New research sheds light on how the public relies on romantic beliefs to gauge the infidelity committed by their favorite celebrities. The results, published in the journal popular media psychologyprovide insight into the nature of the relationship between romantic beliefs and parasocial relationships.
A parasocial relationship is one where people feel like they know someone even though they’ve never met them in real life. People often form these one-sided relationships with celebrities and other public figures. While numerous studies have examined parasocial relationship formation, researchers have largely overlooked how people’s idealized romantic beliefs influence their reactions to celebrity transgressions, such as infidelity.
“Infidelity is a widespread transgression among celebrities, but with very mixed reactions from fans. Research is needed to describe the patterns of these reactions and to empirically examine the rationales behind the reactions,” said the study author Mu Hu, associate professor of communications at Texas A&M University-San Antonio.
For their study, the researchers interviewed a sample of 397 students from five major public universities in eastern China. Participants first completed a measure of idealized romantic beliefs, where they indicated the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with statements such as “I believe that to be truly in love is to be in love forever “, “I am likely to fall in love”. love almost immediately if I meet the right person” and “there will be only one love for me”.
Participants were then asked to name their favorite celebrities. Most participants (63%) named actors or actresses. Additionally, 27% of nominees were singers, while 4% named sports personalities, 2% named TV hosts, 2% named social media influencers, 2% named comedians, 1% nominated scholars and one person nominated a director. Seventy-nine participants considered their parasocial relationship with the celebrity to be romantic in nature, 153 participants considered their parasocial relationship with the celebrity to be friendly in nature, and 165 participants categorized their parasocial relationship as “other.”
Next, participants reported how they would feel if their favorite celebrity cheated. They indicated how serious they would view the transgression and rated their negative emotional reaction and likelihood of forgiving the fame.
The researchers found that idealized romantic beliefs were positively related to perceived harshness. In other words, those with more idealized romantic beliefs tended to view infidelity as a more serious transgression. Women tended to have stronger parasocial relationships than men. Women’s responses to celebrity infidelity were also more negative than men’s.
After controlling for the strength of parasocial relationships, the researchers also found a significant interaction effect of gender and audience type. Among men, romance fans were less troubled as friendship fans by the infidelity of their favorite celebrities. Among women, romance fans were Following troubled than friendship fans by the infidelity of their favorite celebrities
“We have to understand that it’s natural for people to form different opinions and have different reactions to a certain celebrity’s infidelity scandal,” Hu told PsyPost. “This study shows that people’s romantic beliefs, how they view fame (for example, as a romantic partner, friend, or others) and gender all play a role in how they deal with this type of transgression and face it.”
“Any study has limitations, but in the meantime, it provides potential directions for future research,” Hu noted. “The biggest caveat of this study, in my opinion, is that it looked at people’s expected reactions to their favorite celebrities’ infidelity, but not the actual reactions since we adopted a study design of hypothetical scenario (we asked research participants to rate how they would react if their favorite celebrities committed infidelity.) For future directions, I believe a cross-cultural comparison or cross-cultural communication study that incorporates cultural constructs will deepen our understanding of this topic.
“This study is based on a sample of Chinese students,” Hu added. “I would like to see replications of this study using samples from other cultures. Some of the key constructs involved in this study, such as romantic beliefs, are very sensitive to the influence of cultural contexts.
The study, “Whose Beds in Your Boots?” People’s Expected Responses to Celebrity Infidelity in Love,” was written by Mu Hu, Haijiao Xu, Shuchang Liu, and Jing Cai.