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Parasocial Interactions: The Weird Reason You Feel Oddly Attached To Influencers

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Lately, I realized something strange happened to me during the pandemic. As per usual, I was listening to a podcast in my little writing nook when something dawned on me. I felt like I knew the podcaster.

It was strange because I knew that I never actually met the dude in my life. And yet, here, I felt like he was a trusted friend. 

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Okay, I was a bit weirded out. So, I turned to YouTube to find a video by one of my favorite YouTubers...only to realize I was inches away from calling him my “homie” in my mind’s voice. I hit the pause button. I realized that I couldn’t be the only one who started to feel attached to influencers. It’s a weird mind trick — but why does this happen?

Introducing Parasocial Interaction: Coming To A Screen Near You

As it turns out, a lot of the partial feelings that you get from influencers come from a little-known thing in psychology known as parasocial interactions. Parasocial interactions are similar to the interactions we have in-person, except for one real issue: they aren't real. 

For example, this is like listening to a podcast where the person has a very genial, friendly voice and seems like he’s talking to you. Or, it could be a YouTube video where the person on screen seems to include you in their lives. Heck, it could even be a bawdy video from OnlyFans. 

In these interactions, no one is really talking TO YOU. However, they may mention your name or record interactions where it looks like they are talking to you. Even when they just call you a “viewer,” it makes you feel all warm n’ fuzzy. 

What Do Parasocial Interactions Do To Us?

We all know (or should know) that influencers aren’t talking to you or interacting with you when you play their videos or podcasts. However, when you watch them, something strange happens to your brain. Your brain is wired to pick up on human interactions. 

Parasocial interactions have a way of tricking our brains into feeling like we know the person on the screen. It’s because our brains register it as something that would normally happen as an interaction in real life. We’re seeing people, hearing them tell us, and also feeling like they are sharing stuff with them.

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Humans are wired to enjoy the feeling of being connected to a person. Feeling that connection is why we tend to feel like we are friends with influencers.

This is only made worse when you realize that many influencers might “like” comments, listen to user suggestions, and also share stories about their lives. When you add the communities that they tend to create around them, you have a feeling that is remarkably similar to friendship — at least, to our brains. 

When you start following a specific celebrity or influencer as a result of their content, you’ve developed what’s known as a parasocial relationship with them. This is a phenomenon that has been documented with musicians, celebrities, and of course, influencers.

The Messed Up Reality Of Parasocial Relationships

Parasocial relationships are very strange, indeed. You see, you’re not actually in a relationship with this person. The relationship is all one-sided, and viewers are the ones who are experiencing all the feelings of being in a relationship with the influencer or celebrity of their choice.

The influencers in question do not really know who you are. While they may marginally care and want to see their viewers having fun, the truth is that they do not have any real relationship with them. In the past, this has led to people acting out in embarrassing ways over celebrity and influencer gossip.

How Bad Can It Get?

Uh, pretty bad, really. 

Do you remember seeing that YouTube video from PewDiePie where he had to tell people that influencers are not their friends after people kept showing up at his home, insisting on talking to him? Or like, all the other influencers who have had their lives interrupted by slightly obsessive fans? Well, that’s a thing. 

A lot of parasocial relationships tend to give fans the feeling of ownership over the creator, especially if the viewers tend to get very deeply involved in the creator’s work. When the influencer does something they don’t like, it can feel pretty emotionally jarring for viewers. Reactions aren’t always healthy when this occurs. 

Some fans end up getting a little mean in the comments when this happens. They can even end up lashing out at the creator of their favor if the creator doesn’t act the way they want them to or expect them to. It’s pretty twisted, really. Some influencers I’ve met have even likened it to a “quasi-abusive relationship” when they read the comments people leave in their DMs. 

Emotionally unstable people who are extremely isolated in their social lives might actually end up getting delusional about the parasocial relationships they’re in. In other words, they might actually believe the influencer knows them — either consciously or subconsciously. This can turn into straight-up stalking.  

Are Parasocial Relationships Always Bad?

While there are people who flip out over celebrity gossip or do creepy things like show up at celebrities’ homes, the truth is that parasocial relationships can be very beneficial. Actually, most of them are. Studies show that parasocial relationships can…

Basically, what I’m saying is that parasocial relationships aren’t all bad. In fact, they can actually be very beneficial and offer a source of comfort in these troubled times we’re in. So while it is a little eerie to feel that connection, it’s usually okay ... as long as you reel it in and keep yourself grounded in reality.

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Ossiana Tepfenhart is a writer based out of Red Bank, New Jersey whose work has been featured in Yahoo, BRIDES, Your Daily Dish, Newtheory Magazine, and others. Follow her on Twitter for more.

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