Why crafting not always leads to love: vegetables and children?

What pops up into your mind when thinking about IKEA? Probably words like, furniture, construction kits, assembly, frustration and the well-known IKEA pencils. Many people are familiar with the concept of IKEA, in which consumers play a key role in the assembling process. Although there are plenty webpages out on which IKEA fails are hilariously presented – google ‘IKEA fails’ yourselves, it’s funny – it is also shown that we love products better when created ourselves. We are even willing to pay more for it. This phenomenon is called the ‘IKEA-effect’ and also appears to influence our perceptions of food products. For instance, imagine yourself preparing an instant cake mix. You only have to add water if you are lucky, but you will still be proud of your self-prepared cake and you will like it better than a similar ready-made cake. This phenomenon is comparable to the IKEA-effect and is called the ‘I cooked it myself effect’. Consumers even seem to consume higher amounts of self-prepared products, in this case not very health promoting.

What happens if we use this idea – better liking for self-created products – as a means to increase liking for healthy foods? For example, as a strategy to promote vegetable consumption in children? Would children like this generally disliked product better when they create vegetable snacks themselves, rather than receiving ready-made vegetable snacks? And could this effect be explained by children’s’ feelings of pride related to the self-created snack?

This line of reasoning was central in a recent paper that we published, in which we conducted an experiment at an after school care facility. Children aged four to six years were instructed to create a peacock according to an example peacock made of vegetables and an instruction sheet. The only difference between conditions was the crafting material. Children in the experimental condition crafted a peacock with vegetables (raw cucumbers, tomatoes and carrots) and children in the control condition crafted a peacock with beads (green, red and orange – corresponding to the vegetable colors). Unfortunately, vegetable liking and consumption did not differ between children who were either simply exposed to the vegetable snack while crafting or those who were crafting the vegetable snack themselves. However, vegetable consumption was quite high in both conditions and, of course, children in both conditions indicated to be proud of their crafted peacock. Nonetheless, feelings of pride could not explain the effect of self-crafting vegetable snacks on vegetable consumption and liking.

Our experiment is one of the first studies testing the IKEA-effect in children and with a generally disliked product, vegetables. Under these more stringent conditions, the IKEA-effect could not be replicated. There might be several explanations for our findings. For example, it seems that the IKEA-effect disappears when also an irrelevant crafting task is included as control. The equally high consumption and liking in both conditions might suggest that this is caused by the experience of performing a crafting task in itself before consumption. Another explanation could be that children in both conditions were exposed to the vegetables before consumption. The equally high consumption and liking might suggest that this is caused by simple exposure to vegetables, rather than crafting with vegetables. These possible explanations show that more research is needed in this area, comparing self-crafting and exposure to a condition where there is no crafting task and initial exposure to vegetables.

We are very happy that our study got published despite our somewhat disappointing results. Hopefully, our results give better insights in the conditions under which self-crafting leads to love. The complete article can be read here: Self-crafting vegetable snacks: testing the IKEA-effect in children, written by Sanne Raghoebar, Ellen van Kleef and Emely de Vet.

Sanne Raghoebar, Ellen van Kleef, Emely de Vet, (2017) “Self-crafting vegetable snacks: testing the IKEA-effect in children”, British Food Journal, Vol. 119 Issue: 6, pp.1301-1312, https://doi.org/10.1108/BFJ-09-2016-0443

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