TEDx: Imaginary Friends and Real World Consequences

Are there any book characters you’d want to hang out with? Any character on TV? In a movie? Have you ever felt sad when a fictional character gets hurt? Do you root for your favorite characters, even though you know you can’t affect the action of the plot? Have you ever yelled at the TV even though you know the actors can’t hear you?

Your answer to at least one of these questions is probably “yes,” says psychologist and writer Jennifer Barnes at TEDxOU. People “spend time” with fictional characters just like they do with “real life” friends, she says, and that time matters.

Barnes has looked at this time — the development of relationships with fictional characters  — and studied how a small group of people felt about and responded to the imagined loss of a real person versus a fictional character. The results may surprise you. – Jennifer Barnes, Spotlight TEDx Talk

Why? Why do we spend so much time, money, and emotion on something we know isn’t real? What effect does this engagement have on us?

Barnes covers these questions and more in this fabulous 17 minute TEDTalk.

We form parasocial relationships with a person we don’t actually know by consuming media and information about them (IE, reading a book and getting attached to a main character). The same type of parasocial relationship can occur with celebrities (IE, Kiesha’s fascination with the Royal Family).

And she breaks down how much time has been spent reading and consuming Harry Potter. And it’s a conservative estimate. Very conservative.


How crazy is that? I know I’ve personally spent hundreds of hours with the HP crew, but damn. I never thought about it like that. How about the hours of Scandal or Game of Thrones or Once Upon A Time?

If you’re a bibliophile like I am, I strongly encourage you to take the time to watch Barnes’ TEDTalk!



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