Volume 12, Number 12
The IKEA effect refers to the cognitive bias in which people place higher value on products that are self-assembled. IKEA is the name of a company founded in Sweden that emphasizes affordable home furnishing products, many of which require self-assembly. A 2012 publication in the Journal of Consumer Psychology reported several studies conducted by investigators from Harvard, Tulane, and Duke that substantiated the IKEA effect. An essential component of the effect is that there are positive feelings associated with successful completion of the assembly of the product.
Earlier this year, scientists from Germany and Switzerland published a paper in Health Psychology describing research in which they found that the IKEA effect applies to self-preparation of healthy food. More specifically, self-preparation of healthy food increased liking of the food, whereas increased liking did not occur with self-preparation of unhealthy food. It is thought that when people prepare healthy foods themselves, they are more aware of the ingredients in the food.
Time spent by individuals in food preparation has declined over the past several decades, a period of time in which obesity rates have dramatically increased. It has been established that when people prepare food themselves, they are more likely to eat fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Similarly, it is known that preparing one’s own food is associated with more effective weight management. This is why many public health campaigns emphasize home preparation and cooking of food.
Separate research conducted by investigators in the United Kingdom, and also published this year in Health Psychology, found that behavioral intentions that are based on anticipated emotional impact are important predictors of health behavior. This result is not surprising. If one expects to feel good about completing an exercise routine, the likelihood is greater that the exercise will be initiated. When these results are extrapolated to food preparation, one is more likely to self-prepare food if the expectation is that the food will taste better, that is, that there will be a more positive emotional reaction to the eating experience.
For most people, eating is a pleasurable activity. Taken together, these studies suggest that a way to amplify the positive feelings associated with eating is to increase the proportion of foods that are self-prepared, provided that the foods are made with healthy ingredients. The take home message is “make it yourself.” The food is more likely to be healthy, and taste better!
Paul J. Hershberger, Ph.D.
… is a clinical health psychologist. He is Professor of Family Medicine and Director of Behavioral Science for the Family Medicine Residency Program, Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine. His clinical practice includes psychotherapy, consultation, and coaching.
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