The Truth About Celebrity Worship Syndrome

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Celebrities are a common theme in every day life. They can be seen on magazines when checking out at the grocery store, to appearing on television commercials, or billboards along the road. Some allow their fans to watch their everyday lives through their Snapchat stories. Others use Instagram and Twitter to keep their fans aware of their day to day lifestyle. All in all, celebrity presence is prominent and will only increase as more forms of social media are developed. Why is this a problem you may ask? Well according to research done by The British Journal of Psychology it has been shown that about one third of people have some form of Celebrity Worship Syndrome (42 Sansone). Celebrity Worship Syndrome is defined as “an obsessive addictive disorder in which a person becomes overly involved with the details of a celebrities personal life” (39 Sansone). It is an issue because it affects the mental stability of individuals. This can be seen by the correlation between the increase in celebrity presence compared to the increasing number of individuals with celebrity related mental instabilities. In this research paper I argue that the rise in celebrity worship can have a negative effect on an individual’s mental health and relationships, as well as society as a whole due to its highly addictive qualities and calls for a solution. There is no one finite explanation for Celebrity Worship Syndrome, but rather a variety of influences that make up its origin. Through the research done on evolutionary psychology and the development of McCutcheon’s Celebrity Attitudes Scale, as well as the correlation between celebrity worship and criminality,  it is clear that Celebrity Worship Syndrome should be recognized as a disorder and is causing disorder in the world. Therefore, it is imperative that we reconsider and reevaluate how we admire celebrities, and how that might affect our thinking. 

Psychologist have developed a theory that worshipping celebrities is an unstable path to go down. Kate Douglas, the author of the article “When You Wish Upon a Star,” explains that paying special attention to successful individuals is among the cleverest thing our big-brained species does” (1 Douglas). Evolutionary Psychologists have come to this conclusion from examining the social patterns of humans that lived in the ice age and comparing them to social patterns of individuals today. During the ice age, around 21,000 years ago, homo sapiens would copy those who were successful hunters and elders. This technique was vital for staying alive in such harsh living conditions. The best hunters were able to stay nourished because of their keen hunting skills, yet, the not so talented men were unable to rely on their dexterity alone. They would make up for this by watching and mimicking the seasoned hunters movements so they too could have a meal to eat. In today’s world, this is not applicable since we no longer have a need to hunt, and longevity does not necessarily mean healthy living. However, that psychological mechanism is still embedded in us, and it informs us that people who are popular are worth copying. In today’s society, what is considered a necessity of life consists of possessing good genes, being socially admirable, and being well-known. This is morally disturbing because this mechanism was once used for survival, yet now it is concentrated on self-absorption and popularity. Another evolutionary psychologist, Gil-white, takes a similar stance on the issue. He states that the internet has made it possible for Americans to act on impulses of admiration of the famous. He explains, “only humans have the ability to observe and then mimic complex behaviors. This creates ‘prestige hierarchies,’ where those with the most valuable skills to be imitated are placed at the top of this hierarchy” (195 Choi, Ron). The concern with this is that what humans today believe to be the “most valuable skills” are focused on appearance and notability. This is a ginormous concern, because if society is engrossed on those three categories, instead of pressing issues, then the quality of our society as a hole will deteriorate. Both Douglas’s and Gil-White’s arguments are similar and revolve around reaching this paramount hierarchy and agree that the biological basis of celebrity worship is derived from our ancestors. However, they are concerned where the value shift will lead our society to in the future. For example, when everyday individuals are not able to achieve the hierarchy, then they believe that at least being mentally, geographically, physically, or emotionally close to the individuals who have reached the top of the hierarchy, i.e. celebrities is next to best. Studies have shown that this mindset is a gateway to obsession, anxiety, and other mental illnesses. Therefore, it is imperative that the public recognizes the severity of celebrity worship, and the possible consequences of disregarding its presence. At one time evolutionary psychology was a necessity for survival, but it is now detrimental to society.

Lynn McCutcheon developed a model, the Celebrity Attitudes Scale, in 2002 that is considered the baseline standard test for identifying the severity of celebrity worship in an individual. This test is based on two different characteristics: psychological absorption and addiction. Psychological absorption is defined as “leading to delusions of actual relationships with celebrities,” and addiction is defined as “fostering the need for progressively stronger involvement to feel connected with the celebrity” (1 McCutcheon). There are three levels on this scale, the first being low worship. The behaviors are centered around an “entertainment-social value,” which includes watching and reading about a celebrity (20 Maltby et al). This level is by far the most common, and most individuals never surpass level one and for that reason it is the least concerning level. The second level encompasses the issues that arise as celebrity worship takes on “intense-personal feelings,” which interfere with their daily lives (20 Maltby et al). Common behaviors associated with the state are obsessive tendencies and compulsive uncontrollable feelings toward a celebrity. Once an individual has reached level two, he or she should seek help. They are no longer psychologically stable and their symptoms will only intensify as time passes. Lastly, the most extreme level is defined as “over-identification with the celebrity, empathy with the celebrity’s successes and failures, compulsive behaviors, and obsessions with details about the celebrities life” (1 McCutcheon). Once an individual has reached this point they must be treated. They are no longer in-tune with reality and they possess a wide range of psychologically detrimental symptoms. Level three is the least common, but is the most concerning. Overall, level three’s “expression of worship is thought to reflect an individual’s social-pathological attitudes and behaviors that are held as a result of worshiping a celebrity” (20 Maltby et al). In all, celebrity worship is affecting us globally. It can be expressed through various symptoms in a variety of extremes, so the first step to restoring celebrity induced psychosis is to globally raise awareness.

There have been many scales developed to try and assess celebrity idolization. However, McCutcheon’s Celebrity Attitudes Scale is the standard for diagnostic testing. With the use of this scale, it has been discovered that individuals who score high on this test tend to have problems in various other areas in their lives. These can range from personality characteristics to psychopathology. Studies show that individuals with high levels of celebrity worship present symptoms of anxiety, social dysfunction, depression, and overall have poorer mental health. Possessing those symptoms makes it incredibly difficult to live a normal life. Depending on the severity of celebrity worship, it can be handled on a day to day basis, but it has been discovered that some “individuals harbor concerns about body image, are more prone to cosmetic surgery, and have a personality style characterized by sensation-seeking, cognitive rigidity, identity diffusion, and poor interpersonal boundaries” (1 Sansone). It is distressing that individuals are going to the extremes of plastic surgery to feel more connected with a celebrity. However, this is becoming increasingly present in adolescent females. A study done by The British Psychological Society examined “the relationship between celebrity worship and body image within the theoretical perspective of intense para-social relationships with celebrities” (17 Maltby et al). With the use of the Celebrity Attitudes Scale and other lesser-known tests, the results concluded that there is indeed a significant relationship between adolescent females and celebrity worship, especially pertaining to body image. This can be seen the most in female adolescents in the second level of celebrity worship and tends to taper off in ages 17-20 years old. The study stresses the problems associated with forming a “para-social relationship with media figures who are perceived as having a good body shape may lead to a poor body image in female adolescents” (17 Maltby et al). Historically, young women have shown to be prone to poor body image and it is undeniable that the celebrities they admire and look up to affect their beliefs. However, this usually has consisted of low self-esteem and lead to dieting. It was only until recently that plastic surgery became a huge component of fixing their perceived flaws. It is terribly upsetting that young women who have celebrity worship syndrome allow it to control their appearance. It is up to us as a society to raise awareness of this issue and bring it to and end.

In a similar study done by The British Journal of Psychology, who compared symptoms that were presented in males verses females with Celebrity Worship Syndrome. The symptoms I chose to compare were psychoticism, depression, anxiety, negative affect, and life satisfaction.

 

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For psychoticism, anxiety, and negative affect males had a higher mean value than females. This is determined by taking the value above each column and multiplying it by the n number, which in this case it is 186. That gives you the raw value. However, for depression and life satisfaction, females had a higher mean value. It is important to keep in mind that the greater the mean value means the more severe the symptoms are. In this study, a second comparison was done to determine how sex influences the amount of people who associate with each level of Celebrity Worship Syndrome.

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According to graph one and two, males have higher rates of Celebrity Worship Syndrome. This can be determined by taking the value thats above their column and multiply it by the n number which in this graph is 186. This is significant because in the overall data chart provided by The British Journal of Psychology, females had a higher rate of Celebrity Worship Syndrome. Although, in The British Journal of Psychology’s study, there were a total of twenty-nine symptoms tested. Therefore, this leaves twenty-one symptoms that were not accounted for in my graphs. A third study done by The British Journal of Psychology, compared age ranges 18-23 and 24-44 to percentage of individuals with Celebrity Worship Syndrome.

It is without a doubt that young adults, ranging from 18-23 years of age have a significantly higher percentage of individuals with Celebrity Worship Syndrome than older adults ranging in age from 24-44.

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These ranges are obviously not equal, but the fact that even with 1/4 the size of age range of older adults, young adults still have a higher percent with Celebrity Worship Syndrome. Therefore, it can be concluded young adults have grown up surrounded by technology and are more likely to be in tune with social media that celebrities are active on.

A study was done by the University of Leicester to determine the the correlation between celebrity worship, addiction, and criminality. The results concluded that different levels of celebrity worshippers prefer different types of celebrities. For example, individuals scoring in level one favored musicians, models, and actors. It can be assumed that they are “engaging with populist light entertainers and perhaps also their fans” (569 Sheridan). Individuals who displayed symptoms of level two preferred celebrities related to notable world events: new reporters, religious figureheads, and royalty. People in this category tend to seek “identification with leaders and heroes” (569 Sheridan). Lastly, level three is similar to level one but it is notable that “high-profile celebrity suicides are followed by increased numbers of suicides among the general population, and it would seem celebrity worship, addiction, and criminality” (569 Sheridan). The increase in suicide rate can presumably be related to people in level three because of their mental instability and dependence on the now dead celebrity. People in this category have also been known to imitate their beloved celebrity, however this can result in negative repercussions for the worshipper. Lastly, it is sensible to conclude that “fans of more rebellious public figures may seek to emulate them with personally negative consequences” (569 Sheridan). Therefore, the majority of the “poor role models are located within the acting, modeling, and musician sub-categories” due to their desire to act as they wish while the media obsesses over their every move (570 Sheridan). Furthermore, the study hypothesizes that explicit rap and heavy metal are considered problematic music styles and relate to criminality and addiction. When these individuals emulate their favorite rapper, they take part in illegal and destructive behaviors in their search for a personal identity (570 Sheridan). The peculiarity of this study’s findings connecting it with criminal activity only further proves the eminent presence and danger of Celebrity Worship Syndrome and its need for a solution.

In conclusion, Celebrity Worship Syndrome is a very prevalent issue and unfamiliar issue to many in today’s society. It is imperative that this disorder starts being recognized as a risky and detrimental syndrome. The more recognition it draws in, the greater the chance that individuals with Celebrity Worship Syndrome will receive he help they need. This will also reduce the percent of the population that is susceptible to contracting the illness because they will be more aware of its dangers. At the concerning rate that Celebrity Worship Syndrome is growing at, there should be angst as to where our society priorities are and the potential rise in crime. Nonetheless, by advocating for the recognition of Celebrity Worship Syndrome as a disorder, promoting its detrimental symptoms, and projecting where it will lead our society, it should be able to be diminished.

Works Cited

Choi, Chong Ju, and Berger Ron. “Ethics of Global Internet, Community and Fame Addiction.” Journal of Business Ethics 85.2 (2009): 193-200. Web.

Douglas, Kate. “When You Wish Upon a Star.” New Scientist 179.2408 (2003): 26-31. EBSCO. Web. 5 Oct. 2016.

Maltby, John, Liz Day, Lynn E. Mccutcheon, Matthew M. Martin, and Jacob L. Cayanus. “Celebrity Worship, Cognitive Flexibility, and Social Complexity.” Personality and Individual Differences 37.7 (2003): 75-83. American Journal of Psychology. Web. 12 Nov. 2016.

McCutcheon, Lynn. “Conceptualization and Measurement of Celebrity Worship.” British Journal of Psychology 93.1 (2002): 67-89. EBSCO. Web. 5 Oct. 2016.

Sansone, Randy A., and Lori A. Sansone. “‘I’m Your Number One Fan’— A Clinical Look at Celebrity Worship.” Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience 11.1-2 (2014): 39–43. Print.

Sheridan, Lorraine, Adrian North, John Maltby, and Raphael Gillett. “Celebrity Worship, Addiction and Criminality.” Psychology, Crime & Law 13.6 (2007): 569-70. Web. 11 Nov. 2016.

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