Why do people pay so much for celebrity items?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

WASHINGTON - Why would someone pay a fortune for an item that had belonged to Jackie Kennedy or for a celebrity’s footstool?

Study authors from Yale and Bar-llan Universities, seeking to find an explanation, researched the concept of “contagion” — the belief that a person’s essence can be transferred onto an object through contact.

“We were curious to examine the degree to which contagion beliefs may account for the valuation of celebrity items,” study authors George E. Newman and Gil Diesendruck were quoted as saying in the Journal of Consumer Research.

The objects themselves tend to be relatively common artefacts (clothing, furniture), indistinguishable from a number of seemingly identical products in the marketplace, according to a Yale statement.

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

Conversely, when the items had belonged to a despised individual (say Saddam Hussein), it devalued the item.

In a second experiment, participants reported their willingness to purchase a sweater owned by someone famous (well-liked or despised).

But sterilizing the item in case of the despised individual downgraded its worth in the participant’s eye and prevented its resale. In case of well-liked celebrities, the pattern was the opposite, sterilizing increased the sweater’s value, the study authors concluded.

Filed under: Society

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