Illusory relationships with TV stars fosters a sense of belonging among viewers, even if they suffer from low esteem or rejection by friends and family members, says a new study.
"The research provides evidence for the 'social surrogacy hypothesis', which holds that humans can use technologies, like television, to provide the experience of belonging when no real belongingness has been experienced," said study co-author Shira Gabriel, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Buffalo.
"We also argue that other commonplace technologies such as movies, music or interactive video games, as well as television, can fulfill this need," he said.
Four studies were conducted for this research.
In the first study, 701 undergraduate students, used the Loneliness Activities Scale and the Likelihood of Feeling Lonely Scale to find that subjects reported tuning to favoured TV programmes (FTVPs) when they felt lonely.
Study 2 used essays to experimentally manipulate the belongingness needs of 102 undergraduate subjects and assessed the importance of their FTVPs when those needs were stimulated.
Participants whose belongingness needs were aroused revelled longer in their descriptions of FTVP than in descriptions of non-favoured programmes, the study found.
One of the three studies of 116 participants found that thinking about FTVP buffered subjects against drops in self-esteem, increases in negative mood and feelings of rejection commonly elicited by threats to close relationships.
Study 4 asked 222 participants to write a 10-minute essay about their FTVP, and then to write about programmes they watch "when nothing else is on", or about experiencing an academic achievement.
They were then asked to verbally describe what they had written in as much detail as possible.
After writing about FTVP, subjects verbally expressed fewer feelings of loneliness or exclusion than when verbally describing either of the two control situations (essays about programmes watched when nothing else is on and academic achievement).
This is evidence, say the researchers, that illusionary or "parasocial" relationships with TV characters or personalities can ease belongingness needs, said a Buffalo release.
The findings were published in the current issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.