When it comes to the film industry, characters, celebrities and everything in between, the level of involvement that consumers and fans find themselves in can be somewhat jarring. Not only does this happen from a personal standpoint, but also in a social context too.
This piece will discuss why we get attached to fictional characters and what purpose it might serve.
Fictional Characters and Empathy
Empathy is one of the main reasons that humans can connect to other humans, and there are two different factors to empathy (affective and emotional) which work together in creating our understanding. There is also the cognitive part of empathy which is to do with thinking.
The emotional side of empathy will see a viewer cry when a character is crying or laugh when a character is laughing. In contrast, the cognitive side of empathy is what is loosely described as “putting yourself in someone else’s shoes”.
Interestingly, these workings of empathy are extended to fictional characters based on what we perceive to be true about them. Our ability to empathize extends to emotions, body language, and other cues we recognize, along with imagining what it would be like or feel like if we were put in a character’s position.
Fictional Characters and Influence
Humans are influenced by each other and their surroundings every single day, and fictional characters, environments and descriptions can have just the same effect. In fact, a study suggested that one in seven of those who provided a detailed description of a book they enjoyed found that the characters voices and thoughts stayed with them long after the book was finished.
This can be said for tv shows and films too! The brain experiences interacting with fictional characters in the same way it does with people in real life, so being influenced by fictional characters or celebrities is far from uncommon.
However, instead of an organic progression happening within getting to know someone, fictional characters have an end, leaving those who are fans either broken-hearted or joining groups such as “fandoms” to read works of fictions based around characters, or go to the places where scenes were filmed. Anything to get closer to the action!
Characters can make us feel loved and confident, so this response is only natural and a fun way to engage with other fans too.
Fictional Characters and Relatability
No one likes to feel alone, so when we can relate to someone, fictional or otherwise, we feel like we might not be facing issues all by ourselves. Fictional characters can also offer valuable insight from just observing their journeys through TV, films, or books, which can help us make decisions in our daily life.
Celebrities also fit into this category, as they have often developed or been ascribed a brand that they consistently live up to, which could be argued as somewhat fictional. It has been true that we feel better about ourselves when we can relate to them, as it makes them seem more “normal”, and something we can say “oh yes! Same” too. And that shared (though one-sided) understanding can help us form emotional attachments.