Have you ever heard of IKEA? I guess you have. Have you ever heard about the IKEA effect? I guess you may have missed that one. And yet, it plays an important role in getting more satisfaction from your life.
Studies have shown that people who build something with their own hands and by their efforts are more satisfied with the resulting product than those who just buy it. It is the so-called IKEA effect. This applies not only to assembling a piece of furniture but also to other tasks in our lives. When we put our effort, energy, and time into a challenging but worthwhile activity, we get a great sense of accomplishment and purpose when we finish it.
The IKEA effect is a cognitive bias that causes us to fall in love with the products of our labor. It was named by Michael Irwin Norton, Daniel Mochon, and Dan Ariely in 2011. They published the results of several studies, and advanced previous work in the area of effort justification. The conclusion was clear: the actual act of building something with our own hands can lead us to overvalue our creations.
The name of the effect is borrowed from the Swedish furniture retailer IKEA. IKEA not only sells its furniture at low costs because it saves on assembling it. It also exploits our desire to feel competent. When we buy the furniture and assemble it ourselves, we will be in love with it, regardless of the quality of how well the pieces fit together. We are proud of it, and we are proud of ourselves.
Self-assembly of IKEA furniture allows us not only to save money, which feels good. It also enables us to feel good about ourselves and our skills. And it allows us to display our competence for anyone to see. It is a winning combination. Research has shown that even though many of us see labor as the least pleasurable activity in our life, we also consider it the most rewarding. The more effort we put into something, the higher value we give the final result.
Norton and his colleagues also looked at whether it is the labor that creates the effect or whether it is the successful labor. Perhaps not surprisingly, the IKEA effect works only when we are successful in our efforts. If we can’t get the furniture together, then there is no pride. We don’t feel competent. All that remains is frustration.
The IKEA effect also has some negative implications. Especially in the workplace. You may encounter situations when people stick with the bad project, throwing more money on it even though it is clear that it will fail. The sunk costs are similar to the IKEA effect. People also tend to be more attached to ideas they came up with themselves than those that came from someone else, even if they are superior to the internally developed ones. It is not the quality that counts. It is the fact that we created something on our own.
The researchers took their studies a step further and dug a bit deeper. We desire to signal our competence to ourselves and others, and by creating something, we are able to shape our environment, thus showing our competence. In fact, a feeling of competence is the most frequently mentioned motivation for engaging in creative activities.
We are more likely to jump on an opportunity to create when our feeling of competence is threatened. Consequently, we are less likely to get info self-assemble activity if our sense of competence is already strong. We are also more likely to create when we can show the results of our labor to others. Researchers even noted the amount of self-made content created on social media that is explicitly made for a display to others. In these cases, the utility of the creation is dependent on the ability to show our competence for others to appreciate it.
What does it mean for you?
Why do I talk about it in the time when lots of businesses are shut down, and many people work from home? Consider the IKEA effect a way how to keep your sanity and build some pride in your life. Next time you are getting ready to sit in front of the TV and consume rather than create, consider the IKEA effect. Get up and get creative. Build something with your own hands. You may need to give it some effort, but the finished product will put a smile on your face, and you will be proud of your achievement. Life will be good.
Have you ever bought something that needed self-assembly? What was your experience? How do you feel about the product today? Do you believe that by creating something you are more attached to it than just by buying it? Do you think this evolves with age?
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