Transforming Celebrity Objects: Implications for an Account of Psychological Contagion

In: Journal of Cognition and Culture
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  • 1 Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia, 2136 West Mall, Vancouver, bc Canada V6T 1Z4
  • 2 Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia, 2136 West Mall, Vancouver, bc Canada V6T 1Z4
  • 3 * Corresponding author, e-mail: marchak@psych.ubc.ca

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The celebrity effect is the well-documented phenomenon in which people ascribe an enhanced worth to artefacts owned by famous individuals. This effect has been attributed to a belief in psychological contagion, the transmission of a person’s essence to an object via contact. We examined people’s judgments of the persisting worth of celebrity-owned artefacts following transformations of their parts/material and found that the celebrity effect was evident only for post-transformation artefacts that were composed of parts/material that had direct physical contact with the celebrity. Insofar as the celebrity effect arises from psychological contagion, the findings suggest that the essence imparted to a celebrity-owned artefact is conceived as akin to a residue deposited in/on the object rather than a germ capable of spreading in an indirect manner to new parts/material added to the object. The results illuminate the nature of psychological contagion and offer insight into how best to preserve the value of historically important artefacts.

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