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Emotions used instead of cash at unique art auction

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If someone places the winning bid on a work of art at an auction, it must mean that they liked the piece more than any of the other bidders ... right? Well, actually, it could just mean that they were wealthier than any of the other bidders. Swedish design company Kosta Boda, however, recently held an event where money was irrelevant. In order to win a piece, bidders had to have the most pronounced physiological response upon first seeing it.

The event was developed by the Ellermore advertising agency in collaboration with Kosta Boda, and included three works of glass art worth a total of over €25,000 (US$34,000). Those pieces were kept hidden until the auction began.

Each bidder was hooked up to sensors that measured their heart rate and galvanic skin response (GSR) – the latter is the electrical conductivity of the skin, as determined by subtle sweat secretions that accompany strong emotions. They were also able to read the artists' thoughts about their pieces in order to determine which one they wished to bid on, although they weren't allowed to see the works in advance.

Once their bidding session began, the artwork was revealed to them in a private booth, and they were left to observe it for a period of one minute. During that time, a computer measured changes from their previously-established baseline heart rate and GSR.

At the end of the auction, whoever had the biggest reaction to each work won that piece.

The auction was held on June 18th at a Stockholm gallery, with just over 300 bidders taking party. It was intended to draw attention to the art produced in Sweden's Kosta region, and to introduce glass art to people who would ordinarily not be able to afford it.

The event is documented in the following video.

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