Despite being under the media glare for decades, a time comes when actors, singers or even sportstars lose their Midas touch. However, some celebrities manage to make world headlines daily.
Now, a new psychology study has helped explain why some stars burn bright, long, long after their talent has faded - if it ever was there to begin with.
AdvertisementNathanael Fast of Stanford University in California has put the reason simply to: people need something to talk about.
He says that the human desire to find common ground in conversation pushes individuals to discuss already popular people.
To reach his conclusion, Fast's team focused not on gossip column celebrities, but on professional American baseball players, reports New Scientist.
"We realised that there's a ton of stats and performance data available for baseball, so if we can show that famous or well-known baseball players become more prominent than unknown baseball players who perform just as well or better, we're able to make a convincing case," he says.
Several economists have debated that in the market of popular culture, quality dictates the difference between popularity and obscurity.
To determine if conversation could drive fame, independent of quality, the research team gave a list of eight baseball players with statistics on their previous season's performance to 33 male and 56 female volunteers.
The study's participants picked a name from the list and drafted a short email to another person in the group about the player. In some cases, the volunteer was told that the person receiving the email was an avid fan.
The scientists found, more often than not, volunteers conversed about popular but under-performing players, rather than more obscure players who put up amazing numbers.
Volunteers who loved baseball themselves tended to pick an obscure player if they thought they were emailing an expert. Yet the same fans tended to converse about prominent players when they didn't know anything about their correspondent.
"The very experts who could kind of inform everyone else don't. They actually keep feeding them the information they already know because that helps establish a connection," Fast says.
To test the theory on a grander scale, the team examined the relationships between fan chatter on internet message boards, media coverage, and an objective measure of a player's popularity - fan balloting for the annual "All-Star" game. This mid-season contest pits the most popular players from baseball's two divisions against one another.
Players who garnered the most All-Star votes also received the most media coverage and message-board attention, scientists found.
However, a statistical analysis suggested that internet conversations, particularly on message boards not devoted to baseball, drove media coverage and All-Star game votes.
The best players were the most likely to garner All-Star votes. But all things considered, internet mentions by non-experts had as much of an effect on voting as performance, Fast's team found.
The study concluded that prominent people stay popular for longer than they ought to because they serve as conversational fodder, which in turn drives more media coverage.
The study has been published in the journal Psychological Science.
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