The developmental course of a parasocial relationship

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University of New Brunswick


The parasocial relationships that people form with figures from mass media have received a great deal of attention from researchers. However, little is known about the developmental course of these relationships. The purpose of the current study was to fill this fundamental gap in the literature by gaining a better understanding of how parasocial relationships change over time. A total of 98 participants were recruited from undergraduate psychology courses, 80 of whom were included in the final analysis. Participants were given a season of a designated television program on physical media to take home and watch. The strength of their parasocial relationships with the lead character in the program was tracked over four viewing weeks and two postviewing weeks. Parasocial breakup distress, the negative emotions that people experience when their contact with a media figure is severed, was also tracked in the postviewing period. Results indicate that parasocial relationships were moderately strong after initial exposure to the character. Relationship strength underwent small increases in subsequent viewing weeks and a small decrease over the postviewing weeks. Parasocial breakup distress was generally modest at the beginning of the postviewing period, and it also underwent a small decline over the postviewing weeks. Relationship strength and breakup distress were stronger among participants who reported higher levels of perceived similarity and attraction to the character, as well as higher levels of parasocial interaction, identification, wishful identification, and transportation. There was no evidence that changes in relationship strength or breakup distress varied according to these same variables. These results have implications for viewer attitudes and behaviors in several domains.