Psychology of Auctions?
September 27, 2006 5:09 PM Subscribe
I have a question about the psychology and ethics of auctions. I have only participated in a handful of online auctions, but the other day I got caught up in an eBay auction that has got me thinking about the nature of auctions ... and curious about whether my actions were ethical.
posted by jayder to shopping (32 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
The item I wanted (a bit of pop-culture ephemera from the eighties New York art scene) was at a very low price until the last ten minutes of the auction, when a bidding war began between me and some other person, who apparently wanted this item very badly.
At first I thought I could outbid my rival, but no matter what price I put in, the person kept topping me. Pretty soon, I was bidding way more than I even wanted to pay for the item, and from that point on, my bidding was motivated by two mingled desires: (a) my curiosity about how high this person really was willing to go, and (b) a spiteful desire to make this person pay very dearly for this item, if he/she were in fact to emerge triumphant from the auction. Turns out, I did not win the item, and the price at which the auction ended was several times what it had been at the beginning of the last ten minutes.
Now, if I had won the auction, I would have (of course) grudgingly paid up and bought the item, but I really did not want the item at that price and I was hoping, during much of the time that I was bidding, that I would not win and the other bidder would be obligated to pay a ridiculously high price for the item.
After the auction, I was struck by how I had been caught up in it and wondered whether this is, perhaps, an integral part of what makes an auction an auction ... a kind of agonistic psychology pitting one person's pocketbook against another person's, to the extent that the desire for the product falls away and it's just a primal contest of my money against the other bidder's money.
So here are my questions:
(1) Is this a phenomenon that has been remarked upon or studied elsewhere?
(2) And, to the extent that I was motivated by sheer spite against the other bidder, and was bidding more than I wanted to pay (even though I would have paid it), were my actions unethical by any accepted standard?