These relationships born from media create so much connection and friendship with the media figure that you start to think that you really know them. Also, you gain a feeling of being understood and valued by them. Parasocial relationships resemble face-to-face relationships and offer genuine psychological effects.
A lot of people who are physically or mentally ill, find hope and strength watching their favorite onscreen characters even if it’s for few minutes a day. Parasocial bonds help viewers get through tough times, adding substantial value to their lives in a way.
You can make as many parasocial relationships as you want and can break as you wish without consequence. In addition, you can some of your parasocial relationships with your family members and best buddies without jealousy. Such mutual parasocial relationships can actually deepen the bond in real-life social relationships as well.
That said, there are some negative effects of parasocial relationships.
Although these relationships offer the same benefits as real relationships such as a strong sense of belonging and friendship, they cannot replace real-life interpersonal relationships.
When continued for a very long time, parasocial relationships may hamper some areas of a person’s social life. Too much dependence on one-sided interactions can result in unrealistic expectations. Riva Tukachinsky (an assistant professor of communication studies at Chapman University) says, “a person could be creating and rehearsing unrealistic scripts of how relationships are handled in real life.”
Why do people engage in parasocial relationships?
Social connection is the basic need of every human being. Media outlets give consumers the feeling of personal interaction with media figures through video and audio media. Thus, our brains respond very much in the same way as in real-life social interactions. The media consumers very well know that this interaction is an illusion or imaginary. In spite of it, their perception will cause them to react as if the interaction is real.
Some studies showed that television viewers formed a parasocial relationship with favorite television performers who were physically attractive and competent in their abilities. And some viewers were likely to develop parasocial relationships with media figures who are socially attractive and who are attractive for their capabilities.
Some studies investigated the cause of psychological commitment to a media figure including fictional television characters, like Homer Simpson, and non-fictional television personas, like Oprah Winfrey. Results revealed that people were more committed to their parasocial relationship when
- They were satisfied watching the figure
- They felt committed to continue watching the figure, and
- They don’t have good alternatives to the media figure.
The rise of parasocial bonds in the digital age
This is the digital age with smartphones and social media tools ruling our lives. Before the internet was accessible to people, the parasocial relationship was an unknown term to most people. But, it’s no more unusual for most media consumers today. Even in 2021 parasocial relationships are not the same as sitting and having a face-to-face conversation with a person, where you see the whole context. But, a lot has changed!
Earlier parasocial relationships were restricted to radio and TV personas, but today these relationships occur between individuals and their favorite YouTuber, Instagram influencers, bloggers, and gamers. Besides TV shows, celebrities can reach media consumers through Instagram stories, Facebook live posts, or instant tweets on Twitter.
These social media outlets help celebrities to share their experiences and intimate personal lives and daily life activities. Media users can directly communicate with their favorite celebrities through participation in live videos and likes, shares, and comments on their posts. Some are lucky enough to get replies or retweets. This practice is creating a potential for fans to develop a deeper bond with the media figures.
Having access to the internet 24/7 and increasing dependency on social media, have led to increasing in parasocial interactions and relationships.