Collecting posters of Bradd Pitt and scrapbooks about Princess Di
may suggest more than empty celebrity crushes. While attachment to
world-famous icons molds self-identity, a Canadian study found that
starry-eyed 18-year-olds are hardpressed to acknowledge their
Susan Boon, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of
Calgary, and doctoral candidate Christine Lomore asked more than 200
Canadian undergraduates about their attachment to celebrities. The 79
students who expressed strong feelings toward an idol were then asked how
seriously they took the relationship, and whether they had ever tried to
emulate that person by dressing or behaving like them.
Actors from Cary Grant to Tom Cruise topped the list, as did
bold-faced names such as Barbra Streisand, Michael Jordan and Isaac
Participants indicated that despite strong attractions to their
idols, they were not inspired to change their own behavior based on these
celebrities' lives or accomplishments.
But participants' responses to specific questions told a different
story. A whopping 60 percent admitted that an idol had influenced their
attitudes and personal values, including their work ethic and views on
morality. And nearly half said that their idol inspired them to pursue
activities including acting, sports, becoming a vegetarian or using
Boon is not surprised by this inconsistency. "It's often hard to
realize how much anyone influences us," she says. "We may also like to
think that we develop our identity and sense of self rather than being
influenced by others."
Interestingly, 85 percent of the celebrities cited were male.
Indeed, only two men out of 72 selected female idols. Boon attributes
this finding to fewer female role models in categories like televised
professional sports. In addition, "Men often choose other men as mentors
and heroes, while women tend to select guys they are attracted to" she
The list was peppered with icons who are dead, including John
Wayne, Jim Morrison and Albert Einstein. "Even if there's no possibility
of interacting with an idol, celebrity attachments can still affect
people's behavior and feelings about themselves," says Boon, who
published the study in Human Communication Research.
Parents perennially worry about teens' obsession with idols, but
Boon notes that relatively few celebrities cited can be deemed negative
influences. A possible exception is actor River Phoenix, who died of a
drug overdose. "Perhaps" concludes Boon, "the perception that celebrity
attachments are harmful needs reexamining."