Celebrity worship syndrome
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Celebrity worship syndrome (CWS) is an obsessive addictive disorder in which a person becomes overly involved with the details of a celebrity's personal and professional life. Psychologists have indicated that though many people obsess over film, television, sport and pop stars, the only common factor between them is that they are all figures in the public eye.
The term "celebrity worship syndrome" first appeared in an article 'Do you worship the celebs?' by James Chapman in the Daily Mail in 2003 (Chapman, 2003). James Chapman was basing article on the journal paper Maltby et al. (2003). James Chapman refers to CWS, but in fact this is a misunderstanding of a term used in the academic article to which he refers (Maltby et al. 2003), CWS which stood for Celebrity Worship Scale. Nonetheless Chapman may be generally correct. A syndrome refers to a set of abnormal or unusual set of symptoms indicating the existence of an undesirable condition or quality. Indeed, many attitudes and behaviours covered in this research indicate such states.
Psychologists in the United States and United Kingdom created a celebrity worship scale to rate the problems. In 2002, United States psychologists Lynn McCutcheon, Rense Lange, and James Houran introduced the Celebrity Attitude Scale, a 34 item scale administered to 262 persons living in central Florida. McCutcheon et al. suggested that celebrity worship comprised one dimension in which lower scores on the scale involved individualistic behavior, such as watching, listening to, reading and learning about celebrities, whilst the higher levels of worship are characterized by empathy, over-identification, and obsession with the celebrity.
However, later research among larger UK samples have suggested there are 3 different aspects to celebrity worship; John Maltby (University of Leicester), and the aforementioned psychologists examined the Celebrity Attitude Scale among 1732 United Kingdom respondents (781 males, 942 females) who were aged between 14 and 62 years and found the following 3 dimensions to celebrity worship: entertainment-social, intense-personal, and borderline-pathological. A follow-up study showed no gender difference in any of the three dimensions.
John D. Moore, PhD, author of Confusing Love with Obsession and creator of the Obsessive Love Wheel suggests in a 2013 online article that there exists three other primary types of celebrity stalkers: Simple Obsessional, Love Obsessional and Erotomanic.
Simple obsessional stalking constitutes a majority of all stalking cases, anywhere from 69%-79%, and is dominated by males. This form of stalking is generally associated with individuals who have shared previous personal relationships with their victims. However, this is not necessarily the case between a common member of the public exhibiting celebrity worship syndrome and the famous person with whom they are obsessed. Individuals that meet the criteria of being labeled as a “simple obsessional stalker” tend to share a set of characteristics including an inability to have successful personal relationships in their own lives, social awkwardness, feelings of powerlessness, a sense of insecurity, and very low self-esteem. Of these characteristics, low self-esteem plays a large role in the obsession that these individuals develop with their victim, in this case, the famous person. If the individual is unable to have any sort of connection to the celebrity with which they are obsessed, their own sense of self-worth may decline.
As the name suggests, individuals who demonstrate this sort of stalking behavior develop a love obsession with somebody who they have no personal relation to. Love obsessional stalking accounts for roughly 20%-25% of all stalking cases. The people that demonstrate this form of stalking behavior are likely to suffer from a mental disorder, commonly either schizophrenia or paranoia. Individuals that are love obsessional stalkers often convince themselves that they are in fact in a relationship with the subject of their obsession. For example, a woman who had been stalking David Letterman for a total of five years claimed to be his wife when she had no personal connection to him. Other celebrities who have fallen victim to this form of stalking include Jennifer Aniston, Halle Berry, Jodie Foster, and Mila Kunis, along with numerous other A-list stars.
Erotomanic, originating from the word erotomania, refers to stalkers who genuinely believe that their victims are in love with them. The victims in this case are almost always well known within their community or within the media, meaning that they can range from being small town celebrities or famous personalities from Hollywood. Comprising less than 10% of all stalking cases, erotomanic stalkers are the least common. Unlike simple-obsessional stalkers, a majority of the individuals in this category of stalking are women. Similar to love-obsessional stalkers, the behavior of erotomanic stalkers may be a result of an underlying psychological disorder such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression. Individuals who suffer from erotomania tend to believe that the celebrity with whom they are obsessed with is utilizing the media as a way to communicate with them by sending special messages or signals. Although these stalkers have unrealistic beliefs, they are less likely to seek any form of face-to-face interaction with their celebrity obsession, therefore posing less of a threat to them.
This level of admiration is linked to a celebrity’s ability to capture the attention of their fans. Entertainment-social celebrity worship is used to describe a relatively low level of obsession. An example of a typical entertainment-social attitude would be “My friends and I like to discuss what my favorite celebrity has done.”
This is an intermediate level of obsession that is associated with neuroticism as well as behaviors linked to psychoticism. An example of an intense-personal attitude toward a celebrity would include claims such as “I consider my favorite celebrity to be my soul mate.”
This classification is the most severe level of celebrity worship. Often, it is expressed by statements like “If someone gave me one thousand dollars, I would consider spending it on a sanitary napkin used by my favorite celebrity.”
Evidence indicates that poor mental health is correlated with celebrity worship. Researchers have examined the relationship between celebrity worship and mental health in United Kingdom adult samples. One study found evidence to suggest that the intense-personal celebrity worship dimension was related to higher levels of depression and anxiety. Similarly, another study in 2004, found that the intense-personal celebrity worship dimension was not only related to higher levels of depression and anxiety, but also higher levels of stress, negative affect, and reports of illness. Both these studies showed no evidence for a significant relationship between either the entertainment-social or the borderline-pathological dimensions of celebrity worship and mental health.
Another correlated pathology examined the role of celebrity interest in shaping body image cognitions. Among three separate UK samples (adolescents, students, and older adults), individuals selected a celebrity of their own sex whose body/figure they liked and admired, and then completed the Celebrity Attitude Scale along with two measures of body image. Significant relationships were found between attitudes toward celebrities and body image among female adolescents only.
The findings suggested that, in female adolescence, there is an interaction between intense-personal celebrity worship and body image between the ages of 14 and 16, and some tentative evidence suggest that this relationship disappears at the onset of adulthood, which is between the ages of 17 and 20. These results are consistent with the authors who stress the importance of the formation of relationships with media figures, and suggest that relationships with celebrities perceived as having a good body shape may lead to a poor body image in female adolescents.
Within a clinical context the effect of celebrity might be more extreme, particularly when considering extreme aspects of celebrity worship. Relationships between the three classifications of celebrity worship (entertainment-social, intense-personal and borderline-pathological celebrity worship and obsessiveness), ego-identity, fantasy proneness and dissociation were examined. Two of these variables drew particular attention: fantasy proneness and dissociation. Fantasy proneness involves fantasizing for a duration of time, reporting hallucinatory intensities as real, reporting vivid childhood memories, having intense religious and paranormal experiences. Dissociation is the lack of a normal integration of experiences, feelings, and thoughts in everyday consciousness and memory; in addition, it is related to a number of psychiatric problems.
Though low levels of celebrity worship (entertainment-social) are not associated with any clinical measures, medium levels of celebrity worship (intense-personal) are related to fantasy proneness (approximately 10% of the shared variance), while high levels of celebrity worship (borderline-pathological) share a greater association with fantasy proneness (around 14% of the shared variance) and dissociation (around 3% of the shared variance, though the effect size of this is small and most probably due to the large sample size). This finding suggests that as celebrity worship becomes more intense, and the individual perceives having a relationship with the celebrity, the more the individual is prone to fantasies.
"Celebrity worship" is a term coined by Lynn E. McCutcheon (DeVry University), Diane D. Ashe (Valencia Community College), James Houran (Southern Illinois University) and a few further collaborators in a series of articles published primarily in the North American Journal of Psychology and a non-peer reviewed working paper series called Current Issues in Social Psychology, the Journal of Psychology and British Journal of Psychology.
A number of historical (Barbas 2001; Hansen 1991), ethnographic (i.e. Henry & Caldwell 2007; Jenkins 1992; Kozinets 2001; O'Guinn 1991; Richardson & Turley 2006; Stacey 1994); netnographic (i.e. Kozinets 1997) and auto-ethnographic studies (i.e. Holbrook 1987, 1995; Wohlfeil and Whelan 2008) in diverse academic disciplines such as film studies, media studies, cultural studies and consumer research, which – unlike McCutcheon et al. focused mainly on a student sample (with two exceptions) – have actually studied real fans in the field, have come to very different conclusions that are more in line with Horton & Wohl's (1956) original concept of parasocial interaction or an earlier study by Leets et al. (1995).
- Christina Grimmie
- Mark David Chapman
- Magical thinking
- Obsessive love
- John Hinckley, Jr.
- Stan (fan)
- Cult of Personality
- Social climber
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