Study of parasocial relationships finds identification with TV characters predicts personality traits

Human beings have a basic need to connect with others and have developed new ways of belonging. One of these are parasocial relationships, which are relationships between a viewer and a character or celebrity. New research published in popular media psychology indeed found that high identification with the main characters of an anime television show correlates with high endorsement of related personality traits.

Parasocial relationships are sustained (one-sidedly) by a viewer consuming content related to the character, following them on social media, and identifying with the fandom (i.e. devotion) surrounding that character.

“The more involved someone is in fandom, the more closely they will feel connected to the parasocial entity around which that fandom is centered,” study author Erica C. Rarity and colleagues explain. “These feelings of closeness result in characters and stories feeling more meaningful. When identification with a character is particularly strong, a viewer may even develop values, beliefs, and personality traits that match that character. those of the character.

To understand whether identification with media characters may reflect a reflection of personality traits, the authors surveyed 829 fans of the TV show. My friendship with my little pony is magic through a fan website and Discord, a social media platform. Participants completed measures assessing their identification with each of the 6 main characters and measured for 6 corresponding personality traits: humor, generosity, loyalty, honesty, kindness and friendship.

The results show that for four of the six traits (humor, generosity, loyalty, kindness) a strong identification with the character predicts personality traits corresponding to each character. These results were not found for honesty or friendship.

“These results support the possibility that, at least for parasocial relationships that occupy a significant role in people’s lives, character identification may influence either personality traits or self-perceptions of those traits.”

The authors cite some limitations to this work, including the correlational nature of the data. In other words, we cannot say whether the audience for these shows causes corresponding changes in personality traits, or vice versa. Perhaps people already high on these traits naturally seek audiences for these shows.

The study, “Identification with Characters in Parasocial Relationships Predicts Sharing Their Personality Traits,” was authored by Erica C. Rarity, Matthew R. Leitao, and Abraham M. Rutchick.

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