Think your co-worker who reads the Hollywood editorials in her downtime is silly? Or your friend who compulsively follows celebrity trends is just acting out of guilty pleasure? As it turns out, celebrity worship and fascination goes beyond mere superficialities and ends up in a much more primal place.
Celebrity Fascination: From Guilty Pleasure to Science
Let’s rewind it back to 2005, the golden age of the Paris Hiltons and the Lindsay Lohans. Dr. Michael Platt, a neurobiologist at Duke University Medical Center, led an experiment with 12 rhesus macaques monkeys.
According to an ABC News article from the time, “Platt conducted the experiment by offering thirsty monkeys a choice: their favorite drink, in this case Juicy Juice cherry juice, or the opportunity to look at computer images of the dominant, ‘celebrity’ monkey of their pack.”
Well, what do you know! The monkeys threw aside their thirst in favor of looking at the pictures of the high-status monkeys. Why would they do that? Let’s see: these high-status monkeys have desirable traits like food, power, a certain body type — basically, everything the other monkeys crave… Sound familiar?
While the study initially had a more seriously-minded medical goal, it ended up helping to frame our long-running fascination with celebrities.
It just goes to show how hardwired we (like monkeys) are to look to the powerful and beautiful, both out of attraction and as a way to set upper-tier expectations for characteristics of success — and we’ll take it however we can get it.
We All Get Starstruck in Our Own Way
Now, I know what some of you may be thinking: “I’m no monkey. How could I be so vain and vapid (or have the time) as to even begin caring about what Gigi Hadid is wearing, or how the Kardashians spend their days?”
You may not want to admit it, but even you (yes, you) have a “celebrity” you look up to for some form of guidance — whether it’s professional, creative, stylistic, etc. We all do; they just take different forms.
For some, it may be tech savants like Mark Zuckerberg or Elon Musk. For others, it may be the pop goddesses of the world like Rihanna and Beyoncé. It’s all a matter of context and personal perspective. It just so happens that the majority of people look to those who can be traditionally defined as “celebrities,” the ones who spend their days on movie sets or lounging by poolsides in beautiful destinations.
So, the next time you think about judging others for their pop culture preferences and celebrity-fawning, think about what you would do to get an inside look at the life of your favorite “celebrity”: how they start their days; where they like to vacation; what brand of watch they wear to an important meeting; what apps they use to help streamline their life.
Because, when it comes down to it, we all aspire to achieve success and reach a certain status, no matter the shape or form it may take. It’s just basic science.
Disclaimer: No monkeys were harmed in the making of this blog post.