Professor’s research explores factors that could lead to celebrity stalking

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Stalking is a pattern of repeated unwanted attention, contact or attempts at harassment aimed at one person, meant to incite fear or something far worse. Due to modern advancements in technology spurred by the information age, it is now easier than ever to track and pester people. Celebrities can be targets of such badgering.

Dr. Josh Rodefer, assistant professor of psychology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Mercer University, collaborated with several researchers across the country to explore and identify factors associated with engaging in stalking or condoning celebrity stalking behaviors.

“Though there are fewer celebrities and famous people who are victims of stalking, often those cases involve more intense and problematic or dangerous situations,” Dr. Rodefer said. “Consider the death of John Lennon, and the attacks on President Ronald Reagan, actor Jodie Foster and tennis star Monica Seles — all of these incidents were the result of stalking.”

headshot of dr. josh rodefer
Dr. Josh Rodefer

Dr. Rodefer conducted research with Dr. Maria Wong from Idaho State University, Dr. Lynn McCutcheon from the North American Journal of Psychology and Dr. Kenneth Carter from Emory University. Their paper, “Predicting the stalking of celebrities from measures of persistent pursuit and threat directed toward celebrities, sensation seeking and celebrity worship,” was published March 1 in PLOS ONE, a peer-reviewed journal.

The team studied 596 American college students using several scales and surveys that correlated with measures of condoning celebrity stalking or actual stalking behaviors. They predicted that a combination of these scales would significantly predict scores on a measure of obsessive stalking behaviors.

The researchers used scales developed through previous studies that measure people’s behaviors, actions and attitudes about stalking, including the obnoxious fan activities scale-18 (OFAS-18), brief sensation seeking scale, and obsessional relational intrusion and celebrity stalking scale. Other scales tackled factors associated with celebrity stalking, like a relationships questionnaire and the multidimensional anger inventory brief.

Dr. Rodefer and the team discovered several key insights into factors that predict stalking behavior. The first notable finding was that individuals who think about their favorite celebrities frequently, feel compelled to learn more about them, pursue them consistently, threaten to harm them and are prone to boredom are more likely to stalk their favorite celebrities.

Another key finding provided evidence that people were less likely to participate in celebrity stalking if their commendation of the celebrity centered around the celebrity’s entertainment abilities.

The scores on the anger, experience-seeking, thrill and adventure-seeking portions of the study contributed little to the team’s predictive model. Additionally, anger and attachment did not predict scores of the OFAS-18 measure. This means that future uses of the scale the team developed would likely not include these parts, or the team would test them differently.

In summary, researchers found that those who pursue their favorite celebrity persistently and threaten to harm them were more likely to stalk them. Additionally, those who reported feeling bored more frequently were more likely to engage in celebrity staking behavior, seeking excitement from the act.

The team stressed the extent to which stalking has become an issue in the U.S., with recent estimates suggesting that 1.7 million individuals are stalked each year.

A recent study from the University of Michigan and West Virginia University researchers suggests 25% of fans indicated a desire to be a celebrity’s romantic partner. Another study shows almost half of the threatening fan letters had writers that believed they already had some kind of personal relationship with the celebrity, perceiving themselves as a friend or acquaintance.

It is important to note that the research Dr. Rodefer and the team conducted looks at associations between behaviors that predict stalking behaviors. The researchers, therefore, can only use the data to provide insight, not make definitive statements about what causes these behaviors.

“Since our work relied heavily on self-reported data from our college-aged participants in Idaho and Georgia, it likely is not generalizable to the U.S. population as a whole,” Dr. Rodefer said.

Dr. Rodefer and the team hope to continue working in this area of abnormal psychological behaviors and would like to expand their student outreach to different regions.

“Future projects related to this might examine more ‘serious’ celebrity stalkers or examine these behaviors in individuals who are closer to celebrities in Hollywood or New York,” he said.

Dr. Rodefer teaches many neuroscience-related courses at Mercer, including biopsychology, drugs and behavior, and various other seminars and labs. He and his undergraduate students work with the overarching goal of trying to better understand brain-behavior relationships. His research activities focus mainly on problems related to psychopharmacology, addiction, and other neuropsychiatric disorders like schizophrenia.

“Many of my students have varied backgrounds — studying psychology, neuroscience, biology, biochemistry, among others,” Dr. Rodefer said. “I think that’s critically important as our research questions are interdisciplinary. It’s very valuable to have different perspectives and approaches to these types of questions.”

 

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