Magical Thinking Makes Objects Touched By Celebrities More Valuable

An exhibit at the Newseum in Washington dedicated to John F. Kennedy. Photo: Getty

The amount of time a celebrity has spent touching an object affects the price it fetches at auction, scientists say.

The research shows that contagion – the idea that objects absorb people’s qualities – has an effect in the real world

“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,” write George E. Newmana and Paul Bloomb of Yale University.

They looked at how this belief influences the sale of celebrity memorabilia.

They crunched data from high profile auctions and found that people’s expectations about the amount of physical contact between the object and the celebrity positively predicts the final bids for items.

For example, something belonging to well-liked people such former President John F. Kennedy would bring a lot more than for disliked people such as fraudster Bernard Madoff.

When asked to bid on a sweater owned by a well-liked celebrity, participants report that they would pay substantially less if it was cleaned before they received it.

The research is published today in PNAS.

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