Internet Memes and the IKEA Effect: The Unusual Connection

Internet memes have become a significant part of how we communicate with each other online. They are funny, relatable aesthetic objects that often reflect the current cultural climate. But, have you ever wondered why certain memes become so popular and why we feel so attached to them? The answer lies in the psychology of the IKEA effect, a cognitive bias that makes us value things that we have created ourselves. In this article, we will explore the psychology of memes and how they use the Ikea effect to capture our attention and influence our behavior.

The IKEA Effect: What Is It?

The IKEA effect is a psychological phenomenon where people develop an emotional attachment to products they create or assemble themselves. The bias is named after the Swedish furniture company IKEA, which is known for its do-it-yourself furniture kits. This effect first appeared in a Harvard Business School study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.

According to the study, people who assembled IKEA furniture themselves perceived their creations as having higher value than products that were already fully assembled. Essentially, the effort and time spent on creating something gives it more worth in our eyes.

The Ikea effect is driven by our need for autonomy and control. When we create something ourselves, we feel a sense of ownership and pride that we don’t get from simply buying or consuming something that someone else has made. This sense of ownership and pride can lead us to overvalue our creations and to be more resistant to criticism or feedback.

How the IKEA Effect Relates to Memes

The same principle can be applied to internet memes. When we see a meme that is difficult to understand at a first glance, it’s often because it’s missing critical pieces of information. It’s almost like an optical illusion that requires perceptual or conceptual labor to make sense of the meaning.

This optical illusion of a cow is a great example of perceptual learning

Just like optical illusions, some internet memes need perceptual or conceptual labor to see the humor or irony in them. These memes make us think and require some effort to understand and appreciate. They are like puzzles that challenge our minds, and we love them for that reason. They make us feel smart when we get the joke, and they make us feel like we belong to a group of people who appreciate the same kind of humor.

meme showing the ikea effect
Meme that requires perceptual learning to understand the connection between text and image

When we ‘get’ these memes, we feel a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, strengthening our emotional attachment. This is similar to the feeling we get when we successfully assemble a piece of IKEA furniture.

The Power of Shared Experience

Another reason why memes are so powerful is that they create a shared experience among those who understand them. Memes are often shared on social media platforms, and when we see a meme that we relate to, we feel a sense of belonging to a community of people who understand and appreciate the same things we do.

This shared experience further strengthens our emotional attachment to memes and makes them more valuable to us. We become more invested in the meme culture and seek new memes to add to our collection.


In conclusion, the IKEA effect is a powerful psychological phenomenon that explains why we develop emotional attachments to the products we create or assemble ourselves. This effect can also be applied to internet memes, which often require some level of labor in their interpretation and understanding to be appreciate fully.

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