The IKEA Effect: Tapping Into Human Pride

By Wesley Fenlon

Do we love to build things, or does building things make us love them?

If science's one true goal was to make us feel shame, Tulane professor Daniel Mochon's study of what he calls the Ikea Effect would be a blue-ribbon winner. The Ikea Effect, explained by NPR, is a theory about pride and satisfaction. Ikea just happens to be a convenient label for a broad idea: That when we pour effort into something, and work hard at it, we attach value to that thing and to ourselves. Maybe that thing is a birdhouse you built in craft shop, or a novella you wrote on the weekends. Or it's an Ikea table that you put together yourself.

And maybe it's a pretty crappy Ikea table. Enter the Ikea Effect. Just building something makes us feel satisfied, and we attach more value to whatever we cobbled together with our bare hands than other people might. Mochon says people with boosted self esteem are less vulnerable to the Ikea Effect, but other people get a boost from a poorly put-together table (and like being able to demonstrate their skill or competence to others).

We attach more value to whatever we cobbled together with our bare hands.

The study equates the Ikea Effect to long-term projects, too, and it's an easy way to summarize why sometimes consider ourselves "too close" to something to judge it objectively. We're naturally prone to like our own ideas or build up a culture of accepting internal ideas as better than external ones. How many major products in the tech industry have gone belly up because they were designed by inward-looking companies with no regard for the rest of the market?

As much sense as the Ikea Effect makes, there's another good explanation for why so many people like their Ikea furniture: it's cheap. A second simple truth about human nature: Most of us love getting a good deal, and Ikea has successfully tapped into the style and simplicity of modern design at entry-level prices. The brand is "in," and anyone can afford it. Do most people really brag about their Ikea furniture, or do they say "Yeah, this coffee table was pretty crappy. But it only cost $20!"