We all like someone in public life. We listen to their music, watch their movies, or like their social media posts. These all fall under the category of parasocial interactions. What is a parasocial relationship? According to Findapsychologist.com, a parasocial relationship is a one-sided relationship where one party puts forth time and effort to another person while the other person is completely unaware of the other person’s existence. These types of relationships are most common with famous individuals, such as actors, television stars, and internet personalities. There is nothing wrong with these interactions in and of themselves. However, they can become an issue when the individual becomes too attached to the famous individual.
Who has parasocial relationships? According to PBS.com, anyone can engage in this risky behavior, but it is most prevalent with individuals with low self-esteem and social anxiety. They use these relationships to deal with societal rejection. This type of relationship is most dangerous when engaged in by children. Usually, a child whose parents substitute a smartphone for parenting is at a high risk of developing a dangerous parasocial relationship. The lack of connection to a person can lead to an unhealthy obsession with someone that cannot see them.
Why are parasocial relationships negative? These relationships are dangerous because they create the delusional idea that a person on screen is a friend. Taken to its extreme, the individual watching might feel so attached to their online buddy that they start engaging in irrational and potentially dangerous activities such as donating large sums of cash to them or trying to impress them in a strange way.
The story of John Hinckley Jr. is an extreme example of a parasocial infatuation. According to Biography.com, Hinckley was a relatively normal man; he was the youngest of three and his father was a businessman. After graduating from high school, he attended Texas Tech University. He later quit college and moved to California, hoping to become a songwriter. During this time he became infatuated with Jodie Foster from the 1976 film Taxi Driver. After his failed dream, Hinckley moved back to his parents' house in Colorado in 1980. This is when Hinckley finally decided to call Foster. She did not take well to his strange advances and ignored him. His final attempt to win her over was to shoot the president. On March 30, 1981, Ronald Reagan and three other individuals were leaving a hotel, when Hinckley fired several shots. These shots injured four men, including the president. Hinckley was apprehended and was tried in the following year. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity and he spent 35 years at a mental hospital until his release in 2016.
Now, this story is not a typical example of a parasocial relationship. However, it does amply demonstrate how dangerous these relationships can get. While these relationships can be completely normal and healthy, knowing the warning signs can help you make sure you or loved one is not tiptoeing into the unhealthy side of this psychological phenomenon.
Parasocial Header is courtesy Plat4om.com
Parasocial Thumbnail is courtesy of PBS.org