Feb 8, 2013

thoughts on the IKEA effect (and why I might owe my husband an apology)

A few mornings ago, I heard a story on NPR that caught my attention more than usual and has been circulating through my brain ever since.  A couple of marketing professors from Duke and Harvard have studied what they call "the IKEA effect."  The basic premise is that people will love something they work really hard on.  If you put the IKEA table together, you will love it more than a table you bought pre-assembled, even if your table is crooked and shaky.  I chuckled to myself as I listened to this story because....duh.  Of course we take more pride in a product that we worked really hard to complete!  Of course we love something more if we made it with our own two hands!

The most obvious application for me here is my sewing.  I'm sure this is why many people pick up sewing and never put it back down.  I definitely experience a sort of high when I finish a dress for Cara.  A bit of that high reemerges every time I see her wearing that dress too.  I should be forgiven for making her wear some of those outfits and dresses from the beginning of my sewing journey...blame it on the IKEA effect.  I guess this also explains why I actually wore that god awful purple renfrew a few times before I admitted defeat.

When I dug a little deeper, I realized that the IKEA effect accounts for why took up sewing when Cara was about 15 months old.  My mom sewed for me all throughout my childhood, and she taught me enough basic skills that I could have started sewing for myself well before I had children.  So why didn't I?  According to this (*ahem*) "psychological phenomenon," people are more vulnerable to the IKEA effect when they are feeling unsuccessful or incompetent, and let's be honest: what parent of a toddler doesn't feel incompetent sometimes?

I have to admit that this concept seems to make sense in many other areas, but the more application I find for it, the more I question my own reality.  Obviously, I think my children are sweet and adorable, but is that only because I made them?  You know, in my womb?  Does the rest of the world disagree with me?

(Before you answer that, watch this video.

Obviously not the IKEA effect.  That's what I thought.)

I think this is all by design.  Children need their parents to think they are more awesome than the rest of the world because being a parent is really, really hard.  And if we parents are putting in some serious labor (see what I did there?), then we have earned the right to be just a bit delusional.  And it's probably better for our kids for us to think they are the cutest little people on the planet.

However, there are times when the IKEA effect can be detrimental.  For example, there has been an underlying tension in my home lately that surfaces right around dinner time.  I cook dinner almost every night, and lately, I have a strong sense that my husband does not like my cooking.  He eats it, but he also douses it in salt, cajun seasoning, or ranch dressing.  I am eating the same meals, and I do not find the extra seasoning necessary; I like my food.  For a while, I would ask PJ what he thought about dinner and then get all huffy and defensive when his reviews were less than glowing, and then I just quit asking all together.  Honestly, I didn't understand why he didn't like my food until now: it's the IKEA effect.  I cooked it, I endured the screaming baby between my legs while I sauteed onions, I slaved over the hot stove with a glass of wine, and   so of course I like it even if it really does taste like soggy cardboard.

PJ, I am sorry for making you eat crappy dinners and then pouting when you said they were just okay.  And to the IKEA effect, thank you for saving my marriage.


  1. I can totally sympathize and relate to the dinner thing! I am also glad I am not the only one whose husband re-flavors the food. If I continue cooking as "well" as I (and apparently only I) seem to think that I do right now, we'll all be rich if we buy stock in Sriracha because that is what Christopher drowns his meals in.

  2. Well I hope they didn't spend any money working on that study. Duh. Of course we take more pride in things we create with our own two hands. And your child is most definitely sweet and adorable, it's not just you!

  3. I enjoy reading your posts so much, sometimes you take the thoughts right out of my head, yet you present them with such an entertaining, authentic tone! Rock on, mom of two! I'm still wondering how all of you people manage with more than one child...cooking, working, keeping up with it all!! Pat yourself on the back, sounds like you're doing a great job.


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