“One-and-a-half Sided”: Parasocial Relationships Today

Image Source: Verywell Mind

“Parasocial relationship” might be the new buzzword you’ve been hearing if you’re chronically online like me. What is it, how has it developed, and is it problematic? 

The term “parasocial relationship” was first coined by sociologists Donald Horton and Richard Wohl in 1956 to describe a perceived one-on-one relationship between a spectator and a performer, particularly mass media performers like television or radio hosts. Essentially, it’s the one-sided relationship a fan has with a celebrity. As the media has evolved, parasocial relationships have evolved with it. Originally, spectators and performers could have no direct interactions to facilitate a relationship, but in the age of social media, they can. For example, celebrities can respond to their Instagram comments or chat messages during a live stream. 

More reciprocal interactions mean stronger parasocial relationships and stronger influence over fans. Consequently, celebrities can successfully influence their fans to buy their products and participate in certain activities. In the best cases, celebrities use their power to garner charity donations and acts of kindness. In the worst cases, fans spend all their money to “buy” a closer relationship and participate in problematic behaviors. Intense parasocial relationships have led to behaviors like harassment and stalking. 

Also, today’s celebrities seem more accessible and relatable than before. Social media gives fans new windows into celebrities’ everyday lives. There is also a new class of celebrities in social media influencers, who maintain a very close relationship with their fans and seemingly rise up on their own. This relatability further intensifies parasocial relationships.

This modern examination of parasocial relationships calls for more awareness and responsibility from both sides. Celebrities should be aware of their power over their fans and use it for good causes. They should also maintain a safe distance between themselves and their fans knowing they can never have equitable one-on-one relationships with them. Fans should also remember that they do not have a personal relationship with their favorite celebrity and take breaks from consuming media from them. Like much research on social media, there is not enough information on this phenomenon yet, and it requires more investigation. In the meantime, we can practice mindfulness and step away when necessary.


  • Horton, Donald, and R. Richard Wohl. “Mass Communication and Para-Social Interaction: Observations on Intimacy at a Distance.” Psychiatry 19, (1956): 215–29.
  • Kim, Jeeyeon, Jui-Ting Liu, and Sue Ryung Chang. “Trans-Parasocial Relation Between
  • Influencers and Viewers on Live Streaming Platforms: How Does It Affect Viewer Stickiness and Purchase Intention?” Asia Marketing Journal 24, no. 2 (July 31, 2022): 39-50.
  • Kowert, Rachel, and Emory Daniel Jr. “The One-and-a-Half Sided Parasocial Relationship: The Curious Case of Live Streaming.” Computers in Human Behavior Reports 4 (August 1, 2021). doi:10.1016/j.chbr.2021.100150.