Psychology Behind Our Fascination Over The Brangelina Split

September 25, 2016

Nils Sautter via Flickr Creative Commons
When the news broke that Hollywood’s powerhouse couple Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt (better known as #Brangelina) were parting ways due to “irreconcilable differences”, my social media feed went wild! I bet that the same thing happened to most of us.

Humanity processed the imminent doom of Brangelina’s relationship. Digital and physical publications were filled with the de-Brangelization headlines, which caused outbreaks of sadness and anger from the avid fans of these said celebrities. People all over the world were mourning. However, there were some people who cared less. My seemingly cool hippie cousin was one of them. 

As I was observing the reactions of most netizens, it made me ponder about the existence of the public’s fascination over celebrities and their relationships. Why do we care so much about the Brangelina split? 

With the help of Psychology, I shall look at the matter in three standpoints. 

They deviate from the norm. Brangelina was one of the few Hollywood couples who stood strong despite of the controversies and the general test of time.

Brad and Angelina redefined what constitutes a celebrity marriage as they manifested a relatively stable and drama-free life. Throughout the course of their relationship, they were perceived as a non-traditional couple. They kept dedicated spectators guessing about their plans of matrimony as they remained unwed for the majority of their period together. 

I can still recall the courageous decision that Angelina made when she underwent a double mastectomy in 2013. Two years down the road, she had her ovaries removed. All these were preventive surgeries in order to improve her longevity for the benefit of her family. Her husband supported her in every step of the way. They even shared their experiences publicly in one interview:

Ultimately, they used to be a testament of a desirable romance! 

They were perceived as successful beings. Our obsession toward the rich and famous is affected by evolution. Just analyze the species that are close to us - the primates.

One study by the researchers at Duke University showed that monkeys were able to sacrifice something they loved dearly in order to get a glimpse at the alphas. 
You see, the four monkeys were tasked to view the digital images of other monkeys that they knew. They were rewarded for every image that they stare at. They were given more cherry juice if they looked at the images of the "lower-status" monkeys. Despite this premise, the subjects were fixated by the power that the alphas exude.  

Our own version of the animal kingdom's alphas are the powerful personalities such as royalties, politicians, and celebrities. Evolution showed us that it was beneficial to pay attention to these people at the "top". Celebrity worship came as a result of this and was partly shaped by the modern technology. 

The Verge's Angela Chen encapsulated this sentiment perfectly as she wrote
"We’re really interested in stories about successful people because we think that by looking at people doing well, maybe you can learn something by figuring out their secrets..."

They have been in a “Parasocial Relationship”
e care about the high-profile divorce because we have been in a relationship with them and they just do not know it! 

Researchers Donald Horton and Richard Wohl coined a term for this special bond in their 1956 paper. Parasocial Relationship, according to them, is the one-sided attachment formed when there is intimacy at a distance. It occurs when one party extends emotional energy and time. However, the other party is absolutely unaware of the existence of the other party. Ain't that complicated?

A more recent study supported the potent effects of this unconventional relationship. Subjects who anticipated the loss of their favorite television characters felt negative reactions that were comparable to the negativity felt after the dissolution of social relationships. These reactions were associated with the subjects' attachment styles and the intensities of their Parasocial Relationship. For example, losing Walter White (of Breaking Bad) was much like parting ways with an old friend.

For most celebrities such as Brad and Angelina, the public builds their personalities by blending the characters they play onscreen and the images that they convey through the press. People dwell upon the preconceptions that they create about them. This is why their split seems closer to home

With the invention of social media, the boundary between the glistening icons and the humble admirers are getting grayer.

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  1. Really great! I love your post.

    1. Thank you so much! Looking forward to delight you further as you read the upcoming posts.


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