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Celebrities’ Influence with Medical Information Cascades

https://www.bmj.com/content/347/bmj.f7151

 

This research explores the extent to which celebrities influence people’s decisions on personal health. These studies have shown how celebrities transfer their desirable attributes to products and use their success to boost both their perceived credibility, and credibility in the products of ideas. Psychologically, people are classically conditioned to react positively to the celebrities and align it with their own self conception, or rationalize following a celebrity’s medical advice. This information is then easily diffused through social networks and cause people to desire more of a celebrities’ social capital, or their higher perceived standing or persona. In some ways, celebrities can have a positive impact, such as Katie Couric televising her colonoscopy or singer Kylie Minogue’s diagnosis of breast cancer, which started a cascade and led to significant increases in colorectal cancer screenings and mammograms. But in other cases, false claims, such as Michael Parkinson, Christina Applegate, or Suzanne Somers, who all promoted false self diagnosis techniques, dangerous imaging recommendations, or specific brands that lack evidence of effectiveness. Because of people wanting to follow in their favorite celebrities’ footsteps, many will blindly follow their idol’s advice, and ignore other information that they have or that may be available. Celebrities typically display a “halo effect” where even without a genuine connection to the behavior or product, they may be perceived as credible, and wear a cloak of trustworthiness that extends beyond their expertise.

 

This widespread phenomena relates to class because it is an example of an information cascade on a global scale. People in the network already have their own judgments about what may be beneficial or harmful for their health, but when one node changes, which could be one very powerful node (the celebrity), or a few nodes in a cluster who are influenced by a celebrity’s outside marketing, then this can cause a cascade of many other nodes to change their opinions as well. Although regular people and celebrities have quite weak or often times single directional interactions, parasocial relationships exist which allow celebrities to achieve great influence and make people long to acquire celebrities’ social capital, seeking to raise their social status by imitating celebrities. These dynamics by celebrities over the masses can cause great cascades of misinformation and harmful practices, or positively, such as when a celebrity teams up with reliable, knowledgeable medical sources.

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