“If we figured it out ourselves, we like it better”

The self-generation affect effect (or the ‘not invented here – bias’ as people like Dan Ariely phrase it) is the cognitive version of the physical labor-love effect. Not only does physical effort increase liking, it works just as fine for cognitive effort… We tend to like ideas and information better if it is generated by our own mind (instead of ideas that we read or hear from someone else). Even if people invest just a small amount of cognitive energy in an idea or solution, they like it much more (and not only do we like our own ideas better, we remember them better too, see: self-generation memory effect).

Because of the self-generation affect effect, we become overly committed to our own ideas. So if you want your customer to remember and like your product or parts of it, an effective strategy might be to have him generate the information himself (or parts of it).

Scientific research example:

Imagine you’re thinking of the water problem in Africa. You’re thinking about how communities could reduce the amount of water they use. Now Dan Ariely helps you. He hands you a paper with 50 words, and you can combine these words to come up with a good solution. You try it, and it works! You come up with the following idea: ‘Water lawns using recycled water recovered from household drains’.

In reality this is the one and only solution you can create from the 50 words (in that sense, it is not your idea, it is Dan’s idea that you ‘unpuzzled’). Will this cognitive effort boost your liking for this solution? Dan Ariely (2010, p. 116) found it does indeed! You like this idea more than other ideas, just because your brain generated it and putted some effort in it (Dan even found that just giving you the 10 words to from the sentence, already boosts your liking for the idea).

Self-generation affect effect

Online Persuasion tips:

Make people think about your product or service (“play hard to get” :-):

  • Ask questions in your content.
  • Even proactively ask for answers (i.e. by means of a feedback tool). Ask why they are considering your offer and even why they bought the product when they did.
  • Try not to just provide your USP’s, but ask your customer to think of one or two himself.
  • Allow people to tailor your product. Not just to satisfy individual preferences, but also to invest cognitive effort and thereby liking (you might even allow your customers to create and design their own products).
  • Test with decreasing the usability of your website too! Since less usability means more cognitive effort.


Further reading on the self-generation affect effect:

  • Ariely, Dan (2010) The Upside of Irrationality. New York: Harper Collins (p. 116-117).
  • The “IKEA Effect”: When Labor Leads to Love. Michael I., Norton Daniel Mochon, Dan Ariely.
  • IKEA Effect on Wikipedia.