My brain shows I’m the #1 fan

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).

Young fans scream as Zac Efron arrives at “The Lucky One” Melbourne Premiere at Village Cinemas Crown on April 11, 2012 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Graham Denholm/WireImage)

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).

Participant wears an EEG cap with electrodes.

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).

The red circle indicates the temporal-parietal junction (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.

Graphs from two EEG electrode channels (CPz, Pz) for the fans group (a) and nonfans group (b) display the waveforms of the P300 amplitudes for the celebrity, familiar, and unfamiliar faces. Fans demonstrate much larger amplitudes over time for all three faces than nonfans.

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.

References

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.

8 thoughts on “My brain shows I’m the #1 fan

  1. Hello Erica,

    Your post was really informative. While I knew the negative effect of obsessive attitudes and behaviors toward celebrities, I did not know about the good that comes with being a fan.

    While reading your post, I wondered about how different cultures perceive celebrities and the conditions that makes a fan goes from viewing a celebrity as entertainment to being obsessed with them.

    Great Post!
    Sincerely Bashaina (Shasha)

    Like

  2. Before reading your post, I was unaware that research was being conducted regarding people and their relationship with celebrities. I found this post to be very informative. I learned about the various levels of ‘obsession’ with celebrities as well as the way that a borderline pathological level of celebrity worship can effect an individual. I had not realized that the amount at which one worships celebrities could have an effect on their other relationships in life such as those with their loved ones. I can now see how that could be detrimental to their quality of life. Overall, this was a great post.

    Like

  3. Hey Erica!

    This is such an interesting post. Celebrities and how we treat them have changed and become a big topic of discussion recently but I’ve never thought of the psychology and neuroscience behind this. It’s very cool to see that there’s evidence of how and why this happens.

    Like

  4. What an interesting and relevant topic! As a fan of certain celebrities myself, I found this article very engaging. Although I don’t consider myself to be on the high and dangerous end of the spectrum, I have definitely heard stories of people who are. I was unaware that people did brain analyses in this subject but I am pleasantly surprised that do as it may help society’s future in understanding what makes some people so obsessed with certain celebrities. I loved the photos provided, and I am left wondering how conditions like age and gender play a role in this.

    Like

  5. Hi Erica!

    This was such an informative posts! Thank you for taking the time to aboard this subject. One thought that I’m stuck on is the fact that the obsession with celebrities may be more detrimental to the fan than anything else. I wonder if the high level of adoration and fact that they view their idol as perfect may play into the times when fans are violent towards said idol (e.g. breaking into their house, threatening to kill them, etc.). Is it that the idol did something to break that illusion? I would definitely consider that more extreme than extreme.

    I’m also thinking of more research on what amount of exposure to a person you’ve probably never met or had the pleasure of having a conversation with lead to worship…. that is a huge jump…. is it that there is something that just clicks in the brain? Why do some people reach that level of obsession while others do not (I personally have never found myself that obsessed with celebrities)?

    Altogether, really great work 🙂

    ~ Aicha

    Like

  6. Hi Erica,

    I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed reading this blog post. It was not only informative, but really opened my eyes to potential downsides of fame (and living in Hollywood etc.) How we treat celebrities has become such a hot topic over these past five or six years, and honestly, it is only going to get worse. Sometimes, regular people see celebrities as ‘greater than human’ in a sense – and this can have a detrimental impact on their own psych. And self-worth. I think conversations like these need to be had, and thank you for writing about this.

    Like

  7. Hi Erica,

    I really like this post and I think the research that you found could really make sense! I am from a different country and in my country there are numerous young people (especially young girls) that are fanatic about their idols. And I know someone who is extremely fanatic about her idol. Every time when some people mentioned the last name of the idol (there are numerous similar or same last name in my country), she would be alert and said: “who talked about my idol? ” Even if no one was really talking about her idol. This post has made me understand more about people like her. To be honest I have never thought about extreme level of celebrity worship could lead to failure in social relationship. It is a really interesting topic!

    Like

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