What must it feel like to have all that money, have all that attention, drive a Ferrari, and live in a mansion?
Living in a world of ultimate luxury and infinite perks seems far beyond most people’s reach, and by comparison, celebrities live in a world that to some, makes theirs seem agonizingly bland by comparison.
It’s common to put celebrities on a pedestal as if they live on a ‘higher plane of existence’ or have some cheat-code to life being a human being.
Is that extreme idolization just ‘fandom’ or is it something more ?
For some, fandom crosses the line when celebrities become substitute gods. This is called Celebrity Worship Syndrome….Which leads to the BIG question…, Why exactly do people worship celebrities ?
In this article we’ll look at expert opinions, different perspectives, and the latest science behind celebrity worship and influence.
Let’s Dive In…
Celebrity Worship Syndrome: History and Today
Worshiping and idolizing celebrities was first coined as “Celebrity Worship Syndrome” in the early 2000’s when Psychologist Dr. John Maltby lead a study on the phenomenon of celebrity worship.
The study found a direct link between obsessive celebrity worship and deep feelings of anger, anxiety, self‐consciousness, irritability, emotional instability, and depression.
However, idolizing celebrities is a natural human tendency wired into our psychology that likely goes back thousands of years to the ancient origins of the first civilizations.
What is Celebrity Worship Syndrome ?
As defined by distinguished Professor of Behavioral Addiction, Dr. Mark Griffiths…,
Celebrity Worship Syndrome (CWS) is an obsessive-addictive disorder used to describe someone who becomes overly involved, interested, and completely obsessed with the details, opinions, and personal life of a celebrity.
Licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Jacquelyn Johnson provides clarity, calling celebrity worship syndrome a one-sided, nonreciprocal relationship where one person invests time and energy into a connection with a celebrity who often doesn’t know the admirer exists.
Celebrity Worship Syndrome Today
A few thousand years ago Buddha, the Great Pharaoh Ramses, and a handful of other ancient celebrities were the only options for celebrity worshipers to focus on.
Has celebrity worship increased since then?
Yes. According to a study lead by Dr. Lynn McCutcheon, the Editor in Chief at the North American Journal of Psychology, celebrity worship has greatly increased between 2001 and 2021.
Dr. McCutcheon has been studying celebrity worship for decades. In her study she concludes that because celebrity worship is increasing, especially at the two more problematic levels, there is reason to be concerned about this trend.
Our results suggest that the mental and behavioral problems associated with celebrity worship in 2001 are worse today than they were then.
The alarming trend we observed should be of concern to mental health counselors and therapists worldwide.
Why is Celebrity Worship Worse Today ?
Dr. McCutcheon and her colleague, Professor of Psychology Dr. Mara Aruguete, agree that the increasing trend of celebrity worship makes logical sense in light of the increased access to social media.
According to Dr. Doraiswamy, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University Medical Center…
“Brain imaging studies show that compulsive Internet use may induce changes in some brain reward pathways that are similar to that seen in drug addiction,”
5 Reasons Why People Admire, Idolize and Worship Celebrities
What is it about celebrities that is so fascinating ?
There is a subconscious desire in the human-race to idolize anything that seems better. According to Psychology Today author and Princeton University Professor Sheila Kohler, we idolize and copy celebrities in an attempt to capture the glamor we admire.
Most people have an unconscious desire to be famous and popular, even if they do not admit it openly.
1. The “Grass is Greener” – Living Vicariously Through Celebrities:
If you’ve ever invested your emotions or pictured yourself in the shoes of your favorite celebrity, then you’ve lived vicariously through them. Unbeknownst to most of us, this behavior can develop into a source of misery.
Most people live in the middle and lower class of society. What must it be like to live in the upper echelon of society ?
We don’t have private planes, we work five days a week, and we don’t vacation for weeks at a time in the tropics. We don’t get millions of likes on social media, we don’t drive luxury sports cars, and we don’t have millions of fans.
It must be amazing to live like this. Clearly the grass is greener when you’re a celebrity, right?
Not always… Celebrities such as Amy winehouse, Avicii, Kurt Cobain were all multi-millionaires on top of the world when they decided to take their own lives.
2. Ego Identification:
A 2006 study published by ScienceDirect found that celebrity worship may represent a lack of self-identity and entanglement of ego-identity leading to a psychological absorption with a celebrity.
For example, “The successes of my favorite celebrity are my successes too”.
3. Low Self-Esteem:
In a 2021 study lead by clinical psychologist Dr. Ágnes Zsila, her team of researchers found that lower levels of self-esteem are more common in women with respect to body image.
According to the results, the association between celebrity worship and self-esteem suggest that the attraction toward a glamorous celebrity may have a stronger, negative impact on the self-esteem of women as compared to men.
4. Associating With Celebrities For Social Acceptance:
As humans, we naturally gravitate towards feelings of acceptance. From friends, family, romantic partners, and even strangers.
Feeling “ accepted” is ingrained in our DNA.
Following and talking about gossip and the latest celebrities can serve as a ‘common denominator’ to spark conversations and social acceptance.
If we have an interaction with a celebrity it heightens our self-image and social standing with our peers. We want people to marvel at the thought that we’ve interacted with a particular celebrity and that we are “cool.”
Plus, how much faster can you multiply your likes and followers on social media other than making others see that you are associated with a particular celebrity.
5. Celebrities Lives An Escape From Our Own Lives
Life is stressful, and we all have coping strategies for dealing with stress. One growing strategy is escapism.
As described by Psychologist Jennifer Delgado, escapism is a coping strategy used to evade the real world by looking for desired security and tranquility in a fantasy world like the perceived life of a celebrity.
Doing so gives us a break and distraction from the problems and stresses in our own lives.
We worship, adore, and follow celebrities because, for a moment, obsessing over their lives offers us an escape from the stress, anxiety, and uncomfortable parts of our lives.
But then, when you obsess over a popular person with the notion that they lead a perfect life, it becomes difficult for you to distinguish what’s real from what they present to you.
Typical Fandom vs. Celebrity Worship
Not all fans fall under the category of “Celebrity Worship Syndrome”.
CWS is a spectrum that ranges from casual fan to full on stalker. There are level so of celebrity worship that increase in severity.
The Levels of Celebrity Worship
The “Absorption-Addiction Model” is a architype depiction of the levels of the different levels of celebrity worship as described by Dr. Lynn E. McCutcheon.
As described by Psychology Author Dr. Cynthia Vinney and licensed clinical psychologist Dr. David Susman, the model poses that most people look up info on celebrities purely for entertainment. However, those who lack a solid ‘personal identity’, life purpose, or meaningful relationships will attempt to compensate for those issues and insecurities by becoming absorbed in information about their favorite celebrity.
1. The Entertainment-Social Level:
It’s the lowest level of celebrity worship. People with this mental profile include extroverts who are attracted to a star and find enjoyment in following and talking about them with other people.
2. The Intense-Personal Level:
Individuals who fit in this level of celebrity worship can be characterized as having intense and compulsive feelings about celebrities. One can even end up believing that a particular celebrity is their soulmate.
3. Borderline-Pathological Level:
A few people who reach this stage (the highest dimension of celebrity worship) tend to have extreme and uncontrollable thoughts, fantasies, and behaviors regarding celebrities. Such people believe that they have a close relationship with a celebrity, and they take the belief seriously.
Celebrity Worship and Mental Health
For all the reasons listed above, mental health and celebrity worship have a direct connection.
In 2014 Dr. Randy A. Sansone, explored this connection in depth when he published a study concluding that “those with a greater preoccupation with a celebrity, are associated with a number of potential emotional and psychological difficulties”.
Dr. Sansone found that mental health issues were worse “particularly among young adolescents” and caused a greater proneness to cosmetic surgery, narcissism, dissociation, addictive tendencies, identity diffusion, stalking behavior, compulsive buying, depression, anxiety, and general social dysfunction
According to the researchers findings, these difficulties are more likely to be present with high levels of celebrity worship.
The “Halo Effect” – Why People Confuse Celebrity Opinions With Expert Opinions
Being famous gives you a platform with millions of ‘followers” to say what you want. But being famous doesn’t mean that person is a subject matter expert and it doesn’t mean they have any clue what they’re talking about.
Never-the-less, people tend to think that because celebrities are famous, good looking, and well dressed that they must be very smart to get to that level and that they must know what they’re talking about. they have a halo over their head.
Science has proven that we trust non-expert celebrity options because of a cognitive bias known as the Halo Effect.
The “halo effect” is a form of cognitive bias in which our general impressions of an individual influence how we feel and think about their behavior and opinions.
We often think because celebrities are rich, popular, talented, good-looking, and charismatic on the screen, then they are intelligent, trustworthy, and can never be wrong.
This forms a kind of social capital that gives such people more influence over their followers, their followers behaviors, and their followers life choices. Even if their opinions are in direct opposition o expert opinions.
Brands are well aware of society’s fascination with celebrities and for this reason celebrity endorsements work are a huge part of brand awareness and marketing tactics.
Do you think Kim Kardashian, a celebrity made famous from a celebrity porn tape, knows anything about balancing federal budgets or international geo-politics? Of course not, but that doesn’t stop her from influencing her “followers” to think a certain way about politics.
Celebrity culture has made us assume that when a popular person endorses a product or service, it is automatically high-quality, legit, and authentic.
To put it simply, we tend to confuse celebrities with experts because our minds fail at recognizing real and make-believe.
Since celebrities are familiar to us, we trust them just like the people who are actually familiar and trustworthy to us in real life.
Final Thoughts: Why Do We Worship Celebrities ?
After a long day when we’re feeling the need to take a step outside of our own lives, it’s easier to think the grass is greener when social media shows us that it is.
But the “Instagram life” is just a “”mask””, a show, and a photoshopped version of reality.
Celebrities provide entertainment, and they’re good at it. However, it’s our responsibility to understand the difference between entertainment, perception, and reality.
When compared to the life of research scientist, structural engineer, computer programmer, or mathematician the “Instagram life” of your favorite celebrity is exponentially more exciting. But that doesn’t mean that they’re experts or even knowledgeable at all.
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