Can how you feel about your favorite celebrities be related to how you feel about yourself? A study published in The Journal of Social Psychology suggests that based on attachment style, individuals assimilate ideas about different types of celebrities to feel better about themselves.
In today’s world of social media, celebrities are no longer distant figures. They are easily accessible through tweets, pictures, news, and livestreams. As a result, people get to know both the positive and negative aspects of their favorite singers, actors, sports professionals, or influencers. This has led to a rise in mixed opinions about famous individuals, known as ambivalent celebrities, rather than just having positive opinions. The study aimed to understand how comparing oneself to both positive and ambivalent celebrities could vary based on attachment style and its impact on self-esteem.
Attachment styles refer to the way people emotionally bond and interact with others, often shaped by early life experiences and relationships. Attachment avoidance refers to a person’s inclination to avoid emotional intimacy and closeness in relationships. Individuals with high attachment avoidance tend to downplay the importance of emotional connection. Attachment anxiety refers to a person’s tendency to worry excessively about the availability and responsiveness of their romantic partners. Individuals with high attachment anxiety often fear rejection, abandonment, or being unimportant to their partners.
Elaine Paravati of the University at Buffalo and her colleagues conducted three studies to explore these relationships. In Study 1, they surveyed 170 undergraduate students, gathering information about their attachment style, interest in celebrities in general, desire to follow celebrities, preference for positive celebrities, and how much they enjoyed criticizing ambivalent celebrities.
Study 2 involved 119 female undergraduate students who were asked to write about a celebrity they admired and felt connected to (to manipulate positive celebrity exposure) or complete a control writing task. Afterward, participants were assessed on their self-esteem and attachment style.
In Study 3, the researchers recruited 181 female undergraduate participants. They were asked to write about an ambivalent celebrity figure they felt connected to but had mixed feelings about, or they could complete a control writing task. Following this, participants were assessed on their self-esteem and attachment style.
The results showed that attachment style plays a role in how people feel about celebrities. Those with anxious attachment tended to be more interested in both positive celebrities and celebrities in general, which aligns with previous research indicating that anxious individuals tend to form more parasocial relationships. On the other hand, people with high avoidant attachment were more likely to enjoy criticizing ambivalent celebrities.
In Study 2, anxious attachment was linked to lower self-esteem in the control condition (without thinking about their favorite celebrity), but this effect was not observed when participants thought about their favorite celebrity. Avoidant attachment, however, did not show any significant relationship with self-esteem in this context.
In Study 3, thinking about an ambivalent celebrity positively influenced the self-esteem of participants who had high avoidant attachment but low anxiety. This suggests that celebrity-related information can affect how people feel about themselves, particularly for those with specific attachment styles.
The researchers noted that just as people approach real-life relationships differently based on their attachment style, the same seems to apply to their relationships with celebrities. Positive celebrities appear to boost self-esteem for those high in anxiety because these individuals tend to see themselves as similar to others. On the other hand, ambivalent celebrities improve self-esteem for individuals low in anxiety and high in avoidance because these individuals tend to contrast their negative qualities with others.
“This work suggests that individual differences can impact how people feel about themselves after thinking about celebrities, and therefore has important implications for the way individuals can use their bonds with celebrities to improve their own self-image,” the researchers wrote. “Not all individuals will respond the same way to celebrity content.”
“For those with high anxiety, reading about a beloved celebrity may give them a boost in self-liking. With this in mind, they may want to scroll their favorite celebrity’s social media profile, watch them on television, or read about them in a magazine on a day they need a self-esteem boost.”
“On the other hand, individuals low in anxiety and high in avoidance may want to seek out an ambivalent celebrity, rather than a positive one, when they need a self-esteem boost. For these individuals, reading a gossip magazine about ambivalent celebrities may be a better strategy for increasing their self-liking than reading about positive celebrities.”
The study sheds new light on how feelings about celebrities can impact self-esteem. However, there are some limitations to consider. The study mainly involved undergraduate students, and in Studies 2 and 3, only female participants were included. Future research could benefit from a more diverse and broader sample. Additionally, this study focused on positive and ambivalent celebrities, omitting negative celebrities. Exploring the relationships with celebrities people feel negatively about could be an interesting avenue for future research.
The study, “Social comparison, parasocial relationships, and attachment style: how and when do celebrities improve self-liking?“, was authored by Elaine Paravati, Shira Gabriel, Jennifer Valenti, Kylie Valent, and Anneke Buffone