Here’s why consumers pay for celebrity possessions

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

WASHINGTON - A new study has offered insights into why someone would pay 48,875 dollars for a tape measure that had belonged to Jackie Kennedy or 3,300 dollars for Bernie Madoff’s footstool.

The authors, George E. Newman (Yale University), Gil Diesendruck (Bar-Ilan University), and Paul Bloom (Yale University) delved into the concept of “contagion,” the belief that a person’s immaterial qualities or essence can be transferred onto an object through physical contact.

In their first study, the authors asked participants how much they would like to own celebrity and non-celebrity possessions. They asked about well-regarded individuals (like George Clooney) or despised individuals (like Saddam Hussein). They measured the dimensions of contagion, perceived market value, and liking of the individual.

“For well-liked celebrities, the primary explanation seemed to be contagion-participants expressed a desire to own some of the individual’s actual physical remnants,” the authors write.

In contrast, when the items had belonged to a despised individual, people perceived that the items were potentially valuable to others, but contact with the hated individuals decreased the items’ value.

In a second experiment, participants reported their willingness to purchase a sweater owned by someone famous (well-liked or despised). However, the sweater was “transformed” by sterilization or preventing its resale. For well-liked celebrities sterilizing reduced participants’ willingness to purchase the sweater, while preventing the resale of the item had a comparably minimal effect.

“In contrast, for despised individuals, the pattern was the opposite: removing contact only increased the sweater’s value while preventing the sale to others significantly reduced participants’ willingness to purchase it,” the authors concluded.

The study has been published in the Journal of Consumer Research. (ANI)

Filed under: Science and Technology

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