chapter  9
23 Pages

Parasocial interactions and paracommunication with new media characters

Contemporary research on mediated interpersonal communication is motivated by the spread of new media applications in the domain of human-human interaction (e.g., video chats or massive multiplayer online role-playing games, MMORPgs) and in human-computer interaction (e.g., communication to chatter bots or other intelligent agents; see Polkosky, this volume). While users are able to interact with numerous media characters in the emerging field of new media technologies, some types of conventional mass communication, especially television and radio, also display considerable similarities and affinity to already known interpersonal communications. The concept of parasocial interaction, introduced by Horton and Wohl (1956), belongs to the earliest theoretical approaches making connections between mass communication and interpersonalsocial settings. Their foundational observation was that real people in the media direct their social and communicative behavior towards the anticipated audience, much as they would for actual interpersonal communication. They greet, wink, gaze, and direct communication acts toward the audience in many ways. The viewers, in turn, may respond to such social behavior “just like” they would if the media character was actually in their living room instead of merely appearing there on the TV screen or the radio. This seemingly “conversational give-and-take” (Horton & Wohl, 1956: 186) between a mass media performer and a user, which closely resembles interpersonal communication (Cathcart & gumpert, 1983), has been termed “parasocial interaction” (e.g., giles, 2002; Rubin et al., 1985; Klimmt et al., 2006; see next section).