Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Lauren G. Block

Committee Members

Pragya Mathur

Tanuka Ghoshal

George Newman

Subject Categories

Business | Marketing | Psychology


authenticity, essentialism, digitization, technology


The explosion in digitization means that consumers increasingly have the opportunity to choose between digital and physical versions of products — for example, between an eBook and a paperback book. However, despite the popularity of digital objects, many people nonetheless prefer physical equivalents. This dissertation explores one reason why this may be the case; namely, that physical versions of objects and products are better vessels for social meaning. In chapter 1, explore the specialness of physical objects, and posit that materiality is critical for holding and embodying significance. In chapter 2, I investigate the effects of product format on perceptions of essence transfer and authenticity. Across five studies, I demonstrate that people believe that physical versions of creative works contain more of the valued essence of their creators. These perceptions, in turn, lead individuals to evaluate the work as more authentic than the digital version of the same object. I also show that the connection that individuals feel towards the creator can moderate the effect of product format on essence transfer and authenticity perceptions. In chapter 3, I extend these findings to the realm of gift giving, and find that physical gifts are seen as more thoughtful than digital gifts, and make the receiver feel closer to the giver.

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