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Health & Balance

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A New Age of Celebrity Worship

Experts help you understand the good, the bad, and the ugly of being the world's biggest fan.

The Science of Hero Worship

The theory behind how and why we come to worship celebrities (and why some of us are more affected than others) is a pop culture question almost as old as pop culture itself.

In fact, experts say that as long as there have been those who pull ahead of the crowd in fame or fortune, there has been a curious crowd wanting to follow.

Fischoff, who has academically studied the cult of celebrity, says the very need to find an idol and follow him is programmed into our DNA.

"What's in our DNA, as a social animal, is the interest in looking at alpha males and females; the ones who are important in the pack," says Fischoff. We are sociologically preprogrammed to "follow the leader," he says, and notes we are biochemical sitting ducks for the Hollywood star system; even the stars themselves get caught up in the mystique.

"I know celebrities that are star struck by other celebrities -- even major politicians are more likely to sit up and take notice of an issue when a celebrity is doing the talking. So this is clearly something that really is in our DNA," says Fischoff.

The real issue however, may be that some of us clearly handle the impact of that DNA better than others. That's precisely the finding of several studies that helped establish the idea of "Celebrity Worship" as a recognizable mental health problem for some.

In research published in the British Journal of Psychology, psychologists established a "sliding scale" of celebrity worship -- one in which the devoted fan becomes increasingly hooked into the object of their attention, until their feelings begin to resemble addiction.

In another study with more than 600 people, psychologists found that about a third qualified for a condition they coined "celebrity worship syndrome" -- a condition wherein, at its most severe, the object of our worship becomes the central figure in our lives.

"Information about the celebrity, or any little thing from their life, is like a fix the worshipper must have -- they are almost compelled to learn more, read more, know more. And it's nonending," says Long Island, N.Y. psychologist Abby Aronowitz, PhD. Experts say some even begin to believe they have some special connection to the celebrity.

Not surprisingly, the study also found feverish fans are likelier to suffer from anxiety, depression, and social dysfunction. And while the authors are clear on the fact that being a fan does not cause you to be dysfunctional, they say it can certainly increase your risk.

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