Celebrity Worship Syndrome

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Celebrity worship syndrome is an obsessive-addictive disorder in which a person becomes overly involved with the details of a celebrity’s personal life. Psychologists have indicated that though many people obsess over glamorous film, television, sport and pop stars, the only common factor between them is that they are all figures in the public eye. The term Celebrity Worship Syndrome (CWS) is in fact a misnomer. The supposed condition first appeared in an article ‘Do you worship the celebs?’ by James Chapman in a British tabloid newspaper in 2003.

Chapman was basing his article on the journal paper, Maltby et al. (2003). Chapman refers to CWS, but in fact this is a misunderstanding of a term used in the academic article (CWS which stood for Celebrity Worship Scale). Nonetheless Chapman may be generally correct. A syndrome refers to a set of abnormal or unusual set of symptoms indicating the existence of an undesirable condition or quality. Indeed many attitudes and behaviors covered in this research indicate such states.

Psychologists in the United States and United Kingdom created a celebrity worship scale to rate the problems. In 2002, psychologists Lynn McCutcheon, Rense Lange, and James Houran introduced the ‘Celebrity Attitude Scale,’ a 34 item scale administered to 262 persons living in central Florida. McCutcheon et al. suggested that celebrity worship comprised one dimension in which lower scores on the scale involved individualistic behavior such as watching, listening to, reading and learning about celebrities whilst the higher levels of worship are characterized by empathy, over-identification, and obsession with the celebrity.

However, later research among larger UK samples have suggested there are three different aspects to celebrity worship: entertainment-social, intense-personal, and borderline-pathological. The first dimension comprises attitudes of fans that are attracted to their favorite celebrity because of their perceived ability to entertain and become a social focus. Examples of their attitude would include: ‘I love to talk with others who admire Harry Styles’ and ‘I like watching and hearing about my favorite celebrity when I am with a large group of people.’

The Intense-personal aspect of celebrity worship reflects intensive and compulsive feelings about the celebrity, akin to the obsessional tendencies of fans often referred to in the literature; for example ‘I share with my favorite celebrity a special bond that cannot be described in words’ and ‘When something bad happens to my favorite celebrity I feel like it happened to me.’ The final category is typified by uncontrollable behaviors and fantasies regarding scenarios involving their celebrities, such as ‘I have frequent thoughts about my favorite celebrity, even when I don’t want to’ and ‘My favorite celebrity would immediately come to my rescue if I needed any type of help.’

Evidence indicates that poor mental health is correlated with celebrity worship. Researchers have examined the relationship between celebrity worship and mental health in United Kingdom adult samples. One study found evidence to suggest that the intense-personal celebrity worship dimension was related to higher levels of depression and anxiety. Similarly, another study in 2004, found that the intense-personal celebrity worship dimension was not only related to higher levels of depression and anxiety, but also higher levels of stress, negative affect, and reports of illness. Both these studies showed no evidence for a significant relationship between either the entertainment-social or the borderline-pathological dimensions of celebrity worship and mental health.

Another correlated pathology examined the role of celebrity interest in shaping body image cognitions. Among three separate UK samples (adolescents, students and older adults) individuals selected a celebrity of their own sex whose body/figure they liked and admired, and then completed the Celebrity Attitude Scale along with two measures of body image. Significant relationships were found between attitudes toward celebrities and body image among female adolescents only. The findings suggested that, in female adolescence, there is an interaction between intense-personal celebrity worship and body image between the ages of 14 and 16, and some tentative evidence suggest that this relationship disappears at the onset of adulthood,which is between the ages of 17 and 20.

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