Celebrities: From Teachers to Friends

A Test of Two Hypotheses on the Adaptiveness of Celebrity Gossip

Abstract

In this paper we present two compatible hypotheses to explain interest in celebrity gossip. The Learning Hypothesis explains interest in celebrity gossip as a by-product of an evolved mechanism useful for acquiring fitness-relevant survival information. The Parasocial Hypothesis sees celebrity gossip as a diversion of this mechanism, which leads individuals to misperceive celebrities as people who are part of their social network. Using two preliminary studies, we tested our predictions. In a survey with 838 respondents and in-depth interviews with 103 individuals, we investigated how interest in celebrity gossip was related to several dimensions of the participants’ social lives. In support of the Learning Hypothesis, age proved to be a strong predictor of interest in celebrities. In partial support of the Parasocial Hypothesis, media exposure, but not social isolation, was a strong predictor of interest in celebrities. The preliminary results support both theories, indicate that across our life span celebrities move from being teachers to being friends, and open up a list of future research opportunities.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank Leda Cosmides, John Tooby and all members of the Center for Evolutionary Psychology at UCSB for their support and comments on the ideas presented in this paper. We also wish to thank J. Barkow, N. Hess, and G. Miller for the very useful comments on earlier drafts of this manuscript. This research was funded by a doctoral grant from the Fund for Scientific Research Flanders–Belgium and a postdoctoral fellowship awarded by the Belgian American Educational Foundation. We wish to thank them for their support.

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Correspondence to Charlotte J. S. De Backer.

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De Backer, C.J.S., Nelissen, M., Vyncke, P. et al. Celebrities: From Teachers to Friends. Hum Nat 18, 334–354 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12110-007-9023-z

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Keywords

  • Evolutionary approaches
  • Celebrity gossip
  • Social learning
  • Parasocial relationships