Schulich research shows celebrity memorabilia collectors strongly judged

New research out of York University’s Schulich School of Business shows that those who collect celebrity memorabilia are susceptible to judgment by others in some unexpected and startling ways.

Many people acquire celebrity memorabilia in hopes that some of the star power will rub off. However, the study “How inferred contagion biases dispositional judgments of others” suggests that owning a “celebrity-contaminated” item sets expectations about the consumer’s subsequent behaviour. If that behaviour deviates from those expectations, there is a disproportionate value judgment made, which can either demonize or canonize the consumer.

Theodore Noseworthy

For example, if someone were to buy a jacket previously owned by convicted fraudster Bernard Madoff and then behave in an honest way, such as by returning a lost wallet with money intact to the owner, he or she would be judged to be even more morally exemplary than the behaviour indicated, said study co-author Theodore J. Noseworthy.

Likewise, if someone purchased the robes once worn by the sainted Mother Teresa and then took candy from a baby, he or she might be judged even more harshly than the actual behaviour would indicate, he said.

The research, which was partially funded by the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada, was published in the April 2017 issue of the Journal of Consumer Psychology. It is co-authored by Noseworthy, who is Canada Research Chair, Entrepreneurial Innovation, and the public good and scientific director of the NOESIS: Innovation, Design, and Consumption Laboratory at the Schulich School of Business at York University; together with Schulich PhD students Sean T. Hingston, who is the study’s lead author, and Justin F. McManus.

“The research shows that people can make some pretty odd inferences about the behaviour of people known to have purchased celebrity memorabilia,” said Noseworthy. “Clearly, there can be unexpected social consequences in owning something that has come into contact with a celebrity, both good and bad. The caveat ‘buyer beware’ is all the more relevant for collectors of celebrity memorabilia.”

In the Schulich study, participants were asked to judge the owners of celebrity memorabilia in a variety of scenarios, based on their behaviour during a single, isolated incident. In one scenario, participants were asked to judge the golfing talent of a person said to have purchased a golf putter used by Tiger Woods during the 2000 golf season. Because of the expectation that someone owning Tiger Woods’ putter would golf well, study participants more harshly judged the putter’s new owner when he reportedly missed his first three putting attempts than they might otherwise have.

Hingston is a fourth-year PhD student studying psychological essentialism, contagion and evolutionary psychology in Schulich’s postgraduate marketing program. McManus is a second-year PhD student studying self-concept/identity, threat, contagion and dual-processing in Schulich’s postgraduate marketing program.

To read the full article published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, visit sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1057740816300791.

To watch a short videotaped interview with Noseworthy about the research, view below.

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