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Don Draper Is My Best Friend

By admin Published: April 22, 2009

All right, the "Mad Men" character isn't anyone's best friend. Sometimes it's fun to think of what it would be like to hang out with Don, or with Grace Hanadarko, or Eric Taylor. And according to a new study, it's not entirely bad to imagine such things. It says that "illusionary relationships with
the characters and personalities on favorite TV shows can provide
people with feelings of belonging, even in the face of low self esteem
or after being rejected by friends or family members." I will try to forgive the use of the word "belongingness." A release about the study is after the jump.

Not all technology meets human needs, and some
technologies provide only the illusion of having met your needs.

But new research by psychologists at the University at Buffalo and
Miami University, Ohio, indicates that illusionary relationships with
the characters and personalities on favorite TV shows can provide
people with feelings of belonging, even in the face of low self esteem
or after being rejected by friends or family members.

The findings are described in four studies published in the current
issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

"The research provides evidence for the 'social surrogacy hypothesis,'
which holds that humans can use technologies, like television, to
provide the experience of belonging when no real belongingness has been
experienced," says one of the study's authors, Shira Gabriel, Ph.D., UB
assistant professor of psychology.

"We also argue that other commonplace technologies such as movies,
music or interactive video games, as well as television, can fulfill
this need."

Shira's co-authors are Jaye L. Derrick, Ph.D., postdoctoral associate
and adjunct instructor of psychology at UB, and Kurt Hugenberg, Ph.D.,
assistant professor of psychology at Miami University.

The first study, of 701 undergraduate students, used the Loneliness
Activities Scale and the Likelihood of Feeling Lonely Scale to find
that subjects reported tuning to favored television programs when they
felt lonely and felt less lonely when viewing those programs.

Study 2 used essays to experimentally manipulate the belongingness
needs of 102 undergraduate subjects and assess the importance of their
favored television programs when those needs were stimulated.
Participants whose belongingness needs were aroused reveled longer in
their descriptions of favored television programs than in descriptions
of non-favored programs, the study found.

Study 3 of 116 participants employed the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale,
the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule and an eight-item measure of
feelings of rejection to find that thinking about favored television
programs buffered subjects against drops in self-esteem, increases in
negative mood and feelings of rejection commonly elicited by threats to
close relationships.

Study 4 asked 222 participants to write a 10-minute essay about their
favorite television program, and then to write about programs they
watch "when nothing else is on," or about experiencing an academic
achievement. They were then asked to verbally describe what they had
written in as much detail as possible.

After writing about favored television programs, the subjects verbally
expressed fewer feelings of loneliness or exclusion than when verbally
describing either of the two control situations (essays about programs
watched when nothing else is on, academic achievement). This is
evidence, say the researchers, that illusionary or "parasocial"
relationships with television characters or personalities can ease
belongingness needs.

It remains an open question, say the researchers, whether social
surrogacy suppresses belongingness needs or actually fulfills them, and
they acknowledge that the kind of social surrogacy provoked by these
programs can be a poor substitution for "real" human-to-human

"Turning one's back on family and friends for the solace of television
may be maladaptive and leave a person with fewer resources over time,"
says UB's Derrick, "but for those who have difficulty experiencing
social interaction because of physical or environmental constraints,
technologically induced belongingness may offer comfort."

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public
university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York
system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than
28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300
undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in
1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of
American Universities.

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