Actress Angelina Jolie, 40, made headlines back in 2013 when she revealed that she had undergone a double mastectomy as a preventative measure after she tested positive for a specific gene, BRCA1, that’s been shown to increase breast cancer risk.
After going public with the news, Jolie encouraged more women to go out and get screened for the gene in order to determine if they were at risk for developing breast cancer—and many women listened. In an attempt to evaluate just how impactful her message was and to measure the power of celebrity influence, researchers at North Carolina State University conducted a study using a questionnaire posted online within three-days of the actress’ announcement. The findings have now been published in a paper in the Journal of Health Communication.
A total of 356 individuals completed the survey. Out of the 229 female participants, 30% intended to get screened for the BRCA1 gene, 23% said they would probably go for the test, and seven percent said they would definitely get it done. Researchers found that women who identified with Jolie were the ones who were more intent on getting the genetic test done, regardless of their family history of breast cancer, compared to women who did have a family history but didn’t relate as much to the star. The women who had a parasocial relationship with the actress—they regarded her as a friend figure—were also more likely to get tested.
The results from this research show that the impact of a celebrity’s messaging depends largely on how well the public identifies with and relates to the celebrity. This means that who the celebrity is will be just as important as what they’re saying—Angelina Jolie’s message was so impactful because she’s an influential name who’s relatable.
That being said, further research is needed to figure out what it is exactly that makes a celebrity like Angelina Jolie relatable to the general public. For instance, the survey showed that non-Caucasian women were more likely to identify with Angelina Jolie than non-Caucasian women, but researchers aren’t sure why that is.
Kosenko, K., et al., “Celebrity Influence and Identification: A Test of the Angelina Effect,” Journal of Health Communication 2015; doi: 10.1080/10810730.2015.1064498.
“Study: The Angelina Jolie Effect on breast cancer screening,” EurekAlert! web site, July 20, 2015; http://goo.gl/uMw4E2.