People pay thousands for Slowhand guitars because of voodoo believe that star’s essence will rub off on them, say scientists

Captain Caveman

Ancient instincts: Consumer contagion is the modern version

The urge to collect rock memorabilia comes from the human race’s survival instinct – and that’s what led people to pay thousands of dollars for guitars owned by Eric Clapton last week.

And scientists even say the “magical” belief that things of a similar shape have similar powers explains why someone paid thousands for a replica Clapton instrument.

Slowhand’s Blackie guitar made nearly $1million at auction in 2004, while a replica went for $30,000 in his most recent charity auction. The top seller last week raised $80,000.

There’s very little financial gain behind our motivation, psychologist John Lastovicka tells the New York Times. Instead, our survival instinct makes us believe that if we own a guitar once owned by our hero, his talent will rub off on us – and even if we just own a replica, a similar transfer will take place.

Lastovicka says: “Our ancestors’ beliefs about contagion are one of the reasons we’re here today. They saw how people who did not stay away from those who had the plague got the plague themselves.”

It’s not all bad, the doctor continues: we subconsciously think bad things spread through contact, but also feel good things do as well – hence the passion for pieces of memorabilia touched by our icons.

In lab tests, one subject told the investigators his guitar playing improved when he used old strings once owned by Duane Allman. But people became less interested in items of clothing worn by a star if they knew it had been washed since the star touched it.

“Today consumers still use contagion beliefs and imitative magic,” Lastovicka says. “Magical thinking even causes replicas to radiate auras for us.”

Dr George Newman adds: “The same beliefs can be seen in burning voodoo dolls to harm one’s enemies. So a Clapton guitar replica, with all the dents and scratches, may serve as a voodoo doll of his original guitar. The replica is worth far less to us than the one he played, but it still seems to have more value because of its similarity.”

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