Lydia Reedstrom

Parasocial Attachment: Framework and Function

April 3, 2021   /  

Name: Lydia Reedstrom
Major: Psychology
Advisor: Dr. Mike Casey

The purpose of these studies was to situate parasocial attachment within the traditional attachment framework and then explore what function parasocial attachment and relationships may serve through the lens of social needs and attachment style. The first study demonstrated that attachment to a favorite fictional character elicited the attachment behaviors of proximity seeking, secure base, and separation protest. Attachment anxiety positively predicted attachment to fictional characters, while attachment avoidance negatively predicted it. Surprisingly, individuals with an avoidant attachment reported greater attachment to and engagement with fictional characters than those with a secure attachment. This finding directly contradicts previous literature that finds avoidantly attached individuals to engage the least parasocially. The second study examined two forms of parasocial relationship: parasocial friendship and romance, to determine how need to belong and need for social support impacted relationship formation along with attachment style. Greater need to belong predicted both parasocial friendship and romance, while greater need for social support predicted only parasocial friendship. Like with Study 1, attachment anxiety positively predicted these relationships, while attachment avoidance negatively predicted them. This study also found that avoidantly attached individuals had stronger parasocial friendships and romances than secure individuals. One possible explanation for this finding is the COVID-19 pandemic that may have made parasocial engagement necessary or enticing to avoidant individuals in such isolating and distressing times. Future research should focus on the therapeutic potential of parasocial attachment and relationships and how these relationships can be used in adaptive ways.

Lydia will be online to field comments on April 16:
10am-noon EDT (Asia: late evening, PST: 6-8am, Africa/Europe: late afternoon)

37 thoughts on “Parasocial Attachment: Framework and Function”

  1. What a fantastic field of research! I think there is so much potential for understanding critical human development through the lens of media, especially in an increasingly visually saturated culture. I think you have a great topic here that definitely needs to be researched even further! So proud of you!

    1. Thank you so much Kelsey!! I’m so glad you enjoyed my research and thank you for the thoughtful response!

  2. Lydia, This is such terrific work! I really like the idea that fictional characters and parasocial relationships might be used in bibliotherapy to help people struggling with relationships IRL. You did an excellent job of explaining the intersection of real-life attachment and the kinds of attachments formed with fictional characters. A+!

    1. Hi Dr. Haely! Thank you for taking the time to learn about my research! I would love to further research the intersection of parasocial relationships and bibliotherapy in the future.

    2. It was so interesting to see that avoidantly attached individuals ended up having stronger parasocial relationships than securely attached individuals! What a neat finding. It will be very exciting to see where this research goes and how it can be used therapeutically in the future! You should be so proud of this!

  3. Lydia!! What an eloquent and clear presentation. I’m so impressed by you as a researcher and am so proud of you as your friend. Beautiful job!

  4. Lydia, a fantastic research project! Look forward to your further research into parasocial attachment! Very proud of you!

  5. Lydia – One question: What surprised you the most about either your research process itself and/or about the results you obtained from either/both of your studies?

    1. I was really surprised to find that avoidantly attached individuals had greater parasocial engagement than secure individuals for both studies. Previous research firmly supports the opposite relationship, with avoidant individuals engaging the least parasocially. It was interesting to try to figure out why I didn’t find the same relationship, and I really think the answer lies in the pandemic. As for a surprising thing during the research process – I was really surprised to find that there is virtually no research on parasocial relationships in children. I think that childhood is likely where these relationships develop and I would love to delve into the course of their development.

      1. This is so interesting. It was a pleasure to engage with your research this morning and think more carefully about your overall project. I remember when you first were looking for participants last fall! Enjoy your success and congratulations!

  6. Lydia,
    First of all, we would like to Congratulate you on your exhaustive research project! Very comprehensive and enlightening; a job well done. Thank you for sharing your research paper with us; we appreciate it.

    Second, we would like to know why you chose this topic? What interested you the most about this research project?

    Third, with Parasocial Attachment, has there been an study done on attachment with pets, animals, etc. and is there a correlation with your work on fictional character attachments?

    1. Hi Auntie Debbie and Uncle Bob! Thank you for listening to my presentation!

      I chose this topic because I’ve always loved books, tv shows, and movies and the characters within them. I already had a strong interest in attachment research based on previous coursework, so I wanted to find a way to combine these two interests into one project.

      There is definitely research about attachment to pets and other animals, but I haven’t looked into that area. I think attachment to pets is different from attachment to fictional characters (parasocial attachment) because pets can reciprocate in the attachment relationship, while fictional characters cannot. So I wouldn’t expect to see much of a correlation between the attachment to pets and attachment to fictional characters because they are different kinds of attachments. Perhaps there would be a correlation with attachment style.

  7. Congratulations, Lydia! Well Done! I was a real pleasure working with you this year on your IS. I know you have an important future in Attachment research.

    1. Thank you Dr. Casey! I couldn’t have done it without you! I’m so glad we got to work together this year!

  8. That was fantastic Lydia! I was marveling about how psychologists always run multiple experiments (so much work!) but your project showed one of the reasons it’s so valuable. You must have been so excited when the results from the second one suggested the first unexpected results were not anomalies! Anyway, I learned a lot from your presentation and am excited to watch your career in the future.

    1. Hi Dr. Nurse! Thank you for taking the time to listen to my presentation! I was so excited to see how the results of my second study supported my first. Thank you for stopping by!

  9. I have another question, Lydia.

    Which coding language did you use to run your statistics to analyze your data?

    The Pie charts are fantastic and so are the tables!

    Deb

    1. I used the statistics program SPSS for my data analysis, so I didn’t use a coding language myself. I made the pie charts and tables directly in Microsoft Word. I’m glad you enjoyed the charts and tables!

  10. Interesting content and very well presented. I’m so happy to see you succeed researching this topic that you love. I will be following your career and can’t wait to see what you do next!

    1. Hi Hope! Thank you for listening to my presentation! I’m also glad to have researched this topic. Thank you for stopping by!

  11. This is really great work Lydia! Thank you for sharing and doing an excellent presentation. I learned a lot. It has been a while since Gen. Chem… Good luck in the future!!!

    1. Hi Dr. Edmiston! Thank you so much for listening to my presentation! I’m glad you learned from it. It has been a while. I’m so glad to hear from you!!

  12. Congratulations Lydia! This is such an interesting research topic. I can’t wait to see what you do in the future.

  13. Outstanding presentation and through study. I am extremely proud of your accomplishments.

  14. Lydia, congratulations on your important project on this exciting topic, and thank you for sharing it in such an engaging way! How did you come to be interested in this topic in the first place?

    Wishing you the best in your future endeavors!

    1. Hi Dr. Park! Thank you for listening to my presentation! I was interested in this topic because I’ve loved stories all my life and I had previous interest in attachment so I wanted to explore people’s attachment to fictional characters. I think that fictional characters can have an important impact on people’s lives so I wanted to explore that with my IS. There is previous research on attachment to media figures like celebrities, but little research exclusively on attachment to fictional characters. Thank you for stopping by!

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