Mourning Kobe Bryant: Local professor explains why people grieve celebrities they’ve never met

‘Even if you’re not a basketball fan, he was one of the first people that comes to mind’

RADFORD, Va. – The shocking death of basketball legend Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter has left many people feeling as if they’ve lost a close loved one. A local expert from Radford University said that is actually very common when celebrities pass away.

It’s due to a psychological phenomenon called parasocial interaction, which means that people feel like they know someone - especially celebrities, TV news reporters or anchors, or characters from movies or novels - even though they don’t know those celebrities personally.

Dr. Scott Dunn works at Radford University and studies how media shapes how we see the world. He said it’s not surprising that society is grieving Bryant’s death because he was very well known for his basketball career, his family, and even for a sexual assault allegation from 2003.

Dunn said it’s especially common for people to form these emotional bonds with athletes.

“Even if you’re not a basketball fan, he was one of the first people that comes to mind when you think of basketball," said Dunn, an associate professor of communication at Radford University. "Just the level of celebrity, as well as the shock and the suddenness of his death, I think, has lead it to be maybe more of an outpouring of grief than many other celebrity deaths.”

Dunn said that social media makes it even easier for people to feel like they know celebrities or athletes.

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