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20 June 2018

Crushing on Celebrities: Teens’ Imaginary Romance With Media Figures Could Have Unwanted Side Effects

Keywords: teens, North America, computer, internet, mobile, mobile phone, print, survey, tablet, television, young adults,

Remember the “Bieber Fever”? It is the ultimate example of a teenage celebrity crush. Crushes like these can extend to other media personalities, such as movie actors and sports players, and eventually develop into a deep imaginary romance. This might have unwanted consequences. The more intense the fictional relationship, the more unrealistic romantic beliefs teens hold, a study in the Journal of Children and Media shows.

Take aways

  • One-sided fictional romances with popular media personalities are highly common among teens.
  • The intensity of these imaginary romances is related to teens’ unrealistic romantic beliefs about real-life relationships.
  • Young adults who had more intense imaginary romances with media figures in their teenage years are less satisfied with their current relationship and partner.
  • Although imaginary romances with celebrities and other media personalities can be a useful preparation for later real-life relationships, these made-up connections could also harm teens’ future love life when they become too intense. 

Study information

  • The question?

    How are teens’ imaginary romances with media figures related to their romantic beliefs and later-on real-life relationships?

  • Who?

    153 teens aged 13-to-17-years old (mean age: 15 years; 56% girls; 63% were White) and 274 young adults between the ages of 18 and 22 (mean age: 20 years; 80% girls; 68% were White)

  • Where?

    United States

  • How?

    Teens filled out an online questionnaire about the intensity of their imaginary romantic relationships with media figures. A distinction was made between emotional (“Sometimes I thought that X and I were just meant for each other”) and physical (“I am physically attracted to X”) relationships. Teens also answered questions about their romantic beliefs (“I’m sure that every new thing I learn about the person I choose for a long-term commitment will please me”).

    Young adults first recalled the intensity of the imaginary romances they had in their teenage years. Some weeks later, they answered questions about their romantic beliefs in a second questionnaire. They also reported their current relationship status and, if romantically involved, their satisfaction with the relationship and the perception of their partner (on characteristics like being kind, understanding, and loyal). 

Facts and findings

  • Most teens (73%) and young adults (80%) had at least one imaginary relationship with a media figure (in their teenage years) and half of them even got multiple fictional romances.
  • Teens and young adults who had a stronger fictional emotional connection with a media personality (in their teenage years) held more unrealistic romantic beliefs.
  • However, there was no association between physical attraction to media characters and having more unrealistic views of romantic relationships in real life. According to the authors, this might be because they examined romantic beliefs and not beliefs about sexuality.
  • Young adults who had more intense imaginary romances with media figures as a teen were less satisfied with their current relationship and had a more negative view of their romantic partner.
  • Critical note: No claims can be made about the direction of the results. It could also be true that teens who hold more unrealistic romantic beliefs are quicker to fall in love with people who are out of their reach.