[Fox News] The Taylor Swift obsession: Psychologist weighs in on why fans worship celebrities

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Fans of pop mega-star Taylor Swift are in their obsession era.

As the star continues her international Eras Tour, “Swifties” around the world aren’t holding back on expressing their Taylor love.

But the fandom extends far past Swift, since celebrity infatuation has spanned generations including the passion and mania for The Beatles to the admiration of Harry Styles.

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In an interview with Fox News Digital, NYU Langone psychologist Dr. Yamalis Diaz explained what occurs in the human brain when someone adores a celebrity.

Teens and young adults are at a “very sensitive developmental period,” said Diaz, who specializes in child and adolescent psychology. She teaches a class at NYU on identity and mental health in young adulthood.

This stage of development is also when identity forms, she explained, so an attachment to influential people who may seem “cool,” “beautiful” or “popular” comes naturally.

“People essentially value and reinforce these celebrities in the way that teenagers wish people would see them,” she said. 

“It could be that they want to be like [them] or just want to love this person because of how amazing they are.”

Swift, in particular, projects an image of being “relatable” by sticking up for the underdog and being “real,” Diaz noted.

This conversation cannot be had without mentioning the influence of social media, Diaz emphasized, as fans today have constant and “intimate” access to their favorite celebrities.

“That is the reason we’re seeing the obsession take over in a much bigger way,” she said. 

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“There is this big clash between fans trying to figure out who they are and then having 100% access to their celebrity idols … That’s where the obsessive component starts to take over.”

With fans having this steady access, Diaz said that “happy hormones” in the brain, such as dopamine, are consistently released and reinforced each time something new is uploaded to social media.

“Dopamine also plays a role in how teenagers become so obsessed with certain celebrities because every time they consume information, every time they see a new video, every time they see a new post, every time they go live … their dopamine circuitry is being dinged,” she said. 

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Influencers, celebrities and brand managers are aware of this addictive behavior, according to Diaz.

This is one of the reasons that celebrities post frequently on social media, she suggeseted.

“They need to keep the little dopamine drip going,” she said. “If you go for too long and you’re not giving people access to you, the dopamine dries up a little bit, so this is [how] they are making sure fans stay super connected.”

Diaz referenced the chemicals in the brain that are released when people fall in love, including dopamine, oxytocin (known as the “cuddle hormone”) and adrenaline.

While dopamine will “rush in” when someone sees something exciting, Diaz used the emotions related to anticipating a concert as an example of how adrenaline can also ebb and flow, explaining what’s known as “post-concert depression.”

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“As soon as you hear about the concert, if this is your person, dopamine and adrenaline are starting to rush,” she said. 

“Then you’re getting the tickets. Then you’re planning the road trip to the concert and what you’re going to wear … And then it’s over.”

She added, “And so, your brain starts to deactivate the dopamine and the adrenaline, which results in a post-concert crash.”

Many people who attend concerts can also be converted into fans, Diaz said, due to the dopamine that’s released during a show that entertains and excites.

This “chemical high” affects concertgoers of all ages, especially when the performance sparks a sense of childish nostalgia, she said, as was the case for many fans at Swift’s Eras Tour, which was based on the albums of her past.

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“Music has the ability to transfer you back to a time, a moment or an experience,” Diaz said. “And so, with somebody like Taylor Swift or any major artist who has been around for a little while, it cuts across generations.”

For teenagers, a celebrity crush might be the first time they’re exploring romantic feelings or a physical attraction that is “developmentally appropriate,” the psychologist said.

But an infatuation with a celeb could become inappropriate if it’s all-consuming, Diaz said. 

It can turn into what’s known as “celebrity worship syndrome” — or “obsessive-addictive disorder,” according to the mental health site PsychCentral.

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Although the condition isn’t clinically recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), Diaz said it can be concerning.

The “line of normalcy” is crossed when a fan consumes hours of celebrity content that interferes with the ability to connect with people in everyday life. 

“Where we as mental health clinicians would become very concerned is if the imagery they have in their minds about what’s perfect, what’s beautiful … really affects the way they feel about themselves,” Diaz said. 

“They may start engaging in critical comparisons where they’re constantly looking to that person to find the faults in themselves.”

“And if I’m a teenager whose identity is fragile to begin with, that’s a very real concern for us, because that could potentially lead to anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and potentially even feelings of worthlessness.”

Diaz encouraged parents of teens and young adults to pay attention to how their children are engaging with social media and interacting with their celebrity idols.

They should reach out for professional help if needed, she also said.

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