Parasocial Interactions and Relationships

Holger Schramm

University of Würzburg

The term ‘parasocial interaction’ (PSI) was first used by Horton and Wohl (1956) to describe viewers’ responses to media characters (called ‘personae’ in PSI research; singular: ‘persona’) during media consumption. The authors considered the illusion of interaction and interactivity between media users and personae as one of the most central attributes of mass media consumption.

Television as an audiovisual medium ought to be especially able to constitute an illusion of face-to-face interaction (Hartmann & Goldhoorn 2011). Nevertheless, this mediated form of communication and social interaction is one-sided because the persona’s action can reach the media user, while the media user’s reaction cannot reach the persona. A notable characteristic of PSI is that in spite of the missing feedback, channel viewers often feel addressed by the personae.

Referring to this, PSI research has shown that the same key impulses that play an important role in social interactions are relevant for the constitution of PSI. Key impulses are, for example, the mediated spatial distance between the personae and the viewers (obtrusiveness), the duration of exposure to these personae (persistence), the personae’s attractiveness, and especially their nonverbal and verbal addressing performance. By responding to these addressing cues, media users give up their passive roles of being observers and become ‘actors.’ This ...

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