parasocial relationship, most people in our study said that they have at least a parasocial relationship with a movie character or a book character or a celebrity,” Lamarche said. 

In the future, she would be interested in looking at how effective the different relationships are at fulfilling emotional roles compared to how they were perceived.

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