Since the recent passing of some notable celebrities, some attention has been turned toward the psychology behind this public fascination with such events. Why do famous figures strike such a poignant blow to those who never really knew them? Just looking at the throngs of fans mourning Michael Jackson's passing might causes you to suspect that such gatherings are a modern phenomenon, caused largely by the influence of popular media. As a recent article in U.S. News and World Report suggests, these displays of public grief are hardly new. Since ancient times, people have been riveted by the lives, loves and tragedies of famous figures.
John M. Grohol of PsychCentral and Jennifer Gibson of BrainBlogger have both published analysis of some of the research on celebrity worship. The phenomenon impacts more people than you might suspect. From those who scan gossip magazine headlines in the grocery store check-out line to those who immerse themselves in nearly every detail of a particular celebrity's life, there are likely very few people who do not participate in celebrity gossip either actively or passively.
"Much research has been conducted about who engages in celebrity worship and what drives the compulsion. Celebrity worship for purely entertainment purposes likely reflects an extraverted personality and is most likely a healthy past time for most people. This type of celebrity worship involves harmless behaviors such as reading and learning about a celebrity. Intense personal attitudes towards celebrities, however, reflect traits of neuroticism. The most extreme descriptions of celebrity worship exhibit borderline pathological behavior and traits of psychoticism. This type of celebrity worship may involve empathy with a celebrity's failures and successes, obsessions with the details of a celebrity's life, and over-identification with the celebrity."
What impact does this type of celebrity worship have on mental health? Grohol cites a study by North and others (2007), which succinctly summarizes some of the previous research in this area. Some of these findings suggest that intense personal celebrity worship is associated with:
- Social dysfunction
- Negative affect
- Low life satisfaction
Of course, not all idol worship is bad. As Gibson notes, "Idolizing or admiring someone for their accomplishments, and then pushing yourself to excel in the same way are positive elements. But, are we worshiping celebrities for the sake of being famous, or are we worshiping true heroes?....If we confuse heroes and celebrities, we deprive ourselves of real role models."
- Are We Worshiping Celebrities or Heroes? - From BrainBlogger
- The Psychology of Celebrity Worship - From PsychCentral
- Bonding Over Others' Business - From Monitor on Psychology