The IKEA effect is the name given to the observation that we generally tend to like things (e.g. bits of furniture) more if we make them ourselves1. The same is true when it comes to our perception of food too. In fact, Finnish researchers recently had people in the lab rate the taste of a chicken tikka dish. The participants were either led to believe that they were tasting the dish that they had had a hand in making themselves, or else that they were tasting one that had been made by someone else. Across three experiments, people rated the food they thought they had made themselves as tasting better than the food they believed had been made by someone else. What the participants didn’t know, though, was that they were tasting exactly the same dish on both occasions!2
According to urban myth, sales of cake mix really took off back in the middle of the last century when one of Madison Avenue’s marketing magicians, Louis Cheskin, figured out that simply having North American housewives add an egg to the mix would help to involve them more in the baking process, and so perhaps result in the cake tasting better (at least to them). One finds this story repeated everywhere; Even the great writer Michael Pollan mentions it in his best-selling book Cooked: A natural history of transformation3. No doubt it makes for a great story. The only problem is that it simply isn’t true. For, it turns out that it was actually a different kind of customisation that made all the difference. It was when the home-bakers were encouraged to start decorating the cakes that they were making themselves (in the 1950s) that the sales of cake mix really started to take-off4.