Parasocial relationshipsThe Power of Parasocial Relationships: How They Can Benefit Us

The Power of Parasocial Relationships: How They Can Benefit Us

Our favorite TV characters may be fictional, but our feelings for them are real. So when a character dies or a beloved couple breaks up, viewers can also experience emotions of grief and sadness. Researchers have found that since humans are social animals, these feelings are to be expected and in most cases can be beneficial.

The term “parasocial relationship”(or PSR) describes the emotions viewers develop as they watch TV characters week after week. Viewers are introduced to characters, learn their backstories and relate to their struggles. Over time, the character feels real, like a friend.

TV friends mean parasocial relationships

In the mid-1950s, social scientists recognized an interesting phenomenon. Many Americans went to the movies for decades, but television brought screen characters into people’s lives on a recurring basis, creating PSR.

Today, at the beginning of the NBC series, This is us, fans I knew beloved characters Jack and Rebecca Pearson wouldn’t last as a couple. A flash forward showed Rebecca with Jack’s best friend, but viewers had to wait two years to learn the backstory.

When the long-awaited storyline finally arrived, fans witnessed a Clay vessel caused a kitchen fire. Jack inhales smoke and later has a heart attack. In turn, the viewers were devastated and had a wave of anger so deep that Crock-Pot’s parent company saw its stock immediately drop 24 percent. The hatred and anger was so great that the actor who played Jack Pearson – Milo Ventimiglia – had to give public statement saying he has forgiven Crock-Pot for what happened.

Researchers have found that viewers approach characters like Jack the same way they started out real life relationships. Patterns of how we judge and respond to people we meet off-screen are being extended to the introduction of a new TV character.

Read more: Why are emotions contagious?

So when bad things happen to good characters, social scientists have found that viewers’ emotions can be very real.

Parasocial relationships and sad breakups

When Jack died, viewers learned the bad news with his widow. Many then took to the internet to express their emotions. 2020 survey in Journal of Communication Inquiry analyzed online viewer reaction and found that “fans are distressed as a result of intense PSR.”

Other studies have found that although losing a TV character is not as traumatic as losing someone in real life, a person he may still feel sad. When a TV character dies or leaves the show, viewers can feel like they’re not done with their relationship. They then have to deal with not seeing the character as regularly as they did before.

Weekly episodes give people the constant feeling that they are interact with a character. As the series progresses, these characters reveal their biggest secrets and their most intimate moments. This makes us feel like we have built a relationship with them.

Friends with benefits

We want to see good things happen to our TV friends. We don’t want to see them dumped, fired, or emotionally hurt. The viewer may wonder – if the grieving Jack is anxious, is it even worth getting attached to?

Read more: What keeps us on bad terms?

Researchers have found that PSRs can be healthy and offer social benefits. Article from 2021 in Human arenas examined the value of PSR when COVID-19 lockdowns limited social interaction. In the absence of real-life relationships, many people supplement their need for socialization by watching shows until Netflix asks “Are you still watching?”

The study analyzed the literature on PSR in the digital age and concluded that these interactions can fulfill social needs and reduce loneliness. Although PSRs should not replace real-life relationships, they can supplement the need for socialization. The author also found that PSRs can benefit people who are chronically lonely, including the elderly or people who struggle to form relationships.

The viewer does not i must be lonely to benefit from PSR. Scientists have also found that this is a normal part of the viewing experience, allowing one to engage in a one-sided interaction with a character. One positive aspect is how the viewer can make stress-free decisions about whether to maintain the relationship. If a plot twist means a character is suddenly despised, viewers can disconnect without having to justify themselves or face an awkward interaction. They can simply switch their allegiance to another character, change the channel or turn off the TV.

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