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The Psychology of Madonna NFT Sale Prices

The psychological underpinnings of a selling price.

Madonna recently had a baby, though not the usual kind. With Beeple (Mike Winkelmann) as her artistic partner, the two created a tree emanating from a mechanized woman that looks remarkably like Madonna (in her younger days). What the computer-generated Madonna has that the real-life Madonna could not produce is sapling sprouts emanating out of her vagina until they form a bush and then a substantial tree. This Mother of Nature inspiration was created at the same time as the Mother of Evolution and The Mother of Technology by the two collaborators.

The latter two “Mothers” differ from the birth to a tree in that the Evolution prototype shows jointed metallic creatures spewing from Madonna’s vagina (which may be unappealing to some) and for the Evolution, butterflies. Butterflies were chosen for the latter as they go through a metamorphosis, which is a stand-in for evolution.

What is interesting about these high-end technological videos is what they sold for in an NFT auction in May 2022, now closed. The Mother of Nature sales price was $346,405 while the other two gleaned considerably less. The Mother of Technology sales price was $135,608 and The Mother of Evolution sales price was $146,816. All three together garnered less than a million dollars.

The Question to Be Answered

The purchase price of these NFTs deserves some examination from the standpoint of the psychological appeal to the buyer of the three different renditions. Why did two of these works, which are similar to each other, and the third, sell for a vastly different price? What was the psychological motivation that made one more appealing than the other to the purchaser?

Psychological Underpinnings of a Selling Price

The disparity of price at the Madonna NFT auction with Nature selling at nearly three times what the other two renditions each sold for suggests interest was higher in the Nature version over the other two, and, thereby it sold for more. Perhaps this is because Nature elicits positive emotions or due to the fact that for some the origin of the tree suggests pornography. Whatever the case, multiple research papers have found that “sex sells,” and certainly Nature seems to be supportive along these lines.

On the other hand, Technology, which featured jointed bug-like creatures, may have been revolting to some thereby decreasing bidding and the final price paid for this NFT. This is consistent with studies that demonstrate that exposure to noxious living creatures such as a cockroach induces fear and loathing in most.

The Effect of Arousal When Making Decisions

In my book, Inside the Head of a Collector: Neuropsychological Forces at Play, I addressed the effect arousal has on making decisions. A study by Ariely and Loewenstein (2006) indicated that sexual arousal would influence judgement in sexually charged men. It made them more likely to choose options that they found earlier to be less attractive (woman’s shoes for example). This suggests that the physical condition of the buyer can influence their psychological state.

Since 2006, this study has been widened to examine positive arousal through images rather than sexual stimulation. This stimulus scenario is more akin to the Madonna-like images in the videos. The pictures for the study were categorized as pleasant, high-arousing, and low arousing. For more detail, please see the paper (Galentino, et al 2017). The authors then asked the subjects to participate in a lottery that had a probability of choice 50% either way. In spite of this, those in the high arousal group choose the riskier lottery more and took more time to deliberate. To the authors, this suggested that “a pleasant arousing cue as part of the decision context shifts an individual’s preferences toward the risky economic option and away from the safer one.” One can conjecture that Nature was a pleasant arousing cue for some of the potential buyers thereby boosting the price they were willing to pay.

The Effect of Disgust When Making Decisions

Disgust can also influence buying decisions. It is interesting to note that Paul Ekman suggests disgust is one of the six basic emotions (sadness, happiness, fear, anger, surprise, and disgust).

If disgust for the product by the potential buyer is high, a purchase is less likely. On the other hand, if disgust is minor or not present, a positive buying decision is probable. What is not stated here is that humans vary in their predispositions to disgust which influences decision-making as well. This individual susceptibility includes 1) underlying anxiety or emotional distress; 2) early environmental factors where parents responded strongly to pathogenic ques, which were then imitated by the child who carried it over to adulthood; or 3) the level of disgust is regulated by an extraneous parasitic environment to which the individual is exposed at the time of the decision.

Certainly, the creepy-crawlers portrayed in the Technology video could have elicited disgust in some potential buyers, thereby contributing to the lowest purchase price of the three Mothers.

Summary

Though I can conjecture that Beeple and Madonna hoped for higher selling prices for the NFTs they created, gains were given to charity, so the money made little difference to them. They did, however, learn from their experience for future ventures, that sex sells (Madonna already knew this) and creepy-crawlies are to be avoided.

References

Ariely D., Loewenstein G. (2006). The heat of the moment: the effect of sexual arousal on sexual decision making. J. Behav. Decis. Mak. 19 87–98. 10.1002/bdm.501

Galentino A, Bonini N, Savadori L. Positive Arousal Increases Individuals' Preferences for Risk. Front Psychol. 2017 Dec 11;8:2142. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.02142. PMID: 29312030; PMCID: PMC5732211.

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