Previous: Why Are We Attracted to People Who Look Like Us?
Next: What Do Different Brainwaves Mean?



View count:116,519
Last sync:2022-11-19 13:00
Your love for Rihanna or Tom Hardy may be unrequited, but that doesn't necessarily make it unhealthy.

Hosted by: Hank Green
Support SciShow by becoming a patron on Patreon:
Dooblydoo thanks go to the following Patreon supporters:
Kevin Bealer, Mark Terrio-Cameron, KatieMarie Magnone, Patrick Merrithew, D.A. Noe, Charles Southerland, Fatima Iqbal, Sultan Alkhulaifi, Nicholas Smith, Tim Curwick, Alexander Wadsworth, Scott Satovsky Jr, Philippe von Bergen, Bella Nash, Chris Peters, Patrick D. Ashmore, Piya Shedden, Charles George
Looking for SciShow elsewhere on the internet?
[INTRO ♪].

Don't we all have that friend who has written a little bit of self-insert Harry Potter fanfic— like, where they're part of the story? And who can blame them?

Who wouldn't want to hang out with everyone in the Wizarding World? Or maybe Harry Potter's not your thing. Maybe you casually call Dan Howell your boyfriend or you talk about Beyonce as if you just got off the phone with her.

It doesn't matter who it is. We all do it. Even if it's just in our heads.

But why? Why do we get crushes on celebrities or on fictional characters, and feel like we're friends with people we don't know at all? These are called parasocial relationships.

They're one-sided, unreciprocated relationships with people we don't actually know, from YouTubers to characters on Doctor Who. But I'm not here to tell you that they're not real. In fact, maybe we don't give them enough credit.

The thing is, many psychologists think parasocial relationships are usually good for us. A couple studies in 2008 suggested that they can give us a boost when we're lonely and make rejection sting less. And according to a 2007 study, they can increase our feelings of empathy and make us feel more comfortable talking about ourselves or sharing secrets.

So in that way, they're actually pretty similar to IRL relationships. Parasocial break-ups—say, when a character is killed off in a show or a celebrity dies—can even make us feel real grief. We tend to push this kind of grief aside or think of it as silly: research on how people responded to the death of Princess Diana suggests that many were surprised and confused by how upset they were.

But the emotions that come from parasocial relationships are real. Because there's no risk of rejection in these one-sided relationships, scientists used to think that they had psychological causes, like loneliness, introversion, or neurosis. Parasocial relationships could be safe spaces, they thought, for people who weren't as good at forming two-sided relationships.

But ... they couldn't find any evidence to support those ideas. Everyone seemed to form them, which led psychologists to a different hypothesis: that it's just a natural, altruistic human tendency to try to form relationships, regardless of the distance between us and the other person. All of this suggests that parasocial relationships are a sort of extension of social ones.

And they might form because of similar reasons. A 1989 study of students' relationships to soap opera characters took a look at two theories of interpersonal relationships: the uncertainty reduction theory and the personal construct theory. The uncertainty reduction theory says that we actively seek out information to reduce uncertainty— and that as uncertainty goes down, liking goes up.

So knowing someone better and being able to predict what they'll do next makes us like them more. The personal construct theory says that we understand other people through lots of different constructs. So when we think of someone, we might have sense of where they are on a scale from excitable to chill—that's one construct.

Or wary to gullible — that's another. Like, say your friend always goes to the same place for brunch and orders the exact same thing. After spending enough time with him, maybe you'll recognize that even taking tiny risks makes him nervous.

As you build a more complex understanding of him, you're better able to get and maybe even predict what he'll do and why. And, according to these theories, that might mean you'll like him more. To study these theories, 105 students were asked to complete questionnaires about real acquaintances and soap opera characters that they liked and disliked.

The researchers found that for both the social and parasocial relationships, having more constructs about someone and predicting their behavior better were both linked to how much the students liked them. And if parasocial relationships are all about getting to know someone better, then the world we live in today is particularly well-suited for them. That's not to say they're a new-fangled thing.

Think of FDR's fireside chats, or of the people who flocked to New York Harbor to await the latest installment of Dickens. But today's late night shows, podcasts, and blogs tend to have a casual tone and a direct address, which makes intimacy easy. It feels like Trevor Noah really gets you.

There was always some fuzziness between parasocial and social relationships— and places where both could go wrong. And the internet is bending the boundaries even further. Twitter, for instance, lets celebrities constantly share personal stuff, or even respond to you directly.

Nicki Minaj might help you with your tuition. Hannah Hart can wish you a happy birthday. There's already some research into online parasocial relationships, but studying Internet culture is obviously a super new thing.

It'll definitely take more psychology research to figure out what all this might mean. And we need people who are familiar with the internet doing that research, so if you're looking into a psychology program, maybe you should be doing that research. That would be great!

But in the meantime, know that it's okay for these relationships to feel real. Feeling strongly about people you don't know does not make you weird … it's just a quirk of being human. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow Psych!

If you like thinking about humans and how we all interact with each other, maybe check out some Crash Course Sociology videos at And don't forget to for more of this. [OUTRO ♪].