How the "IKEA Effect" Turns Our Labor Into Love (2024)

How the "IKEA Effect" Turns Our Labor Into Love (1)

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Have you ever noticed how much more you cherish handmade items than pre-bought ones, despite how shabby or wonky they are? Or perhaps you’ve felt an inexplicable pride in a meal you prepared from scratch, even if it didn’t turn out exactly as planned. Maybe you’ve experienced a sense of accomplishment when you managed to crochet a sweater or knit a scarf—even with a few dropped stitches.

No matter the endeavor, there’s something almost magical about the way our own labor seems to imbue objects and experiences with extra value. But why do we find ourselves so attached to these self-made creations? And what is it about our own efforts that transform the mundane into the extraordinary?

Turns out, there’s a fascinating psychological phenomenon at play—one that reveals just how deeply our efforts can shape our affections and perceptions of value: the “IKEA effect.”

What Is the IKEA Effect?

The IKEA effect is a psychological phenomenon named after the Swedish furniture retailer IKEA, famous for its flat-pack furniture that requires customer assembly. According to research from Cognition, the IKEA effect describes the increased value people place on objects they have partially created themselves. A major aspect of this phenomenon is cognitive bias—wherein effort and personal investment enhance the perceived value and attachment to an item.

Because of our internal bias, the act of assembling furniture, cooking a meal or even constructing a simple model can lead to a greater appreciation for our end products. Fascinatingly, this increased valuation is not merely a sentimental attachment—it has been associated with a measurable increase in how much individuals are willing to pay for their self-made creations compared to similar pre-assembled items.

According to the Cognition study, the IKEA effect is linked to several psychological mechanisms:

  1. Effort justification. When people invest significant effort into a task, they experience cognitive dissonance if the outcome is not valued highly. To resolve this dissonance, they tend to inflate the worth of their creation.
  2. Endowment effect. The endowment effect describes how people assign more value to things merely because they own them. When personal effort is involved, the sense of ownership is intensified—which leads to a higher perceived value.
  3. Sense of accomplishment. Completing a challenging task or project gives individuals a sense of pride and accomplishment. This emotional reward enhances the perceived value of the item they created.

How the IKEA Effect Manifests

If you’ve ever built furniture before, then you’ve probably experienced the IKEA effect first-hand. It might’ve been your first home or apartment. Eager to furnish your space, you purchased a flat-pack bookshelf from IKEA. The bookshelf arrived in a large, intimidating box filled with seemingly endless pieces and a detailed instruction manual. You spent your Saturday afternoon assembling the bookshelf, carefully following each step—despite a few frustrating moments and minor setbacks.

When you finally tightened the last screw and stepped back to admire your work, you likely felt an immense sense of pride and satisfaction. The bookshelf, though not perfect, stood tall in your living room—holding your favorite books and trinkets. Interestingly, you might’ve found yourself valuing this bookshelf much more than the pre-assembled, higher-quality furniture pieces you’d purchased before. You may have recounted the experience of your IKEA saga to friends and family, and maybe even resisted suggestions to replace it with a sturdier model.

Research from the Journal of Consumer Psychology shows that this experience will likely resonate with anyone who’s been successful in crafting something handmade. Whether it’s assembling an IKEA purchase, building a Lego set or folding origami, we can’t help but develop an attachment to self-made projects. According to the authors, the effort and time we invest in constructing these objects greatly enhance our perception of their value. So much so, in fact, that we often view our amateur-level creations on par with those crafted by experts.

How the IKEA Effect Goes Beyond Furniture

While it’s easy to see how assembling a bookshelf can make you value it more, this psychological phenomenon can have various manifestations. The underlying principle is simple: when we invest time, effort and ourselves into something, we tend to value it more highly.

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This is by no means limited to physically handmade objects. The enjoyment and satisfaction we derive from any activity or pursuit can be significantly increased when we actively participate in its creation or maintenance. Regardless of the subject of our investment, the effort we put in can enhance our perceived value:

  • Love lives. Research demonstrates that relationships thrive on effort and mutual investment. When partners put time and energy into understanding and supporting each other, they build a deeper appreciation for one another and the love that they share. Mutual efforts to endure thick and thin together can make relationships more fulfilling and valued.
  • Hobbies. Engaging in hobbies and personal projects allows us to express creativity and develop new skills. Studies show that the satisfaction of working hard on something we enjoy, or mastering a new ability, can be immensely rewarding. Whether it’s painting, gardening or playing a musical instrument, the time and effort invested in these activities can lead to a greater sense of accomplishment and enjoyment.

The IKEA effect shows us something simple but powerful about ourselves: we value what we create. Whether it’s a home-cooked meal, a committed relationship or a slightly crooked bookshelf, our efforts infuse them with something special. They aren't just “made with love”—they’re made to be loved. Irrespective of how amateur you may think you are, or how silly or strenuous the project may seem, remember that your efforts are never in vain. Each endeavor, no matter how small, has the potential to become an invaluable source of pride and joy.

A version of this post also appears on Forbes.com.

How the "IKEA Effect" Turns Our Labor Into Love (2024)
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