NPR logo Me, Myself, and IKEA: What Our Love For Swedish Furniture Says About Narcissism

Me, Myself, and IKEA: What Our Love For Swedish Furniture Says About Narcissism

Modern psychology shows that we all have a little bit of Narcissus in us. Most of us like people who remind us of ourselves — whether that is someone else with the same name or the same birthday. Renee Klahr hide caption

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Renee Klahr

Modern psychology shows that we all have a little bit of Narcissus in us. Most of us like people who remind us of ourselves — whether that is someone else with the same name or the same birthday.

Renee Klahr

It's normal to feel drawn to people you share something with — whether that's a name, or a birthday, or a shared profession or background.

But Brett Pelham finds this preference for things and people associated with us goes far beyond what we might expect. He calls this phenomenon Implicit Egotism.

"There's at least a modest tendency for women named Georgia to gravitate towards Georgia, women named Virginia to gravitate towards Virginia, and the more closely the name resembles the state, the bigger the effect appears to be," Pelham says.

That's not all. People who share the same birthday are slightly more likely to get married to one another. People named Carpenter are more likely to be carpenters. Those with the last name Baker are more likely to be bakers... and so on.

"We looked at every surname [...] that happens to be a career name," Pelham says. "We were able to show that for every single surname there was at least a weak tendency for people to gravitate toward careers that perfectly matched their last names."

We don't just have a preference for things and people that are associated with us. We also have a preference for things that are made by us. Daniel Mochon and his colleagues have coined this the Ikea Effect.

"Imagine you built a table," Mochon says. "Maybe it came out a little bit crooked. But to you that table might be really great, because you're the one who created it. It is the fruit of your labor."

Mochon and his coauthors did a series of experiments, bringing participants into the lab, and either giving them a pre-assembled LEGO car, or LEGOs and instructions to build the car. Then they asked the volunteers — how much would you pay to keep your car?

"The students were willing to pay twice as much for the LEGO car if they just finished building it," Mochon says.

The IKEA effect and Implicit Egotism both seem at first blush to be amusing, if not terribly significant. But both Pelham and Mochon say there are all kinds of more serious implications. We tend to feel more drawn to people who are like us — and perhaps more inclined to help them. We feel more committed to our own ideas, even when they aren't necessarily our greatest ones.

The Hidden Brain Podcast is hosted by Shankar Vedantam and produced by Maggie Penman, Jennifer Schmidt, Renee Klahr, and Rhaina Cohen. Our supervising producer is Tara Boyle. Follow us on Twitter @hiddenbrain, and listen for our stories each week on your local public radio station.