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The Influence of Influencers

If you’ve ever found yourself increasingly invested in a particular celebrity or reality star’s personal life - or dutifully following an instagram influencer’s stories even though you’ve never met them in person - you're not alone. The quite common experience of one-way digital communication is called a Parasocial Relationship. The term Parasocial Relationship (or Parasocial Interaction) was first coined in the 1950’s by Donald Horton and R. Richard Wahl when studying the psychological attachment formed with television and radio personalities. By definition, it's a one-sided, non-reciprocal relationship with media personas. One side of this relationship expends emotional energy and invests time in the relationship, while the other does not, and is often unaware of the other’s existence.

Why do we form these relationships? Humans, by nature, are dependent on social interaction for survival - and with the rise of social media, these parasocial relationships become all the more commonplace in our digitally-expanding social circles. These relationships can provide an escape and a sense of feeling supported - even though there's no direct two-way communication happening. Media plays heavily into the formation of these relationships; we are deluged with the day to day comings and goings of celebrities and reality stars - whether it be on TV, in magazines or on social media - and have increasing round the clock access and ability to follow the minutiae of their lives even more closely. In general, these relationships are normal and harmless - but there are cases where these feelings of attachment grow too strong and develop into obsession, stalking or other detrimental behaviors. All this to say - if you find yourself day-dreaming about your budding relationship with Donald Glover and have a Google alert set to find out if he’s single (what, just us?) - it’s totally normal... for now.

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