Celebrities’ popularity and success can be highly attributed to their fans who support their work. Some individuals may even start fan wars on Twitter to help protect their favorite celebrity’s reputation. Joining a fandom, which is a community of people who are fans of a certain person, group, genre, etc., may allow people to feel a sense of belonging as they bond with others through similar interests. Becoming a fan may even be a cathartic experience for some. For instance, adolescents who were fans of Korean pop music and celebrities had a relatively good quality of life (score categories included low, moderate, good, and excellent) in all aspects: physical and psychological health, social relations, and environment (Safithri et al., 2019).
Then again, the degree of fans’ dedication to their idol may vary. The three levels of celebrity worship (devotion to a celebrity) in ascending order are social-entertainment (valuing a celebrity for social bonding with others and entertainment purposes), intense-personal (maintaining strong, compulsive feelings adoring a celebrity), and borderline pathological (Safithri et al., 2019). On the last, severe end of the spectrum, fans may spiral to consider obsessive behaviors, which may involve illegal and dangerous acts to fulfill their compulsive feelings toward their favorite celebrity. These fans’ intense actions may put not only other people at risk but also themselves.
So, how extreme is too extreme? Neurological data may help us answer how excessive levels of celebrity worship may be detrimental. Compared to nonfans, fans of celebrities may have significantly high electrical activity in their brain when viewing their favorite celebrity—as great as if they viewed their loved ones (Ma et al., 2015).
Using the electroencephalogram (EEG), a tool to measure electrical activity in the brain with electrodes, event-related potentials (ERPs) may be recorded to understand how an individual’s brain responds to particular stimuli. One of the most significant components of an ERP is the amplitude, which is the intensity of the wave that indicates the voltage of the brain’s electrical activity.
Specifically, the P300 amplitude, which occurs approximately 300 ms after the presentation of a stimulus, is affected by the temporal-parietal junction (TPJ). The TPJ is the region of the brain between the temporal and parietal lobes associated with attention to cues in the environment and incorporating memories and emotion (Davidson et al., 2015).
Thus, the P300 amplitude has been related to the amount of attention and emotion allocated while engaging with stimuli (Ma et al., 2015). Previous studies have found larger P300 amplitudes and higher emotional arousal when people observed images of their loved ones. To understand the neurological differences between fans and nonfans, Ma et al. (2015) collected ERP data using EEGs and information about attitudes toward celebrities using the Celebrity Attitude Scale (CAS) from fans and nonfans of a particular celebrity. Participants viewed photos of the celebrity, a familiar person, and an unfamiliar stranger. The image of a familiar person was an individual that participants were instructed to familiarize themselves with before the experiment, rather than a personal acquaintance, to create the same degree of familiarity of a person for all subjects and utilize as a comparison (Ma et al., 2015).
Overall, fans had much larger P300 amplitudes than the nonfans across the three face image conditions. The nonfans had no differences in the P300 amplitudes for the celebrity, familiar, or unfamiliar faces. On the other hand, the fans’ P300 amplitudes between the celebrity and both the familiar and unfamiliar faces were strikingly different. When the fans viewed images of their favorite celebrity, their EEG demonstrated a much larger P300 amplitude (Ma et al., 2015). In other words, fans likely exhibited greater attention and emotional engagement when they saw their favorite celebrity, as would people viewing images of their loved ones.
Higher levels of positive attitudes toward celebrities were also correlated with larger P300 amplitudes of ERPs (Ma et al., 2015). That is to say, the bigger the fan, the greater the electrical activity generated by the TPJ, which means the higher the emotional processing when reacting to stimuli, especially one’s favorite celebrity.
At extreme levels of celebrity worship, it is possible that individuals show greater attention and affection toward their idols than their loved ones. McCutcheon et al. (2016) found problematic relationships in individuals who fit into the intense-personal and borderline pathological levels of celebrity worship. Thus, obsessive attitudes and behaviors toward celebrities may harm oneself and one’s social environment, as fans may spend time engaging in their favorite celebrity’s media, rather than interacting with their close ones.
Although further research must be conducted to understand the association between celebrity worship and psychiatric symptoms (e.g., anxiety, depression), there may be an indirect effect: high levels of celebrity worship may cause detriments to one’s intimate relationships, leaving individuals isolated with an overall lower quality of life, leading to greater risks for anxiety and depression. As Aristotle once mentioned, moderation is the key to satisfaction in our lives.
Donaldson, P. H., Rinehart, N. J., & Enticott, P. G. (2015). Noninvasive stimulation of the temporoparietal junction: A systematic review. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 55, 547–572. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2015.05.017
Ma, Q., Jin, J., Yuan, R., & Zhang, W. (2015). Who are the true fans? Evidence from an event-related potential study. PLoS One, 10(6), e0129624. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0129624
McCutcheon, L. E., Gillen, M. M., Browne, B. L., Murtagh, M. P., & Collisson, B. (2016). Intimate Relationships and Attitudes Toward Celebrities. Interpersona: An International Journal on Personal Relationships, 10(1), 77-89. https://doi.org/10.5964/ijpr.v10i1.208
Safithri, N. A., Sahrani, R., & Basaria, D. (2020). Quality of Life of Adolescent (Korean Pop fans). Tarumanagara International Conference on the Applications of Social Sciences and Humanities (TICASH 2019), 439, 771-777.