Uploaded by jimih4evr on Oct 31, 2011
One of the unfortunate side effects of the modern media age is that many people spend more time in front of television sets or computers than they do with other humans. In the most extreme cases, this has led to a phenomenon known as the “parasocial relationship.” In a broad sense, the parasocial relationship involves the direct interaction between a media viewer and media characters. More precisely, the term has often been applied to describe a type of psychological problem in which the viewer believes that the media character is actually speaking with them (Horton & Wohl, 1956). In exploring the nature of this problem as well as its roots, it becomes apparent that a variety of factors come into play in generating parasocial relationships. Above all else, this disturbing modern phenomenon is attributable to a combination of developmental and societal causes.
An excellent introduction to the problem of parasocial relationships is provided by Horton & Wohl in their seminal 1956 article Mass Communication and Para-Social Interaction. In this article, the authors refer to parasocial interaction as a form of “mediated human contact” in which an individual develops a relationship with a character seen on television. In essence, the viewer experiences the illusion of face-to-face contact with a television performer. An example of this might be a news anchorman who talks directly to the audience. In the parasocial relationship, the viewer sees that the anchor man is looking right at them and starts to believe that they are actually having a conversation (Horton & Wohl, 1956).
The parasocial relationship manifests itself in many different ways (Horton & Wohl, 1956). In some cases, the viewer actually talks back to the television performer. In other cases, the situation becomes pathological and the person carries on an imagined long-term relationship with the television “person.” Resulting behaviors vary from sending flowers to fictional people, breaking into homes of stars, or even stalking and killing the star in question. Thus, it is apparent that the parasocial relationship has major significance in modern society. On one level, the parasocial relationship is a dangerous phenomenon that must be curtailed. On the other hand, the parasocial relationship tells us a great deal about certain problems with modern society. Indeed, in looking at the probable causes of parasocial relationships, we can note many areas that...