Science News

Sold To The Most Addicted Bidder

Sun, 27th Feb 2005

Part of the show Dinosaurs, Ancient Diets and Fossilised Crocs

Have you ever been to an auction? Or maybe you've bid for something online at Ebay? And did you feel a little thrill as you put your bids down? Well, there could be an explanation for why people get addicted to auctions and Ebay, and it's called "bidding frenzy", apparently characterised by a high level of arousal and excitement, a sense of competition and a strong desire to win. People have been found to spend hours a day buying at online auctions like Ebay, buying hundreds of things a year. In an effort to understand this, scientists at the University of Alberta in Canada have been studying people bidding online in different ways. They compared a typical auction - also known as an English auction - where the bids escalate until only one person is prepared to pay, with a so-called "sealed bid" auction, where the participants just write down their bid once and can't change it. The scientists found that the English auction sparked off bidding frenzies, and also led to the items for sale being prized more highly. This is probably due to the fact that the bidders can see the highest bid, and also get a strong sense of competition and interaction with the other buyers which causes people to throw logic out of the window and bid more than they should. Intriguingly, you only get bidding frenzy when people are up against other people - experiments where people bid against a pre-programmed computer just weren't the same. The scientists think that greater levels of bidding frenzy cause consumers to put a greater value on an auctioned article - for example a painting worth £100 recently was recently sold in online auction for £70,000 after some buyers got a bidding frenzy attack. This work could explain why people become addicted to Ebay, and also why such enormous prices are paid at auction.

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