What Are Parasocial Relationships And How Do They Work?

Not all of our friendships and relationships are worth the same.
What are parasocial relationships and how do they work?

What are parasocial relationships? Why do they occur and how do they affect us? Read this article and find out!

Many people have wondered what parasocial relationships are all about. But before we can answer that, try answering the following questions: Have you ever thought about the impact the media has on your behavior? It may sound like a strange question, but it has to do with this type of relationship.

Basically, parasocial relationships are about the special phenomenon that you build with people you “know” through social media.

This is the reality we all have to deal with. One cannot escape the fact that social media has the ability (potentially as it depends on several factors) to influence people’s behaviors, thoughts and actions.

In many ways, the mass media likes to make individuals believe that they are being spoken to in a personal way. But it is not so. The truth is that all users are just one big uniform mass. Think, for example, of spam emails. Even though they are sent to millions of people, they still get your name intertwined.

In this article, we will take a closer look at what parasocial relationships are, why they occur, the emotions that come with them, and how they affect our behavior. Read on!

Parasocial relationships: What exactly is it?

Parasocial connections are those we as individuals form with famous people, celebrities or influencers on social media. These relationships can actually arise with all the divr in the media, whether they are real or fictitious. It can even happen with comic book divers.

To make it all a little clearer, we can do a little experiment. First, imagine that you meet a celebrity in the supermarket. It has to be someone you can relate to.

You would probably approach, ask for an autograph and try to get some conversation going. You would almost behave as if you knew the person in advance, even if you actually did not.

For this reason, parasocial relationships cover  false social relationships. Such relationships are not genuine. They stem from the desire to meet this celebrity in real life or perhaps from your admiration of that person. As you can see, the brain can fool us!

It is possible to perceive a relationship as close and intimate, even if you do not really know the people. You only know about what they choose to show on social media. In addition, the experts confirm that this is a one-sided relationship, so it is nothing more than a pseudo-relationship.

Person with computer and telephone in hand

Where does this term come from?

The authors, Horton Donald and Richard Wohl, spoke for the first time about parasocial relationships in 1956. More specifically, they defined the term as “the unproven formation of a strong and close relationship with a person from the media”.

The authors further added that this type of relationship is one-sided (not reciprocated in any way). According to them and as quoted by Caro (2015) it is about “the viewer’s illusion of mutual interaction with people from the media”.

Emotions that come with it

A characteristic of the parasocial conditions is that the individual feels a strong identification with the person it is about. The result is that one perceives it as a real relationship with this person. Therefore, one develops a deep sympathy for the person. The opposite can also happen (that one feels rejection or resentment towards this person).

What happens most often with this type of relationship is that you feel like you really know someone just because you see or follow them on social media. It’s a rather unusual relationship, because in reality it is completely one-sided. That is why we call it a pseudo-relationship.

On the other hand, according to communications expert Caschi, parasocial relationships are a communicative phenomenon that makes us aware of a particular media content simply because someone is talking about it. This situation arises because we think we are more than just a spectator. This actually has a lot to do with the brain. Read on here and find out which way.

Who do we form parasocial relationships with?

As you can see, this type of relationship can be formed with any celebrity (it can even be fictitious). It can happen to people who appear on TV, radio, social media or newspapers.

These can be musicians, actors, sports stars, TV hosts, politicians and the like. Of course, this also includes fictional divr, such as the main characters in comics (it happens most often for children).

How long does this kind of relationship last?

There is no precise answer to this question as this type of relationship is difficult to define. In fact, the duration depends on how long the known person is significant or important to the individual. And it also has to do with how long the celebrity has been relevant in the media.

Woman on film set

Why do parasocial relationships develop?

In a way, the emergence of parasocial relationships has something to do with the subconscious. We can illustrate this with a simple example. When you see famous people on television (or hear them on the radio, watch them on YouTube, etc.), your brain subconsciously thinks that all this content is created specifically for you.

In other words; even though you know that you are just a grain of sand among the many viewers of the show, your thoughts may fool you and make you believe that the content is in a way only for you. It explains why you can relate so much to a particular person or type of content.

Strategies on social media

At the same time, the celebrities we talk about and with whom people form parasocial relationships are well aware of the mechanisms that amplify that type of emotion. One example is that they look into the camera and speak to their viewers (all of us) in a direct way. YouTubers and TV hosts enjoy using this a lot.

In fact, brain research tells us that the brain is programmed to interpret it as a sign that a person is giving us attention when they look us directly in the eye.

So when you see that they are looking you in the eye, you can easily feel that they are speaking directly to you. The result is that your brain interprets that the person you admire so much also knows you to some degree.

Everything we have mentioned, plus the sense of empathy and attention that these people evoke through their verbal and non-verbal language, opens up for the creation of a parasocial relationship. It is important to mention that the person’s degree of credibility as well as physical and intellectual attraction also play a role in this.

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