Testing "the Ikea effect" - why do we value things we assemble more highly than premades?

"When labor leads to love," a paper in the Journal of Consumer Psychology experimentally tests "the Ikea effect" that leads to people valuing things that they assemble, customize or build themselves more highly than premade, finished goods. We've all heard the story of how cake-mixes didn't sell until they were reformulated to require the "cook" to stir in a fresh egg, but most of what we know about this effect is marketing lore, not research. It's fascinating stuff.
Experiment 1A: Participants either inspected an IKEA pre-built box or assembled it themselves. Afterward, they were asked to bid on the box they had either seen or built. If their bid was above a random number, they would pay that amount to keep the box; if it was lower, they couldn’t keep it. Participants were also asked to self-report on the value of the box. An effect was found in both cases; on average, participants bid 62% more when they built the box versus when they simply inspected it. On average, participants also self-reported liking the self-built box more than the inspected boxes.

Experiment 1B: A similar design as Experiment 1A was used, except replacing IKEA boxes with origami cranes and frogs. There were no differences in value between the types of origami (cranes vs frogs), although participants bid 460% more for their own origami creations versus ones created by others, almost the market-driven value of cranes and frogs created by origami experts. The authors also discovered that participants thought others would value their origami creations highly, despite assigning little value to the amateur creations of others.

Experiment 2: Participants built small Lego sets (10 to 12 pieces) in pairs and were asked to bid on their own and their partners’ sets. Participants were either given a built Lego set (prebuilt condition), asked to build a Lego set (build condition), or asked to build a Lego set and then take it apart (unbuild condition). Participants universally applied more value to their own sets versus those of their partners. Most interestingly, the unbuild condition only produced slightly higher values than the prebuilt condition, while the build condition produced much larger values. Apparently, we placed increased value on assembled objects only if they are completed. Sounds pretty Gestalt to me.

Experiment 3: Participants were asked to built an IKEA box once again, but this time, a random half of participants were stopped halfway through construction. As expected, incomplete items were not valued as highly as completed items – especially interesting since a successful bid would mean that the participant could finish building the item later.

Unfolding the IKEA Effect: Why We Love the Things We Build (via /.)

(Image: What's Next?, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from seanhobson's photostream)


  1. Most of the hobby business depends upon this model.  I build scale models.  I’m competent at it, but I know people who are much, much better.  I have no doubt that 99% of the outside world wouldn’t pay half of what the materials cost to build one of my models for the privilege of displaying it.  But to me, they are worth much more.  At the same time, though I know the cost in money, blood, sweat and tears that go into making a truly awesome model, I wouldn’t pay the cost of the materials for one that someone else built.

    I think anyone who makes things understands this explicitly and wonders why anyone would need a study to prove it.  Maybe it will inspire people who don’t make things to give it a try.  If I could dream big, I’d like to see America become a maker country again.

    1. “Maybe it will inspire people who don’t make things to give it a try.  If I could dream big, I’d like to see America become a maker country again.”
      One of the benefits of high taxation and regulation of industry is that they raise the costs of trade compared to the costs of “making.” So you may get your wish. 

  2. It can go the other way, too: someone who builds something *poorly*, recognizes it looks bad, but blames it on the kit. If the builder likes it, it’s the DIY aspect that adds value; if the builder dislikes the result, it’s the allegedly poor kit quality.

  3. I’d wager it has to do with a more intimate knowledge of the overall structure.  When you look at a table, you see a table.  But when it is a table you’ve built yourself you see all of the components interacting and by having a greater understanding of their interactions you are “appreciating” the functionality on a deeper level.  Think of Feynman’s flower quote.

  4. In my house the Ikea effect revolves around “us” going to buy a Bjortzenfluge, then I have to spend all afternoon putting it together.  Things usually go well until I either lose a part or put something in backwards.  Then I start to swear (not in swedish) and wish that Lisbeth Salander would help me track down and discuss things with the designer (hopfully with fire).

  5. Oh… now that would be a film… “The Girl Who Got Revenge”.  Our gothy protagonist would go through a series of adventures tyring to find out who is ultimately responsible for IKEA.  Some sort of strange cult (probably with Nazi ties) would then suffer her firey attacks as well as some Wikileaks like incriminating info dumps.

  6. I dunno about this. I have a house full of furniture I had to put together myself, but I was super excited a couple years ago to finally be able to afford to buy a “real” table that I didn’t have to build. 

  7. I drive cheap older cars that I have fixed up myself, despite having income to support buying newer cars.  And I found this “IKEA effect” really applies there, too.  I’ll start to get bored or sick of a car, until I spend a weekend working on it.  Then I feel a connection to it all over again.  It seems backwards that getting dirty and tired laboring over it would make me like it more, but it’s true.

  8. The authors also discovered that participants thought others would value
    their origami creations highly, despite assigning little value to the
    amateur creations of others.

    I dub thee, The Etsy Effect!

  9. This probably applies to children. I suspect that people would bit more for their own kids.

    Why would people NOT value more the stuff they’d invested time in?

    I’d be interested whether the same applied to stuff that didn’t involve time: say, money instead. Have two lotteries, A and B: first, let users pick which to donate some money to. Then let them bid on tickets from both lottery A and lottery B.

    Also, emotion/morality generally goes out the window and people start thinking economically, as soon as you put money in. Instead, I’d maybe ask how much time they were willing to spend on a volunteer task in return for the thing. Or try the experiments with a barter economy.

  10. On FB, I posted a photo of an  IKEA desk’s directions, required tools, and a unique way of sorting and containing all of the loose pieces….an ice-cube tray. 

    I got more responses on that than almost any other post on FB, including my newly refurbished Lane end tables, beet-juice stained lampshade, outdoor lighted table made of an old concrete wash sink with plexiglass top, and a few other projects, including a completely re-landscaped back yard. 


  11. I think Jordan Pez and dculberson nailed it. Intimate knowledge creates a connection to the object. I have a vintage snowblower, chainsaw and lawn vacuum. Each of which were non-running and ready for the scrap heap before I acquired them. After disassembling them and then bringing them back to life, they have become my favorite items in the garage and I use them regularly. If they were in working order when I got them, I wouldn’t have as much of an appreciation. Diagnosing the problem and learning the details of how they function made all the difference to me. Like dculberson, I can afford to buy new things but there just isn’t as much satisfaction in that.

    1. Agree with you & others. Fixing used tools, appliances, motors, etc is kind of like “getting over” on the world. Didn’t have to buy a new one. The satisfaction in Ikea, to me, is getting it cheaper by putting it together. There’s no emotional bond there except to the money I saved.

  12. Why is this even a question? As long as the items are seen as being of roughly equal utility or beauty, of course people are going to place a higher value on something they “made.”  Of course they have a larger emotional investment in a thing they did with their own hands.  This is so blatantly obvious I suspect the real point of the “study” was just to get some funding to keep someone employed for a while.

    1. It’s not obvious to sociopaths who judge everything by its economic value.
      So, not obvious to the leaders of most countries.

  13. You’d have cognitive dissonance if you hated what you bought.  It is an internal mental mismatch if you hate something that you spent a long time making.  Just like when you buy an expensive concert ticket.  You’re not gonna dislike the concert.

  14. “We’ve all heard the story of how cake-mixes didn’t sell until they were reformulated to require the “cook” to stir in a fresh egg”
    I’ve never heard that, but it does explain my experience. Eggs aren’t a part of my usual diet, but I occasionally have a desire to bake something. Recently, I checked the back of every mix and they all require eggs now. I’m not going to buy a dozen eggs just to bake one batch of cookies.

    1. Don’t be silly. You buy a dozen eggs to make six batches of cookies.

      Otherwise you’re just doing it wrong.

  15. I’m a scrounger. I personally tend to value household goods more if I get them for nothing or next to nothing. I find most Ikea stuff to be greatly overpriced. There’s a good chance that I’ll have to put some elbow grease into fixing something up if I pulled it off of a trash heap or found it at a yard sale or thrift shop, but I generally prefer picking up clean, undamaged items. Maybe people who aren’t used to working with their hands are more susceptible to this so called Ikea effect.

  16. Perhaps it depends on the costs of tools and materials, the effort to attain the skills required, the complexity of the final product, any anticipated/experienced satisfaction with the product, and even the brand/artistan name. 

    Origami, for example, has a significantly lower cost of entry and learning curve than welding, sculpting, woodworking and glassblowing. Might we place even greater value (relative to a prebuilt item) on something that required a significant investment of our time and money? That is to say, might we value our paper origami crane only slightly more than a prefolded crane, whereas we might value our welded metal crane significantly more than a pre-welded crane. 

    Would we assign a higher value to an off-the-shelf Rolex, or a watch that we assembled from equally high quality parts?  Would brand influence our opinion of the value of self-built versus pre-built?

    Would we assign a higher value to the original Mona Lisa, our most faithful reproduction, or that of a well known living artist?

  17. Maybe we irrationally value things we’ve made more than things we’ve not because we have absolute proof that no corners were cut in production. 

    But specialization and trade guarantee that better products are almost always to be found finished in the marketplace… but that doesn’t satisfy everyone.

    I wonder if “buy local” is an extension of this effect. Even though much of what we buy and love (iphones, etc.) is produced in parts and assembled all over the world, we still tend to trust stuff more the closer it comes to being manufactured in our own houses. We need more time to evolve into internationalists.

    1. “Maybe we irrationally value things we’ve made more than things we’ve not
      because we have absolute proof that no corners were cut in production.”

      Consumers tend to set their expectations of the quality of others’ work significantly higher than their own…especially because they’re paying for labor costs. That is to say consumers–especially the average Joe DIYers–are often the first to cut corners on labor. It could be because they lack the necessary skills, or out of frustration, or project fatigue (no desire to redo work due to  miscalculations), or budget, etc.

      I participated in the construction of an enormous several hundred square foot multi-tier deck and gazebo. The owner, a long time friend of mine, wished to save money and do the labor with the help of friends. Early design flaws and miscalculations that were undoubtedly the errors of a novice deck builder resulted in wasted materials, several redesigns, and 2+ years of effort.  We cut so many corners we lost count. Upon completion it was unclear whether he really saved anything at all, especially considering the lost opportunity costs for the group. Yes we were proud of the deck considering the group’s combined level of skill with deck construction.  But we also acknowledge that pros would have finished it significantly more quickly and with higher quality. 

      Would we do it again? Probably not. We now have a deep appreciation for the amount of effort and skill that goes into building even the simplest sections of a quality deck. A lesson learned.

  18. As a fixer, a maker, a seamstress, a gardener , a cook , a baker, and sometimes a builder, there definitely is the attachment to your “labour of love.”  I don’t think it totally blinds you though.    Unless you make  something more intricate that needs more than the usual “non tool” tool that comes with a boxed project means you are not using much skill and it is doubtful the “effect” would be long lasting. 

    Eventually you will notice that it is crooked or leaning or you put something on backward and perhaps that you wasted your money.   But I see why people were duly impressed with their work.   If soemone has never experienced  having made something well,  any project would make their pleasure centre light up and we all know how much we love and are addicted to those hormones.  (which is why few people create,  when they could make a ton of money making  highs risk trades using other people’s money, for example… see Dewi Morgan above…)

    This is the “throw away” generation.  As cute as the experiment is,  unless you  place a value back to those who manufacture  quality goods you are willing to pay a decent price for, this is  merely a parlor game for the researchers.  Call it the “lost generation” effect, because skills are about to be lost and at a time when they may well be needed the most.

  19. I like assembling IKEA furniture because in my daytime job I don’t work much with my hands. Most of the time I am in meetings or sitting behind my desktop. I notice that many colleagues have the same and want to start a business in areas like repairing bikes or something like that. But we all have our mortgages and so on, and will not easily quit our well paid jobs. Assembling your own furniture is  a cheap alternative.

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