Salmon science and the “Ikea effect”.

So here’s a thought… have you heard of the “Ikea effect”?

I came across this idea and term in two different places. First, on a great weblog by Jonah Lehrer called Frontal Cortex, which is now hosted by Wired magazine – the post is: Why making dinner is a good idea (he also has a great post today on precognition). I also came across it in a Harvard Business Review from 2009: When Labor Leads to Love.

HBR List 2009 logoLabor is not just a meaningful experience – it’s also a marketable one. When instant cake mixes were introduced, in the1950s, housewives were initially resistant: The mixes were too easy, suggesting that their labor was undervalued. When manufacturers changed the recipe to require the addition of an egg, adoption rose dramatically. Ironically, increasing the labor involved – making the task more arduous – led to greater liking.

Research conducted with my colleagues Daniel Mochon, of Yale University, and Dan Ariely, of Duke University, shows that labor enhances affection for its results. When people construct products themselves, from bookshelves to Build-a-Bears, they come to overvalue their (often poorly made) creations. We call this phenomenon the IKEA effect, in honor of the wildly successful Swedish manufacturer whose products typically arrive with some assembly required.

In one of our studies we asked people to fold origami and then to bid on their own creations along with other people’s. They were consistently willing to pay more for their own origami. In fact, they were so enamored of their amateurish creations that they valued them as highly as origami made by experts.

Finally, the IKEA effect has broader implications for organizational dynamics: It contributes to the sunk cost effect, whereby managers continue to devote resources to (sometimes failing) projects in which they have invested their labor, and to the not-invented-here syndrome, whereby they discount good ideas developed elsewhere in favor of their (sometimes inferior) internally developed ideas. Managers should keep in mind that ideas they have come to love because they invested their own labor in them may not be as highly valued by their coworkers – or their customers.

Lehrer on his blog discusses other studies on the Ikea effect:

It turns out that the Ikea effect also applies to food, at least in mice. The experiment was simple: Mice were trained to push levers to get one of two rewards. If they pressed lever A, they got a delicious drop of sugar water. If they pressed lever B, they got a different tasting drop of sugar water. (This reward was made with polycose, not sucrose.)

The scientists then started to play mind games with the mice, as they gradually increased the amount of effort required to get one of the sweet rewards. Although the mice only had to press the lever a single time to get the sugar water at the start of the experiment, by the end they were required to press the lever 15 times.

Here’s where things get interesting: When the test was over and the mice were allowed to relax in their home cage, they showed an overwhelming preference for whichever reward they’d worked harder to obtain. More lever presses led to tastier water. (The scientists measured these preferences in a variety of ways, including an analysis of “licking microstructure”. Preferred foods lead to a faster rate of initial licking and longer duration of “licking bursts.”)

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I received an email today announcing another Salmon Think Tank:

Salmon Think Tank

The Ups and Downs of Fraser River Sockeye” – Public Presentation, hosted by SFU December 6, 2010.

The public presentation is a follow-up to: “An invitational think tank of independent scientists” being hosted on Dec. 2/3.

On the SFU website, are lists of “associated resources” that are already accessible. Quite a curious list. For those on the “A” list of the invited independents… it includes nine separate reports.

Three on volcanic ash — the latest and greatest theory to enter the media realm — one on the damaging effects of algae in the ocean, a couple of syntheses from earlier conferences (easy night time reading…) and one from Dr. Carl Walters titled “where have all the sockeye gone?” which consists of a few points that will be sure to stir controversy.

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The number of theories surrounding salmon declines and salmon inclines (such as this year) is more numerous then all the bolts in an IKEA kitchen set that one must build themselves.

As suggested above: “Labor is not just a meaningful experience – it’s also a marketable one.”

So is science. Marketing is actually quite a key component of science – always has been, always will.

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“When people construct products themselves, from bookshelves to Build-a-Bears, they come to overvalue their (often poorly made) creations.”

Now, I’m not suggesting that some of the science backing the great salmon debate is “poorly-made” — like my homemade bookshelves made from scrap wood and old bricks — but maybe more that: “managers continue to devote resources to (sometimes failing) projects in which they have invested their labor, and to the not-invented-here syndrome, whereby they discount good ideas developed elsewhere in favor of their (sometimes inferior) internally developed ideas.”

Or, maybe:

“When the test was over and the mice were allowed to relax in their home cage, they showed an overwhelming preference for whichever reward they’d worked harder to obtain.”

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See, I am curious whether the Cohen Commission will endeavor (or has) to look far past the Fraser River and even the faltering management regime here in Canada that has the specific responsibility to care for salmon.

As I repeat repeatedly… humans are the cause for salmon declines; the death of a thousands cuts — almost all exacted by us. The Fraser River flows through the most populated areas of BC — an ever-growing population — yet still not at the density of other places that Pacific salmon roam.

So where is the seeking information from places like Japan and Korea where wild runs of Pacific salmon have been virtually eliminated? Or the outer reaches of Russia where Pacific salmon still thrive? Or Alaska, or just north of Los Angeles where the historic range of Pacific salmon reaches its southern zenith?

Sure there’s a limit to the reach of research and the mandate of the Commission — but what about these “Think Tanks”?

The challenge is exploring the breadth of the thinking. The nice thing with my salmon think tank above is that it has glass walls and once can actually observe outside of the box — unfortunately, I think many of the great gatherings these days to “think salmon” result in a few too many theories on how to build the IKEA dresser within a confined, curtained-in tank. (…need to keep it dark so everyone can see the PowerPoint better…)

This is a perplexing issue — salmon that is. More confusing then if IKEA sent out entire homebuilding kits that one had to assemble…

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If you’d like further “IKEA effect” — you may need to watch this video… I do wonder if this might somewhat mirror how Justice Cohen feels these days about the salmon debate that he finds himself mired in.

please be forewarned with the standard… this video does contain scenes of coarse language…

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