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Culture & Religion

What Our Online Expressions of Grief Reveal About Us

By mourning celebrity deaths online, we seek to display our specialness by association, say psychologists. The act also performs the important social function of building solidarity. 

What’s the Latest Development?

With the passing of celebrities like Adam Yauch, Maurice Sendak and Dona Summer, the public’s grieving process has increasingly taken place in plain view, particularly on social media sites like Twitter. The 140-letter dirge, however, typically conveys a more important statement about ourselves than those we are supposedly commemorating. “In psychology, the behavior is linked to the concept of ‘basking in reflected glory’—the impulse to share in or take credit for the triumphs of loved ones—the ones we actually know, such as siblings, and the ones we don’t, such as celebrities.”

What’s the Big Idea?

Spee Kosloff, an experimental psychologist at California State University at Fresno, says that celebrities are symbols which we often use to convey our own specialness by association. The inverse of this phenomenon is called ‘cutting off reflected failure’, which explains our need to criticize the flaws of Charlie Sheen and John Edwards as though they were personal friends. On the other hand, sharing something that is important to us–perhaps a celebrity death–is how individuals build social solidarity. Though many of us are not as devastated about a celebrity’s death as our tweets let on, we indulge ourselves so that we have something to discuss together. 

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