Cognitive performance is slightly reduced among those with higher levels of celebrity worship, according to a new study published in BMC Psychology.

“Interest in the topic of celebrity worshipers spans almost two decades. From several studies, over that period, research showed a weak to moderate tendency for those who showed the strongest admiration for their favorite celebrity to have lower cognitive skills, using a variety of cognitive measures,” explained study authors Lynn E. McCutcheon, Ágnes Zsila, and Zsolt Demetrovics in a joint statement to PsyPost.

“However, most of these studies did not control for a variety of extraneous variables. The current study did control for several possibly relevant variables.”

In the study, 1,763 Hungarian adults completed a 30-word vocabulary test and a digit symbol substitution test, a validated assessment of fluid intelligence. The researchers also collected data about the participants’ self-esteem, current family income, material wealth, and highest level of education.

Celebrity worship was measured using a scientific questionnaire known as the Celebrity Attitude Scale. The scale asks participants the extent to which they agree or disagree with statements such as “I often feel compelled to learn the personal habits of my favorite celebrity,” “I am obsessed by details of my favorite celebrity’s life,” and “If I were lucky enough to meet my favorite celebrity, and he/she asked me to do something illegal as a favor I would probably do it.”

Even after controlling for demographic and socioeconomic variables, the researchers found that high scores on the Celebrity Attitude Scale were associated with lower performance on the two cognitive ability tests.

“We found a weak tendency for those who showed the strongest admiration for their favorite celebrity to have lower cognitive skills, suggesting that the earlier results were not due just to chance,” the authors of the study said. “Our results also support previous findings showing that excessive behaviors such as celebrity worshiping can possibly impair cognitive functioning, presumably due to the increased focus and energy invested in this behavior that becomes dominant in the individual’s life.”

“Although celebrity admiration seems not to be a strong precursor of poorer cognitive performance, high levels of admiration can be regarded as one contributing factor to lowered performance in tasks requiring cognitive effort, independently from education or age.”

But it is unclear whether celebrity worship is the cause or consequence of reduced cognitive ability. For example, it “may be that individuals with higher levels of cognitive skills are more likely to understand the marketing strategies behind a famous person,” and thus less vulnerable to celebrity worship, the researchers explained. But it is also possible that celebrity worship functions like an addictive behavior and requires cognitive effort to be maintained.

Previous research has found that celebrity worship is associated with addictive and problematic social media use.

“Future studies should seek further support for our suggestion that the cognitive effort invested in maintaining the absorption in a favorite celebrity may interfere with the person’s performance in tasks that require attention and other cognitive skills,” the authors told PsyPost. “Although our research does not prove that developing a powerful obsession with one’s favorite celebrity causes one to score lower on cognitive tests, it suggests that it might be wise to carefully monitor feelings for one’s favorite celebrity, keeping in mind that most celebrities are human beings who have some flaws just like average persons have.”

The study, “Celebrity worship and cognitive skills revisited: applying Cattell’s two-factor theory of intelligence in a cross-sectional study“, was published November 8, 2021.