I Subconciously Love You: How The Media Creates Parasocial Relationships

10 Jun

All My Children, One Life to Live and General Hospital. These three soap operas and many more have brought afternoon entertainment into our homes for years. If we are like everyone else, we have our favorite soap as well as favorite characters which keep us addicted to their relationships and dramas.

Why are we as a culture so addicted to the relationships of the characters on screen? We create parasocial relationships. A parasocial relationship is a relationship where audience members create a kinship or friendship with media personalities.1

Parasocial relationships can be divided into two categories:

1)Someone can imagine himself or herself being in the middle of the action therefore creating mental stimulation.

2)Fans are affected by what happens to the characters and talk about them as if they were real. They also express strong emotions toward the characters. This type of situation is called identification.2

Identification happens when the viewer feels that they’ve been in a similar situation or have expressed a paticular behavior that the character is emotionally going through.

Parasocial relationships are not only meant for those that watch soap operas but can be applied to film stars and local media personalities as well.

What is your favorite soap opera or characters?



29 Responses to “I Subconciously Love You: How The Media Creates Parasocial Relationships”

  1. Open Book June 10, 2013 at 8:36 AM #

    Hi Paris,

    Great article and topic can’t wait to discuss.

    U Said: “Why are we as a culture so addicted to the relationships of the characters on screen? ”

    I came across this interesting commentary about parasocial relationships on NPR that really supports your theory and answers the question u posed.


    • parisienne June 10, 2013 at 7:13 PM #

      I agree with the belonginess theory. When I wrote the article I was thinking about “Robsten” and how people want them to be together (they never were) people wanted them to be together because it allowed them to “believe in love”. Although what they truly wanted to believe in is the relationship/love that Edward and Bella have in the books although their love is totally dysfunctional, IMO.

      So all in all, people want to believe in/ belong to something that’s totally dysfunctional.

      • Open Book June 11, 2013 at 8:12 PM #

        “So all in all, people want to believe in/ belong to something that’s totally dysfunctional.”

        Do u think Robsten or Bella/Edward dysfunctional relationship attracted people who were equally dysfunctional? I guess what I’m asking if u promote dysfunction do u think u will attract crazy behavior?

        • parisienne June 12, 2013 at 5:38 PM #

          yes, I think like attracts like. If one writes dysfunctional characters than those are the types of people that will be attracted because they IDENTIFIED WITH THE DYSFUNCTION.

      • Open Book June 11, 2013 at 8:22 PM #

        “……..it allowed them to “believe in love”.”

        When u see a film and the show is over. Most people can move on and accept those were actors portraying a character etc… What was it about Robsten that contributed the most to making people so crazy and unable to accept Rob/Kristen weren’t Edward/Bella?

        • parisienne June 12, 2013 at 5:42 PM #

          From the beginning the fans were allowed to dictate what would be sold to them. (It was the easiest way to keep them happy) I know we’ve discussed this ad nauseum before but they were allowed by the studio to transfer E/B’s traits on to R/K

          When in reality, R/K couldn’t and still don’t stand each other.

  2. parisienne June 10, 2013 at 7:01 PM #

    Hi Everyone!

  3. parisienne June 10, 2013 at 7:42 PM #

    Tuesday night, I won’t be here but please comment and I will answer when I can.

    • Open Book June 11, 2013 at 7:52 PM #

      No worries! Answer when u can, u have left us with tons to discuss tonight.

  4. we8theking June 11, 2013 at 4:21 PM #


    You asked:

    Why are we as a culture so addicted to the relationships of the characters on screen?

    I’m sure one reason is…

    – We get to watch a drama unfold featuring someone else.
    – We can gawk, without having anything at stake.
    – We can look having little or no reason to learn anything.

    Is it posssible, that these kinds of problems are the very best to have?

  5. Open Book June 11, 2013 at 7:53 PM #

    Hi Everyone!

    Sorry I’m late! Let me read and get caught up.

  6. Open Book June 11, 2013 at 8:46 PM #

    In the NPR commentary on parasocial relationships they state the reason we are so inclined to seek them out because we can form whatever one-way relationship we want without caring for the other person etc.. In a way its very much like porn. Do u think these poor social skills are more prominent today than 10 years ago? If so what do u think is the problem too much television, celebrity gossip or the Internet?

    • Open Book June 11, 2013 at 8:54 PM #

      P.S. Are parasocial relationships something all actors want to some extent? Meaning is it flattering to know they touched someone that they remember that character? What are the plusses and minuses for actors when fans form parasocial relationships with their characters?

      • littlebells June 12, 2013 at 12:13 PM #

        Yes I believe to some extent. However I think the best is when a fan is more a fan of the actors work and talent. To continue working in the industry, one needs fans supporting your films.

      • parisienne June 12, 2013 at 5:27 PM #

        To an extent yes because the actor needs (well not necessarily the actor but the show/movie/product they are promoting needs the likeability factor. I hope that made sense.

        In order for a product to be sold the public needs to be shown that they are listened to and how the product can help them in their daily lives.

        • Open Book June 13, 2013 at 4:58 PM #

          So really the studio who makes the product should be responsible for providing healthy/helpful content. Do u think healthy content is more successful than unhealthy content today? If so what do u think is healthy/helpful content?

      • parisienne June 12, 2013 at 5:36 PM #

        I don’t think there are really any pluses to a parasocial relationship for the actor. Just the fan. Don’t forget the actor doesn’t know that the fan is creating a parasocial relationship.

        So the actor goes on with his/her life. It is not the fault of the actor that the fan created the relationship in the fist place. The actor does what he/she loves to do. ACT. Are they to be punished or held responsible for the actions of a person that cannot tell the difference between fantasy and reality?

        Now grant it, there are some celebs (and I won’t name her but we all know who i’m talking about) that play with fans by wearing jewelry and saying/doing things that allow the fans to carry on their relationship. I think she likes the attention she gets, in fact I KNOW she loves the attention she gets otherwise she wouldn’t be calling the paps on herself.

        • Open Book June 13, 2013 at 5:12 PM #

          “Don’t forget the actor doesn’t know that the fan is creating a parasocial relationship.”

          Personally it would freak me out if someone developed an entire one-way relationship with me that I didn’t know about. Also, to make things freakier if they started answering questions for me and held me responsible for something I did not say etc… I think u told me that fans would call Rob a nickname at a premiere not knowing the nickname was offensive. In that instance do u think an actor should confront that person so they can wake up from their fantasy or ignore them?

          • parisienne June 13, 2013 at 6:14 PM #

            He was called “Flippy” Kristen would call him that because she said he looked like a penguin when trying to spin around. Kellan also mocked the way Rob runs. The point is Kristen was mocking Rob and told the entire world about it. The fans thought it was cute because “Kristen gave Rob a nickname! OMG”

            IIRC, Rob blew the fan off when she called him Flippy but he wasn’t rude about it. He scoffed at the name in a joking manner.

            • Open Book June 13, 2013 at 6:49 PM #

              “Rob blew the fan off when she called him Flippy but he wasn’t rude about it.”

              This shows Rob to have really good resolve by his actions. This is why people admire and respect him because he has demonstrated this repeatedly. To me all really good actors seem to have that ability to quickly show resolve and adjust when under public pressure and scrutiny. Do u think that ability can be taught?

    • littlebells June 12, 2013 at 12:11 PM #

      I think being exposed to so much media, social and otherwise, has become a huge downfall. I think people believe these actors are more accessible when in reality they aren’t. We just see them more frequently in different venues. However with celebrities on twitter, that’s not exactly helpful for those fans that can’t distinguish fact from fiction.

      I remember when I was younger it was just magazines with stars’ photos plastered on the front. That was the extent of an actor being overexposed.

      If we took away the Internet and the thousand and one stupid celebrity gossip shows, I think eventually most normal but disillusioned fans would go back to not giving a crap about celebrities and their “relationships”. It’s like not eating chips again. After a while you forget about them and don’t care when you are at a party and there are to a of them. That’s a lame analogy! Hahaha!!!

      • Open Book June 13, 2013 at 5:28 PM #

        LB- Its not a lame analogy. Quite honestly celebrities civil rights are being violated IMO. I mean sure they need tabloids to promote their work but they cross the line quickly into uncivil tactics. I think celebrities who participate on Twitter are saying its o.k. for fans and the the tabloids to cross those boundaries into their personal lives. I think celebrities have to set the standards on how they want to be treated and not leave it to fans or the tabloids to define them. Does that make sense?

        • parisienne June 13, 2013 at 6:32 PM #

          Not necessarily, I know Shane West at least sets boundaries. Shane will talk with fans but he won’t answer questions about who he is dating or anything like that.

          I think that some dialogue with fans is necessary in order to keep their interest in a show/movie thereby keeping a job. When one gets intimidated by fans or when a fauxmance is set up that does not mirror one’s actual private life then it becomes a problem.

          I see no harm in showing appreciation for helping an actor keep a job. The fans go over board sometimes but that’s only because they feel they have every right to.

          • Open Book June 13, 2013 at 6:54 PM #

            “The fans go over board sometimes but that’s only because they feel they have every right to.”

            ITA there is no harm in admiring and supporting that actors work. However, What would u consider a fan going over board?

            • Open Book June 13, 2013 at 7:03 PM #

              I meant to say there’s no harm in an actor keeping a dialogue with fans about their work but how can an actor keep it from turning into groupie/stalking territory? Are their triggers or warning bells that go off alerting its time to wrap it up and cut them off without being rude?

              • parisienne June 14, 2013 at 2:20 PM #

                Well Shane West, the only reason I’m using him is he’s the first person that I’ve seen that has set clear boundaries (Emma Stone has too-with her FB page) if they don’t follow what Shane has asked he doesn’t speak to them.

                • Open Book June 14, 2013 at 2:30 PM #

                  Howdy Partner!

                • Open Book June 14, 2013 at 2:47 PM #

                  It sounds smart what Emma and Shane are doing. Although, I don’t trust FB or Twitter as u know. Hahaha!

                  Things change so quickly actors today need to stay connected to their potential audiences to stay relevant. I really think visionaries have to be journalist to an extent. Do u think its better/easier for actors to observe and get information through social media than in-person to get honest responses from people/fans that’s not laced with fake/sucking up to impress an actor behavior? Does that make sense?

                  • parisienne June 14, 2013 at 5:12 PM #

                    That does make sense and I do agree that actors should look on the internet to see what is said about them than to face to face. Although people do still say things face to face that aren’t necessarily nice.

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