Parasocial Relationships: Why Does It Feel Real?


As internet celebrities rise into popularity so does awareness of parasocial relationships. People are always quick to point out how dangerous it can be but why is that? When did this phenomenon first appear? Why do we even develop it? Is it exclusive to just celebrities?

The modern-day definition of a parasocial relationship would be along the lines of a consumer developing a one-sided relationship with a social media personality, celebrity, or a character from various media. Typically the consumer invests emotional energy, time, interest, and possibly money into them, but how and why does a person form a one-sided relationship with a person that may never acknowledge their existence? Currently, there is no clear answer since there are multiple variables that influence a person to develop this connection and the various types of media they can get attached to. Generally, it comes from the desire to make a connection from identifying with a person, interest in that person, and liking the problem-solving abilities of that person. One theory, the bonding theory, suggests humans are hardwired to react to any form of human-like communication interaction even if it’s a fictional or unattainable character. It would suggest that a parasocial relationship is a natural human response and fulfills some goal, motive, or need. It is known that the brain has yet to evolve to distinguish the difference between people we hear and see on media from the ones in real life; therefore, responding to them as if they were a person we could properly interact with.

Modern technology has accelerated the development of parasocial relationships by not only increasing media intake, especially digital ones, but has also made it easier to have parasocial interactions which are not quite the same as parasocial relationships. It is more defined as interacting or being involved with the media personality such as commenting on their videos or using the chat in a live stream. These interactions can help fuel the illusion of having a relationship with a celebrity as the consumer is not only getting updates on the celebrity’s life but also have the chance to be acknowledged individually by the celebrity. 

So are parasocial relationships inherently harmful or has the word been misunderstood? Just like any other relationship it can be either harmful or beneficial. Some benefits that can come from a parasocial relationship are possible boosts in self-confidence, giving one a sense of belonging, decreasing a person’s sense of loneliness, and in some cases, having a social relationship risk-free.  It could even help decrease prejudice against groups that are viewed negatively. On the other side of the coin, parasocial relationships can slip into obsession. They may interfere with a person’s life, especially if they replace a real-life relationship or interaction since the relationship may become unfilled and just become a distraction from life. It is able to cause anxiety, loneliness, social isolation, make one so emotionally invested in a celebrity to the point of affecting their mood, idealizing celebrities, and expecting perfection from them as well as set unrealistic expectations for themselves and others around them. Despite this information, do not be afraid to indulge yourself with parasocial relationships since our brain is hardwired to develop any sort of social relationships when possible. There are even some debates that state parasocial relationships could be a natural part of media consumption and perhaps healthy. It’s a relationship that could fulfill your social needs but should not completely replace in-person or be your only one. 

Gillette, Hope. “What Are Parasocial Relationships?” Psych Central, 15 Feb. 2022,

Konijn, Elly, and Johan Hoorn. “Parasocial Interaction and Beyond: Media Personae and Affective Bonding.” Research Gate, 3 June 2016,

“Parasocial Relationships: The Nature of Celebrity Fascinations.” Find a Psychologist, 18 Feb. 2020,

“What Is a Parasocial Relationship?” Verywell Mind, 22 Dec. 2021,