The so-called cult of celebrity has no shortage of disciples, but new research indicates that people who obsess over the lives of the rich and famous tend to achieve lower scores on cognitive tests. In the journal BMC Psychology, researchers explain that while celebrity worship appears to be linked to poorer intellectual capacities, it remains unclear if this fascination with cultural icons is a cause or consequence of these reduced skills.
The researchers recruited 1,763 Hungarian adults for an online survey, including a series of intelligence tests designed to assess two different aspects of cognition. The first of these aimed to evaluate “crystalized intelligence” by testing participants’ vocabulary, while a digit symbol test was used to measure “fluid intelligence”.
Participants also completed the Celebrity Attitude Scale questionnaire, to define their level of celebrity obsession.
Those whose interest in stars was limited to discussing the lives of celebrities with friends were categorized as “entertainment-social” fans. The next level, defined as “intense-personal”, involved compulsive thinking about celebrities. The highest level of obsession was labelled “borderline-pathological”. People in this category tended to agree with statements such as “if I were lucky enough to meet my favorite celebrity, and he/she asked me to do something illegal as a favor I would probably do it.”
The researchers also assessed each participants’ level of material wealth and self-esteem.
The researchers found that higher levels of celebrity obsession were associated with reduced scores for both crystallized and fluid intelligence and that this trend held true even when other demographic factors were taken into account.
However, linear regression models failed to indicate that celebrity worship actually caused this drop in cognitive capacities, making it difficult to discern exactly why this association exists. Speculating on the nature of this link, the study authors posit that celebrity obsession may hinder cognitive capacities due to the intense level of focus and attention required to maintain this “one-sided emotional bond”.
On the other hand, they postulate that people with higher levels of intelligence may be less likely to worship celebrities due to a greater ability to recognize the “marketing strategies behind a famous person.”
Ultimately, they conclude that more research is needed in order to determine whether celebrity obsession is the cause or consequence of lower intelligence. Summing up their findings, they explain that “celebrity worship can be regarded as one contributing factor that may alter cognitive performance beside – and independent from – education, age and material wealth, although other factors may be stronger predictors of cognitive performance.”