Is Parasocial Interaction Unhealthy?

Is Parasocial Interaction Unhealthy?

Is Parasocial Interaction Unhealthy?

By Shruti Menon

We are, today, in a digital age where media plays a big role in our lives— be it social media, news media, Netflix or other OTT platforms— we often spend a chunk of our daily time on these forms of media, probably in place of other social activities that would have been carried out in the past. However, the homo sapien is a social animal, so we’ve learnt to replace those traditional social interactions with this— parasocial interactions. 

Parasocial interactions are the one-way bonds you form with people you see on media, where they are unaware of your existence, but you invest a lot of emotional energy in them, and you feel like you really know about them and care for them. This happens with celebrity stars we see on Instagram or in the paper, and even with characters on a TV show or in a book. 

However, a common thread of commentary continues to run about the ill-effects of digital media today, and so it is no surprise that parasocial interactions are often seen as absurd, illogical, obsessive and unhealthy. A lot of older studies also talked about how those with more parasocial relationships were anxious and lonely, which has since then been successfully countered. While there are always negatives to something that is so popularly and intensely used (digital media), that needn’t outweigh the positive effects of that particular thing in question. So is parasocial interaction really unhealthy?

It all depends on the kinds of parasocial relationships formed. Media has no morality within itself, so whatever moral implications we attach to media should be based on individual understanding and usage of it. Parasocial relationships with someone that is inspirational can prove to be a great drive and motivation for the individual, the inspiring party becoming a sort of reference group. It can also be cathartic to have a parasocial relationship with someone that is relatable, easing the stresses and worries of many— for example, hearing musician Halsey talk about her health issues is cathartic and helps other women with similar issues identify with her and feel better that someone else is going through it too. 

Recent studies have shown that the similarities between parasocial relationships and social relationships are jarringly congruent. Just like any other social relationship, parasocial relationships also require maintenance— being up to date on the news and happenings of the idealised person in question, etc. The emotional rewards from being in a parasocial relationship are also just as substantial and lasting as a conventional social relationship. Knowing how parasocial interactions can shape your thinking and your mind, are you now thinking of the quality of these kinds of relationships in your life?