The contagion effect

A paper by George Newman and Paul Bloom analyses the prices paid at auctions for articles which have been owned or used by celebrities, and finds a correlation between usage and prices, and links this to magical thinking

The abstract says:
“Contagion is a form of magical thinking in which people believe that a person’s immaterial qualities or essence can be transferred to an object through physical contact. Here we investigate how a belief in contagion influences the sale of celebrity memorabilia. Using data from three high-profile estate auctions, we find that people’s expectations about the amount of physical contact between the object and the celebrity positively predicts the final bids for items that belonged to well-liked individuals (e.g., John F. Kennedy) and negatively predicts final bids for items that belonged to disliked individuals (e.g., Bernard Madoff). A follow-up experiment further suggests that these effects are driven by contagion beliefs: when asked to bid on a sweater owned by a well-liked celebrity, participants report that they would pay substantially less if it was sterilized before they received it. However, sterilization increases the amount they would pay for a sweater owned by a disliked celebrity. These studies suggest that magical thinking may still have effects in contemporary Western societies and they provide some unique demonstrations of contagion effects on real-world purchase decisions.”

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