Cognition, Intelligence and Language Social Psychology

Episode 130 (video): Why Are We So Fascinated by Famous People?

If you’ve ever met a famous person you know how exciting that feels. But why? What is it about fame that draws so many people to it? In this episode I examine fame from two very perspectives: the Basking in Reflected Glory theory and Terror Management Theory. Along the way we’ll see what this all has to do with the rock band Queen, baseball and Chelsea Clinton’s wedding.

Thanks again to Beth Benoit of Granite State College and to Melissa Kennedy of Holy Names Academy for pointing me in the direction of the following sources:

Resources on the Psychology of Fame

  • Cialdini, R. B., Borden, R. J., Thorne, A., Walker, M. R., Freeman, S., & Sloan, L. R. (1976). Basking in reflected glory: Three (football) field studies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 34, 366–375.
  • Greenberg, Jeff, Kosloff, Spee, Solomon, Sheldon, Cohen, Florette and Landau, Mark(2008). Toward Understanding the Fame Game: The Effect of Mortality Salience on the Appeal of Fame,Self and Identity
  • You can learn more about Terror Management Theory here.

  • Terror Management Theory | Mrs. Neutron's Garage

    Terror management theory is based heavily on the writings of cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker, and in particular his book The Denial of Death, for which he won the 1973 Pulitzer Prize. According to TMT, humans, having

    Publish Date: 04/03/2011 8:24

  • Sheldon Solomon – Anthropology 322 (4)

    Sheldon Solomon speaks about Ernest Becker and Terror Management Theory to an anthropology class at the University of Washington called Comparative Study of Death



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  1. Avatar


    August 22, 2010

    Thanks Derek. I checked out the link to the Astronomy Cast. Interesting – I had no idea that the whole “name a star after yourself” was bogus until this episode, although the idea certainly did sound a little fishy.

  2. Avatar

    Derek Weber

    August 22, 2010


    Great episode Michael. I thought it was really interesting.

    I happened to have the same thought about paying to have a star named as Martin too, having heard about the Astronomy Cast ( and search for the question from listener “K. G. Graubux”).

    Sounds like I’ve been pretty lucky in Australia not to have heard anything about Chelsea Clinton’s wedding. :o)

    Keep up the great work, Michael!

  3. Avatar


    August 22, 2010

    Martin: thanks for the link. I had heard about this business of naming stars after people but never actually looked into it Interesting – but not surprising – to see that it’s bogus.

  4. Avatar

    Martin Larsson

    August 22, 2010

    Great episode! (Loved the song at the ending :D)

    Just as a side-note. The International Star Registry, which you indirectly mentioned in this episode, is nothing but bogus. Their register is about as official and recognized in the astronomical community as a napkin which I have jotted down some star names on.

  5. Avatar


    August 22, 2010

    I particularly liked the study with the students and concluding with the football team question.

    Would it be an accurate conclusion that “our self-perception changes according to how we “feel” at that time”
    I’m trying to see this from a social view, whether we put ourself in an environment (people, pleasant room, at university etc) that makes us feel better or worse.

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