The Science Behind Shipping

Ever wonder what that tingling feeling in the pit of your stomach is? Or that hot rush that climbs up to your chest and sprinkles onto your hands and feet? The feels defined by the Urban Dictionary, as a rush of diverse emotions that could not be properly explained, is a common tag line for expressing fans overflow of excitement, anger, love, passion and even irrational obsession.

For years fandoms have cheered on their favorite fictional pairings, and rooted for them throughout TV shows, novels, and films. However, why are many audience members so attached to non-existent individuals? Why is it that people can cry for days and morn the deaths of characters in a TV show when the character is simply played by an actor?

As a writer, often these emotional attachments to characters are what fuel the story. In the medium of television, the writer’s goal is to make sure audience will tune in every week to see what happens, and to accomplish this they create amazing characters. Character driven narratives involve a deep change or growth to a character. Ponyboy from The Outsiders is not the same 14 year old at the start of the novel than when it ended.

Basic Science

Emotions or feelings are caused by reactions in the brain. Different chemicals and hormones create different behaviors and emotions. But, what makes someone feel sad? Why do people get angry, frustrated, or enraged? What are emotional triggers and how do they affect our judgement?

In The Science of Attraction series produced by the Science of Attraction Youtube channel, several experiments were done to a variety of young adults in effort to see what makes people attracted to others. The studies showed that attraction does not only mean a romantic connection or desire. Instead, attraction plays a bigger role on if a person likes or dislikes someone.

Reality Check (Game Spot) did a similar study titled “Why Do We Care About Fictional Characters?”, but viewed audience attraction or levels of caring towards video game characters. Psychologist Mark Coulsin explained in “Why Do We Care About Fictional Characters?”, that humans tend to create bonds on anything that has movement. These bonds, or judgement, are basically instincts which make us have an impression on others or our surroundings. Furthermore, the video revealed that humans tend to connect with characters that are flawed or present human qualities.


After analyzing the above information, it is clear that people are automatically attracted or drawn to things that move. If those subjects provide a pleasurable appearance–ranging from simply being cute, realistic, or human like–humans tend to place a level of caring or likeness to that subject. For example, cartoon characters–when a cartoon character is “cute” or “sweet” we tend to develop different levels of affection towards that character.

Okay, but what does all of this have to do with shipping? The idea is that once a person develops a level or degree of caring or affection for a character they begin to view that character as a realistic individual. Some psychologist have found that people project their desires, goals, or values onto those they care about. An examples of this would be parents; a father or mother will often try to implant what they view as right or wrong onto their child. A parent can even go as far as projecting their failed dreams or goals to their son or daughter.

The idea is, that as an active audience member a person becomes so attached or caring to a character that they desire more for him or her. In other words, if a person desires to find a romantic partner sometime in life–and their favorite character gets a chance at love they will promote or ship whomever they think would be the best choice based on their view of perfect.


Overall, people tend to ship pairings based on what they view as best, perfect, or simply based on their own desires. This of course is not always true. Some people may not want a bad boy for a future husband, but maybe they think that it would be the best match for their beloved character. In the end, shipping is an art form–as strange as that might sound–shipping allows for audience members to participate in a story. They become active contributors in the art of entertainment.

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