Parasocial Interaction Does Not Function as a Relationship Mediator between the Influencer’s Online Content and the Adolescent’s Prosocial Moral Reasoning and Behaviour

Parasocial interaction (PSI) is a term describing an audience’s false belief of ​​a social experience with a media persona. Among adolescents, influencers are the most respected media personas. Through social networking sites (SNS), they act as models representing specific value preferences and behaviours. The aim of the study was to reveal the relationship between the content published by the most preferred influencers among adolescents (N = 81; 56% female; Mage = 14.12) and their prosocial behaviour and prosocial moral reasoning, with the adolescent’s PSI to an individual influencer being considered as a mediator. The content of the influencers’ contributions on YouTube and Instagram was analysed. The coding record took the form of the frequency of occurrence of individual phenomena, identifying two higher order categories (prosocial and anti-prosocial content). Parasocial interaction was measured by two PSI Scales, adapted for the environment of the SNS. Prosocial behaviour was measured by the PROS-8 scale, and prosocial moral reasoning by the PROM instrument. Results showed that the influencers significantly differed in terms of the prosocial content, with the differences linked to the influencer’s gender and the type of SNS. Examining adolescents, the more hours they spend on SNS per day, the stronger their parasocial interaction with the influencer (r=.281, p<.05) and the less prosocial content they prefer (r=-.294, p<.05). The more they prefer influencers with prosocial content, the more they show developmentally higher types of prosocial moral reasoning (r=.310, p<.05). However, the mediation analysis through hierarchical regression analysis showed that PSI as mediator did not cause a significant change in the model of the relationship between the influencers’ content and the adolescents’ behaviour and reasoning. The possible interpretations and suggestions for further research are discussed. Although there are similarities between parasocial relations and ordinary social relations, the research also revealed some important distinctions. Some of them are crucial only in the case of character development. Findings suggest that some motivational factors of prosocial behaviour are more strongly linked to PSI than others. Such discernment can be effectively used in the practice of character education.

adolescents, influencers, parasocial interaction, prosocial behaviour, prosocial moral reasoning, social networking sites (SNS)