It seems like everyone, at some point, has struggled through the herculean task of assembling pre-built furniture from places like IKEA, Target or Overstock.com. It’s never as easy as it seems in the store, the instructions are often impenetrable pictograms, and the results are rarely as sturdy as your expectations. The coffee table I bought after college has developed an incurable wobble, and the doors on a freestanding cabinet from just a few years ago are just ever so slightly askew, and never quite close right, no matter how many tiny adjustments I make. Why then am I so attached to my own personal island of misfit toys? I know I’m not alone in this feeling — plenty of people seem quite attached to their self-built furniture, holding onto their college fixtures far beyond their college years. Sure, self-assembled pieces are usually considerably cheaper than their more professional brethren, but is that the only reason IKEA gets so much repeat business?
New research by Mike Norton, Daniel Mochon and Dan Ariely in the Journal of Consumer Psychology might offer an additional bit of explanation. The act of building something, putting your own blood and sweat (and if we’re being honest, plenty of frustrated swearing) into a physical object, seems to imbue it with additional value above and beyond its inherent quality, which the researchers dub the “IKEA effect.” For instance, in one study, participants who built a simple IKEA storage box themselves were willing to pay much more for the box than a group of participants who merely inspected a fully built box. Participants in another study who constructed their own origami frogs and cranes valued them roughly five times as much as another group of participants thought they were worth. The increased value is not just about effort, but about completion, as built-then-disassembled and incomplete projects received no such benefit.