“My Superpower is Being Honest:” Perceived Credibility and Parasocial Relationships with Alex Jones


  • T. Phillip Madison University of Louisiana - Lafayette
  • Kaitlyn Wright University of Louisiana - Lafayette
  • Timothy Gaspard University of Lousiana - Lafayette




This study explored perceptions of Infowars host Alex Jones’ credibility, and functions of audience parasocial relationships (PSRs) using a sample of Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk) workers (N = 584). Several PSR functions predicted perceived credibility of Alex Jones and viewing of Infowars. The conflict and self-understanding functions predicted perceived credibility while relationship maintenance, catharsis, and compensation predicted viewing Infowars. Demographic factors had no significant effect on perceived credibility, although education level was a negative predictor of viewing.

Author Biographies

  • T. Phillip Madison, University of Louisiana - Lafayette

    Phillip Madison (Ph.D., Louisiana State University) is the T. Michael Maher/BORSF Endowed Assistant Professor of Public Relations at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. He earned both a Bachelor of Arts in advertising/Spanish and a Master of Arts in mass communication from Texas Tech University, later finishing a Ph.D. in mass communication from Louisiana State University. His research interests focus on the role of human imagination in media effects, and he continues to explore topics such as parasocial relationships, imagined interaction, and their resulting human behaviors and belief systems.

  • Kaitlyn Wright, University of Louisiana - Lafayette

    Kaitlyn Wright (MS, University of Louisiana at Lafayette) is a second-year Ph.D. student at the University of Colorado Boulder in advertising, public relations, and media design (APRD). Her research interests include morality and source credibility with social media influencers (SMIs) on social media. For her Master’s thesis she wanted to understand how social media users viewed beauty influencer’s credibility characteristics expertise, goodwill, and trustworthiness. For her Ph.D. dissertation she is working closely with admirable professors from CU and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (ULL) continuing her research interests with SMIs, morality, and source credibility in a social media environment. Kaitlyn Wright hopes to understand the relationships amongst SMIs and perceived morality and credibility. SMIs influence user’s decisions and buying behaviors daily therefore making her research important to communication research.

  • Timothy Gaspard, University of Lousiana - Lafayette

    Timothy S. Gaspard (MS, University of Louisiana at Lafayette) is a communications Specialist from Gretna, Louisiana. He earned both a Bachelor of Arts in public relations and a Master of Science in Communication from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. His research interests focus on the role of human imagination and behavior in relation to social technology and media. Research topics include imagined interaction, human-machine interaction, and human-machine communication.


Abramowitz, A.I. & Webster, S. (2016). The rise of negative partisanship and the nationalization

of U.S. elections in the 21st century. Electoral Studies 41, pp. 12-22. DOI: 10.1016/j.electstud.2015.11.001

Allen, T.H. (1994, November). Absence makes the mind work harder: Imagined interactions and

coping with geographical separation. Paper presented at the National Communication Association Conference, New Orleans, LA.

America’s Lethal Politics. (2017, June 14). New York Times (Editorial Board). Retrieved

October 12, 2017 from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/14/opinion/steve-scalise-congress-shot-alexandria-virginia.html

Auter, P.J. & Palmgreen, P. (2000) Development and validation of a parasocial interaction

measure: The audience-persona interaction scale. Communication and Research Reports 17(1), 79-89. doi: 10.1386/jammr.1.2.131/1

Carless, W. (19-Dec., 2016). Brazil, Snowden, Russia and fake news: a conversation with Glenn

Greenwald. PRI.org. Retrieved December 1, 2017 from https://www.pri.org/stories/2016-12-19/brazil-snowden-russia-and-fake-news-conversation-glenn-greenwald.

Caughey, J.L. (1984). Imaginary social worlds: A cultural approach. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.

Chandler, D. (2004). Television violence and children’s behaviour. Retrieved August 12, 2013

from http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Modules/TF33120/tv-violence_and_kids.html

Chung, C. J., Nam, Y., & Stefanone, M. A. (2012). Exploring Online News Credibility: The

Relative Influence of Traditional and Technological Factors. Journal Of Computer-Mediated Communication, 17(2), 171-186. doi:10.1111/j.1083-6101.2011.01565.x

Cohen, J. (2003). Parasocial breakups: Measuring individual differences in responses to the

dissolution of parasocial relationships. Mass Communication and Society, 6, 191–202. doi: 10.1207/S15327825MCS0602_5

Cummins, R. G., & Cui, B. (2014). Reconceptualizing address in television programming: The

effect of address and affective empathy on viewer experience of parasocial interaction. Journal of Communication, 64, 723–742. doi:10.1111/jcom.12076

Dibble, J.L., Hartmann, T. & Rosaen, S.F. (2016). Parasocial interaction and parasocial

relationship: Conceptual clarification and a critical assessment of measures. Human Communication Research, 42(1), 21-44.

Edwards, R., Honeycutt, J. M., & Zagacki, K. S. (1988). Imagined interaction as an element of

social cognition. Western Journal of Speech Communication, 52, 23-45. doi: 10.1080/10570318809389623

Festinger, L. (1957). Theory of cognitive dissonance. Evanston, IL: Row, Peterson, and


Fake news, lies, and propaganda: How to sort fact from fiction. (2018). University of Michigan

Library. Retrieved April 10, 2019 from https://guides.lib.umich.edu/c.php?g=637508&p=4462356.

Gaziano, C., & McGrath, K. (1986). Measuring the concept of credibility. Journalism Quarterly,

, 451-462.

Hartmann, T., & Goldhoorn, C. (2011). Horton and Wohl revisited: Exploring viewers’

experience of parasocial interaction. Journal of Communication, 61, 1104–1121. doi:10.1111/j.1460-2466.2011.01595.x

Hartmann, T., & Schramm, H. (2008). The PSI-process scales: A new measure to assess

the intensity and breadth of parasocial processes. Communications: The European Journal of Research, 33, 385–401. doi:10.1515/COMM.2008.025

Holan, A.D. (2016, December 13). 2016 Lie of the Year: Fake News. Politifact. Retrieved

February 27, 2017 from http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2016/dec/13/2016-lie-year-fake-news/

Honeycutt, J.M. (2008). Imagined interaction theory: Mental representations of interpersonal

communication. In L.A. Baxter & D. Braithwaite (Eds.). Engaging Theories in Interpersonal Communication (pp. 77-87). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Honeycutt, J. M. (2010). Imagine that: Studies in imagined interaction. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton.

Honeycutt, J.M., Edwards, R., & Zagacki, K.S. (1989-1990). Using imagined interaction features

to predict measures of self-awareness: Loneliness, locus of control, self-dominance, and emotional intensity. Imagination, Cognition, and Personality, 9, 17-31.

Honeycutt, J.M. & McCann, R.M. (2017). Imagined interactions. Oxford Research

Encyclopedia. Retrieved April 10, 2019 from http://oxfordre.com/communication/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780190228613.001.0001/acrefore-9780190228613-e-451

Honeycutt, J. M., Vickery, A. J., & Hatcher, L. C. (2015). The Daily Use of Imagined Interaction

Features. Communication Monographs, 82(2), 201-223. doi:10.1080/03637751.2014.953965

Horton, D., & Wohl, R.R. (1956). Mass communication and para-social interaction:

Observations on intimacy at a distance. Psychiatry 19, 215-229.

Issue brief: Distinguishing disinformation from propaganda, misinformation, and fake news.

(17-Oct., 2017). National Endowment for Democracy. Retrieved April 10, 2019 from https://www.ned.org/issue-brief-distinguishing-disinformation-from-propaganda-misinformation-and-fake-news/.

Johnson, T., & Kaye, B. (2010a). Choosing is believing? How web gratifications and reliance

affect Internet credibility among politically interested users. Atlantic Journal of Communication, 18, 1–21.

Klimmt, C., Hartmann, T., & Schramm, H. (2006). Parasocial interactions and relationships. In J.

Bryant & P. Vorderer (Eds.), Psychology of entertainment (pp. S291–S313). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. (2017, July 30). Retrieved October 18, 2017 from


Leonnig, C.D., Hamburger, T., & Helderman, R.S. (2017, September 6). Russian firm tied to

pro-Kremlin propaganda advertised on Facebook during election. The Washington Post. retrieved October 12, 2017 from https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/facebook-says-it-sold-political-ads-to-russian-company-during-2016-election/2017/09/06/32f01fd2-931e-11e7-89fa-bb822a46da5b_story.html

Madison, T.P., & Porter, L. (2016). Cognitive and imagery attributes of parasocial

relationships. Imagination, Cognition, and Personality 35(4). doi: 10.1177/0276236615599340

Madison, T.P., Porter, L., & Greule, A. (2016). Parasocial compensation hypothesis: Predictors

of using parasocial relationships to compensate for real-life interaction. Imagination, Cognition, and Personality, 35: 258-279. doi: 10.1177/0276236615595232

Madison, T.P. & Porter, L. (2015). The people we meet: Discriminating functions of parasocial

interaction. Imagination, Cognition, and Personality 35, pp. 47-71. doi: 10.1177/0276236615574490

Madison, T.P., Rold, M., & Honeycutt, J.M. (2014). How partisans differ from

independents: The imaginative functions of self-understanding, rehearsal, and relationship maintenance. Imagination, Cognition, and Personality 34(2). doi:10.2190/IC.34.2.b

Mai, L. (29-Jan., 2018). When is fake news propaganda? Facing History. Retrieved April 7,

from http://facingtoday.facinghistory.org/when-is-fake-news-propaganda-.

Meyer, P. (1988). Defining and measuring credibility of newspapers: Developing an index.

Journalism Quarterly, 63(3), 567–574 & 588. doi: 10.1177/107769908806500301

Miller, G.R. (1986). A neglected connection: Mass media exposure and interpersonal

communicative competency. In G. Gumpert and R. Cathcart (Eds.), Inter/media: Interpersonal communication in a media world. 3rd edition (pp.132-139). New York: Oxford University Press.

Mook, D.G. (1983). In defence of external validity. American Psychologist, 38, 379-387.

O’Keefe, D. J. (1990). Persuasion: Theory & research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Perse, E. M., & Rubin, R. B. (1989). Attribution in social and parasocial relationship.

Communication Research, 16, 59–77. doi: 10.1177/009365089016001003

Perse, E. M., & Rubin, A. M. (1990). Chronic loneliness and television use. Journal of

Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 34, 37–53. doi: 10.1080/08838159009386724

Raney, A. A. (2006). The psychology of disposition-based theories of media enjoyment; In:

Psychology of entertainment. Bryant, Jennings (Ed.); Vorderer, Peter (Ed.); Mahwah, NJ, US: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers, 2006, pp. 137-150.

Ratcliff, J. (2014). What do we get out of brands interacting with each other on Twitter?

Econsultancy.com. Retrieved April 10, 2019 from https://econsultancy.com/what-do-we-get-out-of-brands-interacting-with-each-other-on-twitter/.

Rubin, A. M., Perse, E. M., & Powell, R. A. (1985). Loneliness, parasocial interaction, and local

television news viewing. Human Communication Research, 12, 155–180. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2958.1985.tb00071.x

Savage, M. E., & Spence, P. R. (2014). Will You Listen? An Examination of Parasocial

Interaction and Credibility in Radio. Journal Of Radio & Audio Media, 21(1), 3-19. doi:10.1080/19376529.2014.891214

Schiappa, E., Gregg, P., & Hewes, D. (2005). The parasocial contact hypothesis. Communication

Monographs, 72, 92-115.

Schramm, H. & Wirth, W. (2010). Testing a universal tool for measuring parasocial interactions

across different situations and media. Journal of Media Psychology 22(1), 26-36.

Sears, D.O. (1986). College sophomores in the laboratory: Influences of a narrow data base on

social psychology’s view of human nature. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51, 515-530.

Shane, S. (2017, September 7). The fake Americans Russia created to influence the election.

NewYork Times. Retrieved October 12, 2017 from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/07/us/politics/russia-facebook-twitter-election.html

Starbird, K. (2017, March 14). Information wars: A window into the alternative media

ecosystem. HCI and Design at UW. Retrieved April 2, 2017 fromhttps://medium.com/hci-design-at-uw/information-wars-a-window-into-the-alternative-media-ecosystem-a1347f32fd8f

Sunstein, C. R. (2007). Republic.com 2.0. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Tukachinsky,R. & Stever, G. (2019). Theorizing development of parasocial engagement.

Communication Theory 29(3), 297-318. https://doi.org/10.1093/ct/qty032

Van Kelegom, M. J., & Wright, C. N. (2013). The use of imagined interactions to manage

relational uncertainty. Southern Communication Journal, 78(2), 91-106. doi:10.1080/1041794X.2012.726688

Westneat, D. (2017, March 29). UW professor: The information war is real, and we’re losing it.

Retrived March 31, 2017 from http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/uw-professor-the-information-war-is-real-and-were-losing-it/

Woolsey, R. (2017, July 15). Donald Trump, Alex Jones, and the illusion of knowledge.

CNN.com. Retrieved July 17, 2017 from http://www.cnn.com/2017/07/15/opinions/trump-alex-jones-world-problem-opinion-wooley/index.html

Yuhas, A. (2017, March 30). 'Pizzagate' gunman pleads guilty as conspiracy theorist apologizes

over case. The Guardian. Retrieved October 22, 2017 from https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/mar/25/comet-ping-pong-alex-jones

Zagacki, K. S., Edwards, R., & Honeycutt, J. M. (1992). The Role of Mental Imagery and

Emotion in Imagined Interaction. Communication Quarterly, 40(1), 56-68.

Zaitchick, A. (2011, March 2). Meet Alex Jones: The most paranoid man in America is trying to

overthrow the 'global Stasi Borg state,' one conspiracy theory at a time. Rolling Stone. Retrieved October 17, 2017 from http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/talk-radios-alex-jones-the-most-paranoid-man-in-america-20110302