Humans have a fundamental need to connect with others and have developed new ways of experiencing belonging. One of these are parasocial relationships, which are relationships between a media viewer and character or celebrity. New research published in Psychology of Popular Media indeed found that high identification with main characters of an animated television show correspond with high endorsement of related personality traits.
Parasocial relationships are sustained (one-sidedly) by a viewer consuming content related to the figure, following them on social media, and identification with the fandom (i.e., dedication) that surrounds that figure.
“The more someone is involved with the fandom, the more closely connected they will feel to the parasocial entity around which that fandom is centered,” explain study author Erica C. Rarity and colleagues. “These feelings of closeness translate to the feeling that the characters and stories are more meaningful. When identification with a character is particularly strong, a viewer may even develop values, beliefs, and personality traits that align with those of the character.”
To understand if identification with media characters can reflect a mirroring of personality traits the authors surveyed 829 fans of the television show My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic via a fan website and Discord, a social media platform. Participants filled out measures assessing their identification with each of the 6 main characters and measured for 6 corresponding personality traits: humor, generosity, loyalty, honesty, kindness, and friendship.
Results show that for four of the six traits (humor, generosity, loyalty, kindness) strong identification with the character predicted personality traits corresponding to each character. These results were not found for honesty or friendship.
“These findings support the possibility that, at least for parasocial relationships that occupy an important role in people’s lives, identification with characters might influence either personality traits or self-perception of those traits.”
The authors cite some limitations to this work including the correlational nature of the data. In other words, we cannot say whether viewership of these shows causes the corresponding changes in personality traits, or vice versa. Perhaps people already high on these traits naturally seek out viewership of these shows.
The study, “Identification With Characters in Parasocial Relationships Predicts Sharing Their Personality Traits“, was authored by Erica C. Rarity, Matthew R. Leitao, and Abraham M. Rutchick.