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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
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.

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 tobe 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 uson Twitter@hiddenbrain,and listen for our stories each week on your local public radio station.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Shankar Vedantam is the host and creator of Hidden Brain. The Hidden Brain podcast receives more than three million downloads per week. The Hidden Brain radio show is distributed by NPR and featured on nearly 400 public radio stations around the United States.
Jennifer Schmidt is a senior producer for Hidden Brain. She is responsible for crafting the complex stories that are told on the show. She researches, writes, gathers field tape, and develops story structures. Some highlights of her work on Hidden Brain include episodes about the causes of the #MeToo movement, how diversity drives creativity, and the complex psychology of addiction.
Rhaina Cohen is an associate producer for the social science show Hidden Brain. She's especially proud of episodes she produced on why sexual assault allegations are now being taken seriously, on obstacles to friendship that men face and why we rehash difficult memories.
Tara Boyle is the supervising producer of NPR's Hidden Brain. In this role, Boyle oversees the production of both the Hidden Brain radio show and podcast, providing editorial guidance and support to host Shankar Vedantam and the shows' producers. Boyle also coordinates Shankar's Hidden Brain segments on Morning Edition and other NPR shows, and oversees collaborations with partners both internal and external to NPR. Previously, Boyle spent a decade at WAMU, the NPR station in Washington, D.C. She has reported for The Boston Globe, and began her career in public radio at WBUR in Boston.