New research sheds light on how viewers rely on romantic beliefs to judge infidelity committed by their favorite celebrities. The results, published in the journal Psychology of popular mediaprovide 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 figures in the public eye. While many studies have looked at the formation of parasocial relationships, researchers have largely neglected the impact of people’s idealized romantic beliefs on their responses to celebrity misconduct such as infidelity.
“Infidelity is a common misconduct by celebrities, but fan reactions vary widely. Research is needed to map out the patterns of these responses and empirically explore the underlying rationale for these responses,” said study author Mu Hu, a professor of communications at Texas A&M University-San Antonio.
For their study, the researchers surveyed a sample of 397 students from five large public universities in eastern China. Participants first completed a measure of idealized romantic beliefs, in which they described how much they agreed or disagreed with statements such as, “I believe that being truly in love is to be in love forever,” “I will probably fall in love.” love almost instantly if I meet the right person” and “There will only be one love for me”.
Participants were then asked to name their favorite celebrities. Most participants (63%) named actors or actresses. In addition, 27% are singers, 4% listed athletes, 2% listed TV hosts, 2% social media influencers, 2% listed comedians, 1% listed scientists, and only one person listed as a film director. Seventy-nine participants rated their parasocial relationship with a celebrity as romantic, 153 participants rated their parasocial relationship with a celebrity as friendly, and 165 participants classified their parasocial relationship as “other”.
The participants then described how they would feel if their favorite celebrity had been unfaithful. They indicated how severe the offense would be for them and rated their negative emotional reaction and the likelihood of forgiving the celebrity.
The researchers found that idealized romantic beliefs were positively associated with perceived severity. In other words, those with more idealized romantic beliefs tended to view infidelity as a more serious offense. Women tended to have stronger parasocial relationships compared to men. Women’s reactions to celebrity infidelity were also more negative than men’s.
After examining the strength of parasocial relationships, the researchers also found a significant interaction effect between gender and audience type. There were romance lovers among the men less more than friendly fans concerned about the infidelity of their favorite celebrities. Among the women there were fans of romance still more than friendly fans concerned about the infidelity of their favorite celebrities
“We should understand that it’s natural for people to have different opinions about a certain celebrity’s infidelity scandal and they have different reactions,” Hu told PsyPost. “This study shows that people’s romantic beliefs, how they view a celebrity (e.g. as a romantic partner, friend or other person) and gender all play a role in how they process and deal with this type of transgression.”
“Each study has limitations, but in the meantime it provides potential directions for future research,” Hu noted. “In my opinion, the biggest caveat of this study is that it examined people’s expected reactions to their favorite celebrities’ infidelity, but not actual reactions, because we adopted a hypothetical scenario study design (we asked study participants to rate how they would react if their favorite celebrities were unfaithful) . As for future directions, I believe that a cross-cultural comparison or cross-cultural communication study that takes into account cultural constructs will deepen our understanding of the topic.”
“This study is based on a sample of Chinese students,” added Hu. “I would like to see replicates of this study using samples from other cultures. Some of the key constructs used in this study, such as romantic beliefs, are very susceptible to the influence of cultural contexts.”
Study “Under whose bed were your shoes? People’s Expected Reactions to Infidelity in Celebrity Romantic Relationships by Mu Hu, Haijiao Xu, Shuchang Liu, and Jing Cai.