"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.