There is an interesting article published in the Psychologist, regarding the psychology behind Celebrity Worship.

The Celebrity worshipers are classified on the following three dimensions (obtained by Principal Components Analysis):

  • Entertainment-social. Fans are attracted to a favorite celebrity because of their perceived ability to entertain and to become a source of social interaction and gossip. Items include ‘My friends and I like to discuss what my favorite celebrity has done’ and ‘Learning the life story of my favorite celebrity is a lot of fun’.
  • Intense-personal. The intense-personal aspect of celebrity worship reflects intensive and compulsive feelings about the celebrity, akin to the obsession tendencies of fans often referred to in the literature. Items include ‘My favorite celebrity is practically perfect in every way’ and ‘I consider my favorite celebrity to by my soul mate’.
  • Borderline-pathological. This dimension is typified by uncontrollable behaviors and fantasies about their celebrities. Items include ‘I would gladly die in order to save the life of my favorite celebrity’ and ‘If I walked through the door of my favorite celebrity’s house she or he would be happy to see me’.

The article goes on to relate these dimension to Eysenecks Personality dimensions:

Specifically, the entertainment-social factor of the Celebrity Attitude Scale reflects some of the extraversion personality traits (sociable, lively, active, venturesome), the intense-personal factor of the CAS reflects some of the neuroticism traits (tense, emotional, moody), and some of the acts described in the borderline-pathological subscale of the CAS seem to reflect some of the psychoticism traits (impulsive, antisocial, egocentric).

It goes on to discuss the social and developmental aspects with special focus on the predominantly teen phenomenon of celebrity worship. It is theorized that Celebrity Worship is part of ‘parasocial’ relationship building and plays a role in the transition from parental attachment to peer attachments as a function of increasing emotional autonomy.

Here I start seeing parallels between the Teen’s particular style of Celebrity Worship and the infant’s reaction to Strange Situation test measured by Ainsworth and theoriesed by Bowlby.

In the Strange Situation test the group of infants which has a secure attachment with parent, protested and cried on separation, but when the mother returned, they greeted her with pleasure and were easy to console. They were securely attached. Could a person with this form of attachment style (the Extraversion secure trait), in its adolescence when building a parent-like role-model relationship with a Celebrity display a similar attachment style as displayed in infancy. The attachment would give pleasure, would be fun to talk about and provide as a basis (talking matter) for other peer relationships. Is this not the Entertainment-social style?

The second group of infants in the Strange Situation test was characterized by a lack of distress during parental separation, and avoidance of the parent upon return. This group was called insecurely attached, and avoidant. Is it not possible that this attachment style , that is characterized by attachment from a distance and no anxiety on separation , but a general anxiety (Neuroticism trait) in general, lead in adolescence to intense-personal style of seeking a parental figure in the Celebrity, which purports to be personal, and is a substitute for the lack of parental bonding and is itself more of a facade. As the article notes, “an intense-personal interest in celebrities was best predicted by low levels of security and closeness with parents.” What is apparent is that this intense ‘relationship’ with the celebrity is juts another facade and a repeat of the pattern of insecure or avoidant attachment as the relationship is more about oneself then about the celebrity.

The third group in the Strange Situation Test was labeled ambivalent or anxiously attached, and tended to be clingy from the beginning and afraid to explore the room. They became terribly anxious upon separation, yet displayed angry and resistive behavior upon the parent’s return. This may indeed follow up in adolescence as celebrity worship of the Borderline/Pathological type where one loves as well hates (in the sense of distressing or harming the celebrity if favors not returned) the one who has been substituted for the parental figure. One is not really clear about the feelings as the role of impulsive (Psychoticism trait) behavior is too much!

This makes us pause and consider whether the attachment style displayed in infancy was due to bad parenting or a result of some ‘trait’ factor associated with the temperaments of the infant? Does one come endowed with some temperaments like that proposed by Buss and Plomin? Do the attachment styles in infancy and Celebrity Worship styles in adolescence based on the developmental unfolding and fixation of the same underlying trait tendencies? Below are the traits observed by Buss and Plomin in infants:

1. Emotionality-impassiveness: How emotional and excitable were the babies? Some were given to emotional outbursts of distress, fear, and anger — others were not. Could the high emotionality tilt lead to insecure attachment and intense-personal celebrity worship? Is achieving impassiveness a developmental task that these kids are not able to achieve (due to a mix of inherent traits as well as nurturing provided)?

2. Sociability-detachment: How much did the babies enjoy, or avoid, contact and interaction with people. Some babies are “people people,” others are “loners.” Does the high sociability lead to secure attachment and later to Entertainment-social fixation on celebrities? Is achieving detachment too a developmental task?

3. Activity-lethargy: How vigorous, how active, how energetic were the babies? Just like adults, some babies are always on the move, fidgety, busy — and some are not. This dimension may be related to ambivalent and active forms of stalking behaviors. Maybe too much activity (hyperactivity) is not too good and cultivating a bit of lethargy is a developmental task?

4. Impulsivity-deliberateness: How quickly did the babies “change gears,” move from one interest to another? Some people quickly act upon their urges; others are more careful and deliberate. This could be strongly related to the ambivalent attachment and later borderline-pathological celebrity worship characterized by impulsiveness and lack of successful traversal of developmental task of cultivating deliberativeness.

I’ll leave this topic for now, just noting briefly that the intense-emotional worshippers also have low cognitive flexibility. As they have been shown to be related to Neuroticism, it is little wonder. People with high Neuroticism also develop disorders like Depression whereby one sort of falls into learned helplessness- a fixed cognitive schema and inflexibility in trying new things, cognitive coping actions. This needs cures like cognitive behavior therapy where new modes of cognition and action are taught. A lack of cognitive flexibility thus fits nicely with the Intense-Personal celebrity worshippers.

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