BrainBlogger has an interesting entry that delves into the research regarding “celebrity worship” — which includes probably a lot more Americans than most people realize.
Much research has been conducted about who engages in celebrity worship and what drives the compulsion. Celebrity worship for purely entertainment purposes likely reflects an extraverted personality and is most likely a healthy past time for most people. This type of celebrity worship involves harmless behaviors such as reading and learning about a celebrity. Intense personal attitudes towards celebrities, however, reflect traits of neuroticism. The most extreme descriptions of celebrity worship exhibit borderline pathological behavior and traits of psychoticism. This type of celebrity worship may involve empathy with a celebrity’s failures and successes, obsessions with the details of a celebrity’s life, and over-identification with the celebrity.
I think that if people keep up with celebrities as a hobby (much like I keep up with technology trends), it’s fine and there’s nothing wrong with it. But when people look at celebrities as actual role models, or people whom they would like to model their lives after, that’s when I think it’s taking things a little bit too far.
Is celebrity worship good or bad?
Research provides us with a mixed picture. North et al. (2007) found that there’s a certain type of person that seems drawn to celebrity worship:
[… E]ntertainment social celebrity worship (arguably the most normal form) appears to have no implications for attributional style or self-esteem, intense personal celebrity worship was related to positive self-esteem but also to a propensity toward stable and global attributions, and borderline pathological celebrity worship (arguably the most disordered form) was related to external, stable, and global attributional styles and was close to being associated negatively with self-esteem.
This suggests that people with the most extreme celebrity worship engage in an attributional style that believes the cause of most events in the person’s life are external, that is, they are outside the control of the person experiencing the event. People who have stable, global attributions share such an attribution style with people who are depressed. So people who have the most extreme celebrity worship look to the outside world for explanations, and believe celebrities might hold a piece of that cure.
North and his colleagues (2007) also provide a nice overview of what prior research has found in this area:
Several studies have addressed the correlates of celebrity worship, such as a higher incidence among young people (Ashe & McCutcheon, 2001; Giles, 2002; Larson, 1995); employment of a game-playing love style (McCutcheon, 2002); a negative association with some forms of religiosity (Maltby, Houran, Lange, Ashe, & McCutcheon, 2002); and links with different aspects of Eysenck’s (e.g. Eysenck & Eysenck, 1975) personality dimensions (Maltby, Houran, & McCutcheon, 2003).
Most interesting in the context of this research, Maltby et al. (2004) concluded that intense personal celebrity worship was associated with poorer mental health, and particularly with poorer general health (depression, anxiety, somatic symptoms, social dysfunction) and negative affect (negative affect, stress, and low positive affect and life satisfaction). Similarly, Maltby, McCutcheon, Ashe, and Houran (2001) found that intense personal celebrity worship was associated with depression and anxiety.
Celebrity worship is especially disturbing and prevalent amongst teenage girls:
Findings suggest that in female adolescents, there is an interaction between Intense-personal celebrity worship and body image between the ages of 14 and 16 years, and some tentative evidence has been found to suggest that this relationship disappears at the onset of adulthood, 17 to 20 years (Maltby, 2005).
I think these findings are not surprising when taken into context. Teens seek positive role models that they can emulate. Sadly, our culture continuously reinforces the important and value of celebrities, so it’s no shock that teenage girls might focus their attention on them.
Also, when our own lives start to go down hill, we gain some value (and perhaps a little boost to our mood and self-esteem) when we can read about the most famous and popular people in our culture who suffer from not dissimilar woes from our own. They breakup, they makeup, they wear bad clothes, they have hangovers, just like us.
And maybe that’s the real key… That we’re seeking a sign of humanity that we can relate to and that feels familiar to us, despite how far away, unreal, and unattainable such lives really are.
Read the full article: Are We Worshipping Celebrities or Heroes?
Maltby, J., Giles, DC., Barber, L. & McCutcheon, L.E. (2005). Intense-personal celebrity worship and body image: Evidence of a link among female adolescents. British Journal of Health Psychology, 10(1), 17-32.
North, A.C., Sheridan, L. Maltby, J. & Gillett, R. (2007). Attributional style, self-esteem, and celebrity worship. Media Psychology, 9(2), 291-308.