Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Monday, March 12, 2018

The IKEA effect: the reason most people overvalue things they made

Ikea, the world-famous Swedish furniture retailer, is known for relatively inexpensive and stylish modern homeware. More than third families in the UK have bought at least one thing from Ikea in the past three years (Poulter, 2010). It could have been the famous Billy bookcase or just a side table. What is even more interesting is that people usually keep carrying these items from place to place, while moving houses. Despite the undistinguished quality people still, tend to love their Ikea products. So what is the phenomenon of Ikea? Is it about the essence of the furniture or rather some mediatory role of psychological processes? This article will try to answer the question in regards to the three Harvard studies (Norton, Mochon & Ariely, 2012). 

The Value of Labour 

Every piece of furniture from Ikea is equipped with simple instructions on how to successfully assemble a new buy. Those who take on the task often find the pictogram instructions are harder to follow than they appear. However, invested efforts usually pay off and do-it-yourself enthusiasts adore the fruits of their labour. The explanation for this uncritical love could be found in the field of social psychology and the idea of effort justification (Festinger, 1957). According to this concept, the more effort we put into achieving, the more we value the product of our pursuit. 

The first experiment of Norton, Mochon & Ariely (2012) demonstrated the basic IKEA effect. 52 participants were divided into two groups: builders, that had to assemble the box, and non-builders, which were given a fully assembled box and their task was to inspect it. After building or inspecting the item they were asked to make a bid. The results show that builders bid significantly more for their boxes compared to non-builders. Moreover, the group that assembled their own box was ready to pay a 63% premium compared to the other one. 

The same effect was also replicated with different a product category, a more hedonic item, being an origami creature. Again, participants were split into the two groups: builder and non-builders. Additionally, the new body of experts was involved. Builders were asked to make an origami frog or an origami crane and bid the product between 0 and 100 cents. Then the experimenter asked non-builders how much they would pay for the builders’ origami. In the end, two origami experts created high-quality frogs and crane, which were assessed by an additional set of non-builders. The results indicated that builders valuated their origami nearly five times higher than non-builders were willing to pay for the same creations. Furthermore, builders were willing to pay nearly as much for their own origami as the additional set of non-builders were willing to pay for the well-crafted origami made by experts. 

The Role of Completion 

Undoubtedly the amount of effort we put into achieving results raises the value of the product. Another factor like a successful completion of a task seems to play a crucial role in the IKEA effect. Finalizing the job has many positive aspects like an increase in self-efficacy; the feeling of being competent and in control. However, failing to complete the task could lead to negative effect and regret, which is pictured by the classical Zeigarnik effect (Zeigarnik, 1967). People ruminate, in other words, recollect the uncompleted tasks better than completed ones. 

The second experiment of Norton, Mochon & Ariely (2012) covers the aspect of completion. 118 participants were assigned randomly to four Lego sets and to one of three conditions: the prebuilt condition, where participants were provided with a pre-assembled set, the build condition, participants assembled a set themselves, and the unbuild condition, where participants built a set and then took that set apart. Then, they were told to bid their and their partner’s set. Generally, bids were the highest in the build condition, where bids for builders’ own creations were twice as high as bids for the partners’. 

The third experiment aimed to verify if failing to finish a product would lead to lower valuations. Additionally, the general interest of participants in building things was assessed in order to examine whether the increase in estimation from completing the box appeared for all, regardless of their do-it-yourself interests. Once again, 39 participants were assigned to builders, that completed the task assembling the box and incomplete builders, which were given exactly the same box with the same instructions but were also asked to stop their action before completing the last two steps. After that, as in the first experiment they were asked to make a bid, and according to the new variable, to rate the extent to which they were a “do-it-yourself” person (DIYers). As in the previous study, builders bid more for their boxes than incomplete builders. Moreover, the builder that completed assembling the box was ready to pay more than twice as much to keep it. On a final note, there was no difference between DIYers and non-DIYers; both of them evaluated their completed products highly. 

The Take-Home Message 

The act of building something increases the value of the object, the effort is necessary but insufficient. It is also about the completion, as people who built and then disassembled their creations or made incomplete projects did not receive any benefit from this activity. So what are the implications of the IKEA effect? As it was mentioned in the article by Carter (2002) "if you're having a hard time deciding between buying something pre-built or putting it together yourself, the extra work that might not seem worth it now might very well put a smile on your face when it's all done. Saving yourself the labor could just cost you some happiness.” Another example of this phenomenon is garage sales, where people try to sell their belongings disproportionately high, or, the feeling that your own children appear to be more outstanding than everyone else ’s. So the next time you are buying or selling something, looking past the time and money might just benefit you in the end.


Carter T. J. (2012, September 13). The IKEA Effect: Why We Cherish Things We Build. Retrieved February 21, 2018, from
Festinger, L. (1957) Cognitive dissonance. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press.
Kacelnik, A., & Marsh, B. (2002). Cost can increase preference in starlings. Animal Behaviour, 63(2), 245-250.
Norton, M. I., Mochon, D., & Ariely, D. (2012). The IKEA effect: When labor leads to love. Journal of consumer psychology, 22(3), 453-460.
Poulter S. (2010, October 7). This flatpack nation: Ten per cent of all furniture bought by UK householders is from Ikea. Retrieved February 21, 2018, from 
Zeigarnik, B. (1967). On finished and unfinished tasks. In W. D. Ellis (Ed.), A sourcebook of Gestalt psychology, New York: Humanities Press.

Natalia Bogacz 

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