June 25, 2024
Heartbreak felt by some fans after the end of television series is similar to that of losing loved ones

Heartbreak felt by some fans after the end of television series is similar to that of losing loved ones

Episode after episode, season after season, everyone has that series, soap opera or television program that captivates them and immerses them deeply into their universe. Generally, these are the programs with which the greatest emotional and empathetic connections are developed, whether through the plot or the characters. However, all programs come to an end, much to the dismay of their fans who no longer have contact with that particular world and those characters.

A recent example of this situation occurred in Australia, with the cancellation of the television series Neighbors, after 37 years on the air. Created in 1985, this was a long-running daily series – very popular in Australia and the United Kingdom – with four decades of broadcasting and fans of different generations. After its cancellation in 2022, public appeals made the series’ producer reconsider, with the series returning to the small screen in 2023.

But it was the effects of heartbreak and sadness that the program’s cancellation generated on the Australian public that intrigued a group of researchers from Central Queensland University, in Australia. The team, led by Australian psychologist Adam Gerace, recently published an analytical study investigating the effects that the end of the series had on its biggest fans. According to their conclusions, published in the form of an article in the scientific journal PLOS One, followers of the series said they experienced feelings of heartbreak and loss, similar to those experienced after the death of a close friend, following the cancellation of Neighbors. “Fans compared the end of the series to the feeling of losing a friend,” said Gerace, lead author of the study.

For the study, a survey was developed and administered to almost 1,300 fans of the television series, which allowed the team of scientists to observe how the participants dealt with the end of the series, as well as their emotions – related to grief, anger or the sadness – which they experienced when they said goodbye to the series and their favorite characters. Through the responses, the researchers concluded that many viewers of the series had deep feelings of sadness and that, for the most part, they had difficulty accepting the disappearance of the program and their favorite characters. “Fans seemed to be experiencing quite strong grief, reflecting the importance of the series and the relationships with the characters in their lives and a feeling of rupture or parasocial loss”, the study reads.

It was also possible to conclude that the people who experienced greater feelings of heartbreak and grief were those who created strong bonds with their favorite characters and became emotionally involved with them. In other words, these feelings proved to be stronger in people with “parasocial” relationships with the characters, considering them their friends and part of their social group. Parasocial relationships are deep, one-sided emotional connections that one person develops with another who, typically, does not share or recognize that connection. These emotional connections generally develop mainly with celebrities or fictional characters. “They imagined how their favorite character was thinking and feeling. They felt happy when their favorite character was happy and worried when they faced danger,” explained Gerace.

Another factor that could explain the study’s conclusions is the duration of the series, since it was broadcast for 37 years, which allowed viewers to create deep relationships of empathy with the characters. Furthermore, other factors such as personal experiences can lead certain people to relate more deeply to certain characters or situations.

The scientists involved in the study believe that their conclusions could contribute to a better understanding of parasocial relationships and the impact that social media has on people’s lives. “Understanding fans’ experiences when a long-running series ends advances theory and research into viewers’ parasocial relationships and engagement with social media, as well as providing evidence that the loss of a series or a favorite character can be seen as a type of mourning experience”, can be read in the study’s conclusions.

This phenomenon is not, however, exclusive to television series and programs, its existence can be seen in literature, video games or the death of celebrities, which has led to studies with similar objectives. In 2004, for example, a study published in the scientific journal Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media discovered emotional associations between the end of the series “Friends” and levels of anguish similar to those felt after the end of a real-life relationship.

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