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Celebrity worship syndrome is an obsessive-addictive disorder in which a person becomes overly involved with the details of a celebrity's personal life. Psychologists have indicated that though many people obsess over glamorous 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 is in fact a misnomer.
The term celebrity worship syndrome (CWS) 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 his 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.
This dimension comprises attitudes of fans that are attracted to their favorite celebrity because of their perceived ability to entertain and become a social focus. Examples of their attitude would include: “I love to talk with others who admire Harry Styles” and “I like watching and hearing about my favorite celebrity when I am with a large group of people”.
Intense-personal aspect of celebrity worship reflects intensive and compulsive feelings about the celebrity, akin to the obsessional tendencies of fans often referred to in the literature; for example “I share with my favorite celebrity a special bond that cannot be described in words” and “When something bad happens to my favorite celebrity I feel like it happened to me”.
This dimension is typified by uncontrollable behaviors and fantasies regarding scenarios involving their celebrities, such as “I have frequent thoughts about my favorite celebrity, even when I don’t want to” and “My favorite celebrity would immediately come to my rescue if I needed any type of help”.
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 classification 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).
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