Making it Real: The Role of Parasocial Relationships in Enhancing Perceived Susceptibility and COVID-19 Protective Behavior

Nathan Walter*, Jonathan Cohen, Robin L. Nabi, Camille J. Saucier

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations

Abstract

Formation of accurate risk perceptions and adoption of protective measures play a key role in reducing transmission and stopping the spread of infectious diseases. Extant research, however, has shown that perceptions of risk are not necessarily correlated with the level of actual risk, including that of COVID-19. Informed by the social amplification of risk framework (SARF), we test whether having a parasocial relationship with a celebrity who has COVID-19 makes the risk of contracting the virus more real, thus amplifying the perceived susceptibility to the virus and reducing the biased sense of optimism that one is safe. Findings from Study 1, a national survey (N = 493), suggest that having a parasocial friend contract COVID-19, is related to increased perceived susceptibility, especially for those for whom it would otherwise seem abstract and vague. Study 2 (N = 228) complements these findings by identifying a potential underlying mechanism for the observed relationship between PSR and perceived susceptibility–attenuation of the optimism bias. Findings are discussed in terms of their contribution to understanding the underlying mechanisms of the potential role played by celebrities in health and risk communication.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)601-618
Number of pages18
JournalMedia Psychology
Volume25
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Communication
  • Applied Psychology

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