Break the attachment: Your junk isn’t worth as much as you think, study finds

PROVO, Utah — You’re being too sentimental. If you’ve been having trouble selling your childhood mattress, your attachment to it is likely causing you to value it more than the general economy does, a new study finds.

Researchers at Brigham Young University (BYU) conducted an experiment with more than 400 participants, some of whom were conditioned to develop an emotional attachment to a mug.

(Photo by Savanna Richardson / BYU © BYU PHOTO [email protected])

Ultimately, the researchers hoped to see whether that conditioning led to an individual overvaluing the item in dollars and cents.

To prompt the conditioning, the researchers replicated an established neuroscience technique in which a participant’s hand, placed inside a box below the mug, was gently tapped as the researcher simultaneously tapped the cup.

Subsequently, participants were asked to assign a selling price to the mug they had been shown. Those who developed the attachment valued the mug at $6, while those who hadn’t valued it at $4.77.

“We have biases we don’t even know that we have that affect our decisions,” explains researcher Tamara Masters of her team’s findings. “If you find personal attachment or hate to let go of things that become yours, you will struggle to sell them at market value. Some people get attached to objects and others hate losing objects. If you have both of these things, you will sell them for much more than buyers in the market think they are worth.”

Masters points out that many creators and entrepreneurs tend to overvalue the retail value of their products or contributions, as they psychologically account for the immense personal effort that went into their final product.

To be clear, this phenomenon, termed the “WTA-WTP,” or seller’s willingness to accept and buyer’s willingness to pay disparity, has been clearly documented in the past, but it is still interesting to see exactly how it manifests in real-life situations.

The phenomenon is believed to be fueled by both a seller’s attachment to a product and their loss aversion.

All in all, if you need the cash, don’t set your reserve price too high.

The study’s findings were published in the Journal of Neuroscience, Psychology, and Economics.


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