The psychology behind social media

As you look through your Facebook newsfeed, liking a profile pic ever so often, you stumble across an article from celebrity gossip sight E! News titled, “Kylie Jenner and Tyga Break Up on Rapper’s 26th Birthday!” Despite the promises you made to yourself throughout the day to finish your homework right when you got home, you choose to click on it anyway. Pretty soon, link after link, you find that three hours have passed, and you haven’t gotten a single thing done. The excitement of other people’s excitement has captivated you again. But why do we feel the need to read about people we don’t know? Why do we care?

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Definition of “schadenfreude”

According to Dr. Jay Winner, founder and director of the Stress Management Program for Sansum Clinic, there is a very simple explanation for this phenomenon, termed “schadenfreude.” Schadenfreude, German for “pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune,” has a direct connection to our relationships with celebrities’ lives, according to Dr. Winner. “Seeing people that seem to ‘have it all’ suffer (going through divorce, substance abuse, mental illness, etc.), momentarily shatters that illusion. And then people can think, ‘Perhaps it’s OK that I don’t have my own television show, and own three yachts and four mansions.’”

Now you might be thinking to yourself, “not all celebrity news is bad! I’m still interested even when good things happen to a celebrity!” Herein lies the fantasy aspect of Dr. Winner’s theory: “We have the illusion that we know them. We get to know their characters as they deal heroically with their on-screen challenges. Our knowledge of a character’s life stops when the movie ends. Since our curiosity to know more about the character is frustrated, we want to at least know about the actor.”

In a world filled with accounts, sites, and posts dedicated to the “shipping” (supporting and/or fantasising about a relationship between two celebrities) of celebrities, it is evident that many fans feel as though they have a personal connection with these on-screen stars.

Celebrities have quite interesting lives filled with riches and excitement, but it is important to disconnect ourselves from their every move. Often, we get so captivated by the happenings of social media and onscreen personals we forget that we are surrounded by people who experience joy and sadness every day. It is important to disconnect and experience the emotions occurring around us and experience your life to the fullest. Connecting on an emotional level with a celebrity you don’t know anything about other than what they choose to show you can have consequences to the quality of relationships you have with your peers.

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Taylor Swift 1989 Tour at Fort Field in Detroit 5/30/15 (Creative Commons Image)

I’m not condoning the idea that you should burn every 1D poster in your room and say goodbye to the joy of Swiftmas. It is a great thing to love an artist’s material and appreciate the hard work it takes to come out with quality content.

But there is a difference between supporting a person’s art and spending hours of your day dedicated to figuring out who they are dating and whether or not it’s “Instagram official.” This not only prevents you from living your life to the fullest, but also comes with no benefit to the celebrity themselves.

Nothing hurts more than the sadness of a true friend’s pain, but nothing compares to that warm fuzzy feeling you get when they are succeeding – feelings you cannot feel from just knowing a person on a screen.

You spend approximately eight hours sleeping in a day, leaving you with 16. Spend those 16 hours doing things that contribute to a better environment for the people around you and yourself. Don’t spend them focused on schadenfreude – spend them contributing to your goals, your dreams, and your relationships. But most importantly, spend those 16 hours contributing to your long term happiness.

Author: Sasha Quinlan

Sasha Quinlan is a second year reporter on The Eye. She is a junior and has attended SAS for the past 15 years. Some of her hobbies include writing, cheering, and eating sweet potatoes. She can be contacted at quinlan18229@sas.edu.sg.

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