Psychological Determinants of Idolatry in Adolescents

Article excerpt

Idolatry, the excessive admiration of, and devotion to, something or someone, is commonly found among adolescents. In Hong Kong, as in many countries, popular singers and movie stars are the choice of idols for many. To the adolescent who is searching for a sense of identity, identification with an idol and sharing a common purpose with fan-club members can be important sources of values, meanings, and fulfillment (Roe, 1985). Idolatrous activities (e.g., collecting items with the idol's trademark, waiting to see an idol outside a building, going to concerts and movies) can take up a large amount of the adolescent's time and resources.

Despite this important phenomenon, research on idolatrous behavior is lacking. Not a single empirical study on the psychological correlates of this behavior was found in a search of the literature over the past twenty years. This study investigated the psychological characteristics of adolescents who were members of two fan clubs in Hong Kong. Yeung (1995) has shown that being a member of a fan club is strongly associated with the time and money spent on idolatrous activities. This study focused on adolescents age 16 or below, because older adolescents tend not to be active in fan clubs in Hong Kong.

It was hypothesized that joining a fan club would be associated with two different but related psychological factors: self-esteem and fear of negative evaluation (Yeung, 1995). First, adolescents with low self-esteem may gain a sense of pride from associating with people of higher social status, such as superstars. For example, adolescents can show off to peers by collecting an idol's items or take pride in supporting their superstars. Second, idolatrous behaviors take place in a peer context and, given their popularity, adolescents may engage in such activities simply to gain acceptance by peers. Hence, individuals with a high fear of negative evaluation from others may join a fan club to avoid rejection. It is unlikely that self-esteem and fear of negative evaluation would affect idolatry independently, since they have been shown to be interrelated for adolescents (di Maria & di Nuovo, 1990; Yeung, 1995). Thus, an interaction effect on self-esteem and fear of negative evaluation was expected.

METHOD

Sample

A convenience sample of teenagers age 16 or below who were members of two different fan clubs - one for a male and the other for a female pop singer - participated in the study. The fan clubs were chosen in order to obtain a more sex-balanced sample, although members of fan clubs in Hong Kong are predominantly females. Four helpers who were themselves devoted fan-club members were asked to distribute a questionnaire to other active participants in their clubs. The respondents filled out the questionnaire individually and returned it to the researcher by mail. A total of 111 questionnaires were distributed and 79 were returned (a 71.2% return rate). However, 2 cases had to be dropped due to incomplete data, leaving 77 for analysis.

One hundred fifty-seven students in Grades 7 to 10 of a local high school were also recruited. One class from each grade was randomly sampled to participate in the study. The students completed the same questionnaire individually in class, which was collected by the teacher. To avoid possible overlap with the fan-club sample, 22 respondents who admitted to having been members of fan clubs were excluded, as were 4 students above the age of 16 and 3 whose questionnaires were incomplete, leaving 128 for analysis.

This school was chosen partly because of convenience, but more importantly it was generally considered to be below average in overall academic reputation, which represents the school background of most fan-club members (Yeung, 1995). In the present study, 89.5% of fan-club members were studying in a similar school. In light of the relationship between academic status and self-esteem (Cheung, 1986; Rubin, 1978), the fan-club respondents were classified into two groups on the basis of the academic reputation of their schools. …