Celebrities like Angelina Jolie, David Beckham and Kylie are more influential role models than famous historical figures, a new study has shown.

Research carried out at the University of Leicester's department of media and communication found that the legacies of the likes of Winston Churchill, William Shakespeare and Isaac Newton are less significant to today's youngsters than the Tomb Raider star, the England footballer or the Australian pop singer.

Dr Charlotte de Backer - whose research is published in the journal Human Nature - found that the high publicity afforded to households like the Jolie-Pitts or the Beckhams makes them 'teachers' for the young.

She said: "Life is about learning, gaining experience and in that process we have a tendency to observe and mimic the actions of others. Ideally we mimic what makes others successful and avoid unsuccessful actions others have trialled (and paid for).

"In reality, humans seem to have the tendency to mimic the overall behaviour pattern of higher status or more successful others.

"This explains why celebrities act as role models for broad ranges of behaviour they display - good or bad."

Her study of 800 respondents also found that older people are interested in celebrities for purely social reasons rather than because of any specific interest in Lindsay Lohan's latest spell in rehab or Britney Spears' latest run-in with the paparazzi.

"We did find in the interviews that older people do not Gossip about celebrities as much because they want to learn from them or feel befriended with them, but they use celebrity gossip to bond with real-life friends and acquaintances," Dr De Backer added.

"Living in scattered societies we often don't know who to talk about with the many people we know and celebrities can act as our mutual friends and acquaintances."

18/12/2007 12:54:21