<strong>Objects of Love:</strong> We live in a world of objects to which we assign varying degrees of worth, from old newspapers to treasured action figures, family heirlooms and golden idols. What's it all about? Where does this object attachment come from? Tune in to learn more.
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Transcript: Robert Lamb: Hey! Welcome to Stuff to Blow Your Mind. My name is Robert Lamb.
Julie Douglas: And my name is Julie Douglas.
Robert Lamb: Julie, do you any magical objects with you today? Any good luck charms, any personal items of importance?
Julie Douglas: Nope, I was thinking about this. I'm not really into the sort of magical thinking of lucky items I have to say.
Robert Lamb: Yeah.
Julie Douglas: Yeah.
Robert Lamb: But hold up your hands. Do you have any rings on?
Oh, you don't have any rings on.
Julie Douglas: Look! Nothing.
Robert Lamb: Nothing, huh. Okay.
Julie Douglas: I mean maybe I have my lucky underwear on, maybe I don't. You? I mean not underwear.
Robert Lamb: No. Well I mean, nothing - let's see, what do I have on me? Right now I just have - I have my wedding ring and I do have - so there's a certain amount of magical thinking involved in that. Do I have any - no I don't have any amulets on me right now. But I - in the past I've certainly fallen in the habit of using them. I think I've talked about this before. I previously had a Ganesha.
Julie Douglas: Remover of obstacles.
Robert Lamb: Remover of obstacles. The Hindu god that has the elephant appearance.
Julie Douglas: Also featured on the Simpsons in a hilarious episode.
Robert Lamb: Yes, yes, also made fun of there. But I would carry it around because - remover of obstacles and all this various ties into creativity and all. And so I would carry that in my pocket. And they eventually I lost it. Like it crawled out in the washing machine or something and left me. And so I have always felt kind of bad. Like where did Ganesha go? Did Ganesha abandon me? And then I found Ganesha, put him back in and then he disappeared again and hasn't come back. And also in the past I'll occasionally pick up a rock like if I'm at the beach and I'm having a particularly good day, I'll pick up that rock and take it with me, and that will end up in my pocket for maybe a year or so because that kind of comes to symbolize a nice memory. So I can take it out and I can sort of think back to that time.
Julie Douglas: So what I'm hearing is that you have various kinds of woobies.
Robert Lamb: Woobies?
Julie Douglas: Woobies. Yeah, security blankets.
Robert Lamb: Oh, yes. Yeah I guess they are to a certain extent security blankets.
Julie Douglas: I mean they're not - apples to apples, but there is this sort of warm and fuzzy thing that you're trying to invoke with an object, right?
Robert Lamb: Yeah. Yeah, I mean it's - I mean it's weird for me because like when I'm - if I'm holding a Ganesha, I don't actually think that I'm using this as a totem to get in touch with some sort of a god. It's not like a literal interpretation of the amulet, but there is a certain amount of positive thinking that comes with having it. And I've also wondered a lot of times when passing by my own desk or co-workers desks or seeing somebody's desk on TV where they have action figures. Typically like a dude's desk, they'll have various action figures and I wondered what extent are modern action figures kind of akin to the amulets of old. Today we don't have a pantheon of gods to really call upon for the most part, but instead we have all these various pop culture icons and cartoon characters that represent various things at least on a subconscious level and we keep them around to draw strength from them.
Julie Douglas: You haven't found the pantheon room? The HSW pantheon room?
Robert Lamb: No, do we have one? Oh my goodness.
Julie Douglas: It's next to the room with the black toilet and the black sink.
Robert Lamb: Yeah?
Julie Douglas: Yeah the superhero bathroom.
Robert Lamb: Oh, okay. Well, see I've been missing that, but if you pass by my desk, if you pass by Jonathan Strickland's desk, you pass by Izzy's office, you see little figures. So I wondered to what extent - and obviously they're on our desk, they're in our work space, they're in our work environment informing our relationship with our work, with what we're trying to do and representing a little bit of who we are. So to what extent are those becoming deities? I don't know.
Julie Douglas: Well, so that's what going to try to get to the bottom of today. We're going to look at objects, our relationship to objects and we're going to try to figure out how much of this has to do with our own ability to acquire things and whether or not this acquisitiveness is natural to us. And then we're going to look a little bit at compulsive hoarding, too.
Robert Lamb: When it comes to materialism, it is really a distinctive human trait for the most part, especially when you look at its more outrageous examples. The one that I was really partial to was the one brought up by Steve Taylor in his article, "The Madness of Materialism," which is a great, short little article. But he mentions gold, especially the European colonists' love of gold and their clashes with the Native peoples in the Americas. There's one example that he brings up where an Indian chief in Cuba learned that the Spanish sailors were about the attack his land, so he actually praised to the spirit of the gold for aid. They were trying to figure out why are these - why are these people so into gold, this shiny rock from the ground. They must have some sort of - they must believe it's a god. They must believe that it has supernatural powers because otherwise why would you go through such ridiculous ends? Why would you wage all of this bloodshed just to get it?
Julie Douglas: Right because otherwise it's like well, you guys are just acting like ferrets going after something shiny.
Robert Lamb: Yeah.
Julie Douglas: So surely this piece of gold has something to it. And he prayed to it and -
Robert Lamb: Didn't work.
Julie Douglas: Didn't work. Yeah.
Robert Lamb: Because as he points out in this article - Steve Taylor points out, a certain amount of hoarding of resources makes evolutionary sense. We've talked before in the wild there are certain things that are scarce. Food itself is going to be scarce to varying degrees. And so to whatever degree we can plan ahead, that we can stockpile, the better off we'll be. If that means burying nuts in the yard, if that means finding something that is more rare in nature like sugar and being about to store that away. All of that makes sense. Fire wood - there are things that are part of our survival that make sense when we're hoarding it.
Julie Douglas: Well, it makes I think to a culture that is settled, but if you look back at early man, particularly the fact that early man was a nomadic species then you know that hoarding or stockpiling just really wasn't convenient.
Robert Lamb: That's right. I mean, yeah, if you're always on the move. If you - even if you have kind of like cyclical patterns to your movement in going from North to South depending on what the weather's doing, you're not going to be able to carry all of this with you. You can maybe stockpile some of it, but you're not going to carry all of it on your back.
Julie Douglas: Yeah, so there's this big question mark, is this really genetic, is this something that's natural to humans, this impulse to buy and possess things or is it something that really is more symptomatic of modern man, particularly from the 19th century on when things became much easier to produce cheaply and then to acquire cheaply.
Robert Lamb: Yeah, and I mean, when it comes to stockpiling things that are important, once we get out of this transitory nature of culture and we get into actually settling in areas and growing food, being able to stockpile food. That's part and partial to a lot of our culture growth as a species, our ability to put food away, have more food than we need and then specialize our roles within a community.
Julie Douglas: But what about just buying lots of plastic things and putting them in a storage unit, and then that storage unit being auctioned off in a show called "Storage Wars" or something like that.
Robert Lamb: Yeah. Yeah because then it seems like we're definitely getting into pathological area. We're getting into an area where it is just - it is a sickness, it is a natural instinct that has been perverted. Because even - even though the native peoples of the Americas couldn't understand the lust for gold, if you put gold within the context of wealth and then wealth equals -
Julie Douglas: Power.
Robert Lamb: Power. Wealth equals comfort. Wealth equals food. Then I can see the cognitive steps necessary to think I gotta have all the gold.
Julie Douglas: Right. Because I have to possess the symbol of it, which is probably a large part of why we do have this - such a high degree of acquisitiveness, of wanting to get - acquire everything. The question is, is it genetic? Well, there was a study by Justine Giddens, Julie Shermer and Philip Vernon from the University of Western Ontario and they wanted to know how much of it was environmental, how much of it was genetic, so of course they turned to twins. They recruited 240 pairs of twins, identical and fraternal. And they looked at the benchmark of individual differences, personality, values, happiness and we know about 45% of those traits are heritable, right?
So to the surprise of these researchers, they found that individual differences in materialism were almost entirely attributed to environmental factors and not a genetic thing going on here.
Robert Lamb: Okay.
Julie Douglas: So that kind of makes sense, right? And that actually makes sense to me in the context of hoarding. Because, yes, hoarding does have some pathological brain disorder elements to it, but a lot of the triggers for hoarding are environmental. So if you had a loved one who recently passed away or something that was life changing, that can sort of flip the switch in hoarding behavior. And when I talk about hoarding behavior, I'm talking about an excessive collection of objects.
Robert Lamb: This is like one of those things where it's like I must keep every newspaper that has ever come out.
Julie Douglas: And it's not just keeping them, but if you were to be separated from those newspapers, you would suffer. You would feel pain. You would be confused. You would have an inability to really make clearheaded decisions about the stuff in your life.
Robert Lamb: Yeah. And if you've seen one of these shows, to me that's enough.
Julie Douglas: The hoarding shows? Yeah.
Robert Lamb: Yeah. Because it can be a bit much to take it. They're kind of depressing. But I think I saw one once where it was food items, and it wasn't in a sense that I need to save all the sweet potatoes because I love sweet potatoes and I need to these sweet potatoes later, but it would be like, "This sweet potato looked really good. This is a really cool looking sweet potato."
And this weird emotional attachment to the sweet potato and then it must be kept, even though it's rotting in the refrigerator.
Julie Douglas: Yeah, well it turns out that people who have hoarding behavior or hoarding disorder, they actually have part of their brain - this is the anterior singular cortex - this part of their brain is actually not behaving the same way as quote, unquote "normal people" because that is the part of the brain that is actually governing your decisions -
Robert Lamb: And your restraint is that also playing a part?
Julie Douglas: Some impulse control. Yeah. But primarily it's the decision making. So if you take people who have the hoarding disorder and you look at them in MRI scans when they are considering whether or not to part from an object that they own, you'll see the fuzzy nature on there.
So you know that it is - it is a brain disorder. It is this part of their brain that is saying, "I just don't know what to do here."
And so it's not just like oh, okay, I need to have everything in the world or some sort of gluttonous void that they're trying to fill; it really is coming from the decisions that their brain circuitry is making. And this is - I thought this was really interesting when I found out about it. Hoarding behavior actually has some connection or a lot of connection to narcissism. So you think about narcissism and you think about vanity -
Robert Lamb: Yeah you think about Narcissus, you think about the reflection in the pool, captivated by one's appearance.
Julie Douglas: But it really is sort of a coping mechanism and I believe it was Dr. Rebecca Beaton, she explained this to me a couple years ago when I interviewed her about hoarding. She told me that kids who are feeling abandoned from their parents, or they don't have a significant with a parent or really any sort of guardian. In other words, they're not getting that emotional connection or even sort of the touch, the hug, any of that. They begin to turn inward and they begin to become narcissists because they have to find self-comfort from themselves and some of that gets attributed to objects. So then they begin to collect objects as this part of comfort. And that's where you see the behavior played out.
Robert Lamb: And of course this brings to mind the Peanuts character, Linus.
Julie Douglas: Oh, right. Yeah.
Robert Lamb: And his blanket, right?
Julie Douglas: His woobie.
Robert Lamb: His woobie? His comfort blanket, his - or if you want to get into the more technical terms, his comfort object, his transitional object, which is something you see with a lot of kids. It's - it's - let's see did I have - now my sister definitely had a blanket called blankie. And it got to the point where they ended up cutting off the edge of blankie so that she could continue to carry blankie around with her. And I think she may still have - I think she still keeps blankie around.
Julie Douglas: Well, you know my daughter's four and the same thing has happened to her blanket. She calls it blankie's blankie.
Robert Lamb: Wait, now I'm confused.
Julie Douglas: The part that came off that she carries around is called blankie's blankie.
Robert Lamb: So it's the - like the shard of blankie it's kind of like a religious artifact.
Julie Douglas: And she hides it in her bed and she's really freaky about it. If we can't find it's like, "Blankie's blankie!"
Robert Lamb: I mean to an uninformed observer, it could seem a little freaky. Because it is kind of borderline religious obsession it may seem like. In fact, if you go back to the 1940s, attachment to a special object by a child was regarded as pathological behavior. It's just a case of childhood fetish reflecting something askew in the mother-child relationship.
Julie Douglas: Yeah.
Robert Lamb: You must be doing something wrong because your kid has this gross scrap of a blanket that they're carrying around.
Julie Douglas: And I think it's interesting that they look at it as a fetish, particularly if you kind of take a wide angle view of that period anyway where you see a lot of this - ideas of fetish or fetishism coming out. But yeah, it wasn't until the '50s when they started to say, "You know what, this is actually normal thing. It's a good thing."
Robert Lamb: Yeah, yeah. People like D.W. Winnicott started to defining these as normal and necessary and as a transitional experience. The key step in an infant's ability to distinguish this inner subjective world from the outside reality. So through the - even through the '70s and '80s there was still this sort of - people were still clinging to this old notion that there's something wrong, that the kid has some anxiety problems or something and that's why they're hanging on it to. But really the academic understanding of was pretty much in place.
Julie Douglas: Yeah because they began to understand that this could really help allay some of the fears, some of the anxieties that children. Of course they have them because remember they have an entirely new view of life, so they have to categorize every loud sound, every image and try to make sense of it. Is it a threat, is it not a threat? And so this transitional object really does help because it is sort of like the stand in for parental units or something else.
There's a study by G.J. Bara, R.H. Passman and C. Eisenberg and they found that during a routine third year pediatric examination, the security object enhanced rapport with the examining nurse and then children attached to a blanket who were allowed access to it were rated as less distressed and they experienced less physiological stress. And that is evidenced by the heart rate and the systolic blood pressure. So this in contrast to kids who are undergoing medical evaluation without their woobies really.
Robert Lamb: And certainly these woobies, as you said, they can end up becoming like an important parenting tool, I understand as well. I mean, if you use it wisely, right? Because it's powerful stuff to play with. But I was reading about how a parent can use it to their advantage and a kid needs the woobie to remain comfortable in a position of time when the mother's away.
Julie Douglas: Sure, I think it's really important to - like around age one and so on and so forth when they start to feel the separation anxiety, leaving the house or even just sleeping at night. I think having something to grab onto is really important.
Robert Lamb: One of the interesting things about studying transitional objects is that - is that there's ultimately kind of a lack of uniformity in the definition of it and also the cultural significance of it. Some of the cultural stats were pretty interesting. Like the United States, 60% of children have at least a mild degree of attachment to some sort of soft, inanimate object. And I think looking back I did have - I have a stuffed rhinoceros named Wrenchy that I was -
Julie Douglas: Wrenchy.
Robert Lamb: That I had an attachment to. But I don't know. Then you're getting into stuffed animals, you're getting into a whole different area because those have personality. I don't know, does blankie or does blankie's blankie have a personality, do you think?
Julie Douglas: Well, sometimes blankie's blankie gets in trouble or does things like takes all the toilet paper off the toilet paper roll or something like that, but generally I just think that's general scoundrelness right now.
Robert Lamb: Well, okay, so anyway 60% of children in the U.S. have some sort of mild degree, 32% exhibit strong attachment, but then if you look at incidents of attachment in the Netherlands and New Zealand and Sweden, that's comparable to the United States, Korean children have substantially fewer attachments to blankets, down to 18% compared to American children. But Korean born children living in the United States display an intermediate percentage of 34%. 5% of rural Italian children have transitional objects, compared to 31% of urban Italians, and it goes as far as 62% of foreign children living in Rome. So I don't know. You just see the stats I guess sort of skewing towards urban areas.
Julies Douglas: Yeah, I was going to say that's interesting to see that it can be - within one country, you could have such a - so many different variables there.
Robert Lamb: Oh, but in London, just 16% of children have a special security object and that's London. So there goes the urban argument. See, it's hard to find the - exactly what's going on, there's so many cultural factors to look at there, I guess.
Julie Douglas: Well, and you have to wonder, too if part of that is just to say that's not as accepted and therefore maybe in that culture it's not as encouraged or it's not maybe as prominent. People don't see it as much.
Robert Lamb: Yeah, or maybe there's less of a culture of these are my objects and these are your objects, and it's more these are our objects, you know?
Julie Douglas: Some of this had to do with memory, too, right? Like they would go back and say, "Oh did I have an object that I was connected to."
And so they're collecting some of this data from faulty memory where people are saying yes or no and they couldn't exactly remember. I also wanted to point out, too that a transitional object is very different from a pacifier, and of course a pacifier is something that's used to self-sooth in babies, but I kind of think of it as gum for babies. It's an activity to try to help them with their eventual eating skills, their swallowing skills and it kind of helps keep them occupied if they're hungry and you're trying to prepare a bottle or something like that, but it is very different in terms of comfort.
Robert Lamb: All right, we're going to take a quick break and when we come back, we will get into the world of magical thinking, lucky charms and something called the IKEA factor.
Hey Julie so we are both in the studio right now.
Julies Douglas: It's true.
Robert Lamb: But in our jobs we are often working with people who are either in the office or they're at home in the city, they're at home in other cities, they're at work in other cities or we're interviewing people who may or may not even be in this country, so it really is an advantage to have some sort of means to meet with people that doesn't just involve calling them up or emailing back and forth. And that's where GoToMeeting comes in. You can get your entire team together, and it's amazing what you can get accomplished: products that take weeks, decisions that take days, all done right then and there.
Julie Douglas: Yeah, it's GoToMeeting with HD faces, which I have to say when we were on a meeting the other day I really enjoyed because you were teleworking and you had a cat draped around your neck.
Robert Lamb: Yes. Yep, she climbed right up there.
Julie Douglas: And I got to see that, that was definitely one of the other advantages of GoToMeeting. But yeah, you can share the same screen, you can stay on the same page and then the built in HD videoconferencing makes it just like being in the same room. And I think that's really important because if you're on a call - all of you know this - if you're on a call and you're trying to gauge what's going on that call and you're not in the same room, it's very difficult. So being able to see other people's faces kind of gives you that - okay, what sort of body language is going on here?
Robert Lamb: Yeah and it reminds you that you're dealing with a real human being right there. They have a face, they have eyes, they have an office behind them possibly, there might be an animal on their shoulders, it's a very humanizing element because often you're just doing a bunch of email correspondences, it's easy for things to cascade into some sort of inhuman scenario where there's fighting and bickering and whatnot.
Julie Douglas: Yeah, and it's cool because you can use it on your computer, smart phone, tablet, even your ipad.
Robert Lamb: Yep, so obviously we love it. We love GoToMeeting, and we want to share it with you guys and give you guys a chance to try it out for yourself. So you can try GoToMeeting free for 30 days. All you have to do is visit gotomeeting.com, click the try it free button and use the promo code stuff. So visit gotomeeting.com, enter the promo code stuff and start attending some meetings.
Julie Douglas: Okay, so we're back.
Robert Lamb: Yeah, and we're going to get into the realm of magical thinking. This is territory that we've moved through many times before, but it continues to be important because it really does deal with how we think about the world versus how the world really is. Magical thinking, of course is the belief that an object, action or circumstance, not logically related to a course of events, can influence its outcome.
So in magical thinking you get into all these ideas of everything from a haunted house - the idea that, oh, something bad happened here so now something is bad with the house. Or the idea that an event can affect the physical object, or even mere mementos, I mentioned my father's watch before. Obviously that's - that's something that has significance to me and there's a certain amount of magical thinking involved there. Even if it's at a subconscious level, even if I'm not thinking, "Oh, this has the spirit of my dad in it." I think, "Oh, that was his watch and there's some sense of him about it."
So magical thinking kind of is intertwined in all our lives to varying degrees, be it conscious or subconscious. One of the more - more conscious ways is, of course, is the idea of a lucky charm.
Julie Douglas: Yeah and there is something called apophenia, and that is seeing patterns where there are none. And that is a little bit the soup base to magical thinking, right, because again if you - let's say you're wearing something and something great happens, you think, "Oh, those are those lucky socks. I must wear them every time that I have do this certain challenge."
And begin to make this causal connection.
Robert Lamb: But then there's always that difference between, "Oh, I've got a big interview, I'm going to wear those lucky socks of mine."
There's that and then there's, "These are my lucky socks. I must wear them every day and they must never be washed or they must be washed exactly eight times to contain their magic."
I mean, there's a line between sort of helpful magical thinking and helpful lucky charge belief to - and then there's a whole realm of pathology.
Julie Douglas: Well that gets a little OCD in a way, right? It's called adventitious reinforcing and that is, making that connecting and then keep doing whatever that ritual is over and over again so that you can hopefully evoke those spirits of magic to help you in your quest.
Robert Lamb: So has anyone studied lucky charms? Of course they have.
Julie Douglas: The cereal?
Robert Lamb: Not the cereal. The cereal, that's a whole different kettle of fish. But yes, as far as studying the effects that lucky charms - lucky objects have on us. There's a really cool study from the University of Colon in 2010, and they started off with just golf. They invited these test subjects to come and see how many of ten puts they could make from the same location. And when the experimenters handed them a golf ball, they would sometimes just give them a ball and say, "Hey, everyone's used this ball so far. No big deal. Here's a golf ball. Why don't you hit it and see if it will go in that hole over there."
And then sometimes they said, "Hey this ball - this must be a lucky ball. This one has really worked well for people."
And then they analyzed it and they let everyone play a little golf to see what happened. And the mere suggestion that the ball was lucky significantly influenced performance causing participants to make almost two more puts on average.
Julie Douglas: See this is where like when David Eagleman says like we don't have any free will, I've began to really say he might be onto something. Because the mere suggestion that it's lucky would actually have some sort of bearing on your performance. That's crazy.
Robert Lamb: It is. Yeah.
So, of course they weren't going to stop just there. Because general if you have a scientific experiment. If you have a study going on and it begins and ends with people just playing golf one afternoon, it's probably not enough. You need to push it a little further.
Julie Douglas: Sure. Sure.
Robert Lamb: So what they did is they had test subjects come in and they had them bring lucky artifacts with them, be it their old blankie or their - or like me, I forgot about this, I always bring this triceratops squeeze toy into the office with me.
Julie Douglas: It's true.
Robert Lamb: And I don't of it as a lucky charm. I think of it more as like something to occupy my hand when I'm feeling kind of fumbley.
Julie Douglas: But you don't podcast without it.
Robert Lamb: I don't podcast without it. So there's a certain amount of magical thinking involved there a certain amount of good luck charm going on with that triceratops.
So anyway, they invited people to bring in their triceratops toys, their lucky four-leaf clovers, what have you, and then they started the test. They assigned them either to a condition where they would be performing a task in the presence of their charm or in absence of their charm. And then the participants rated their perceived level of self-efficiency and then completed a memory task that was essentially a variant of the class card game concentration.
Julie Douglas: So psychologist Lysann Damisch, she found those people who had their lucky charms, they were doing a couple of things here to improve their performance. Because really it does improve your performance.
Robert Lamb: Yeah, that was the thing, they found once again, if they had their lucky charms on hand, they did better.
Julie Douglas: Yes, they were setting loftier goals for themselves and then they were exhibiting increased systems. They did not give up as easily because they felt bolstered by these lucky charms.
Robert Lamb: Yeah. It's pretty - it's the idea that - so here's the triceratops swishy in my hand and bringing it in. I'm thinking, "Well, I got the triceratops with me. I'm going to - I'm not going to just go for normal, I'm going to shoot for hirer because I got this - I got the power in my hand."
Julie Douglas: Well, so -
Robert Lamb: And I'm going to stick to it more because my - I'm focusing my attention on it. I have the symbol of my commitment with me as well.
Julie Douglas: Well here's where the funhouse mirror shatters. If you are aware of this affect, then, supposedly, this no longer works anymore. If you become conscious that you are attributing magical qualities to an object, then it supposedly is not going to be effective.
Robert Lamb: You know, and I don't really buy that part of the study.
Julie Douglas: You don't?
Robert Lamb: I think it depends - I think this depends on the individual. Because for my own part, I find myself able to drift in and out of believing in things, depending on what my day to day outlook is and depending on how I want to view the world. Like I find myself able to, to a certain extent, engage in the belief that an object might have some sort of luck or believe in some varying levels of spirituality depending on how I'm viewing the day. So I can imagine somebody logically knowing that something is just a piece of metal, but then still buying into it enough to get that effect out of it.
Julie Douglas: Well, I think that's because you have a creative fiction twisted mind that been trained that way. So you can, I think, dive into magical thinking very easily.
Robert Lamb: Yeah.
Julie Douglas: And then still be hanging out with reality.
Robert Lamb: Yeah, but I don't - but I'm not unique in that aspect. I mean, there's so many people like that.
Julie Douglas: A lot of people can do that.
Robert Lamb: So I think the study's fascinating, though I do kind of disagree on that part about the idea that just merely by listening to this podcast, we have deactivated all of your lucky charms out there. I mean, some of you, if you're the right kind of person that we just totally zapped all of your magic do dads.
Julie Lamb: Sorry about that.
Robert Lamb: Yeah.
Julie Lamb: All right. So let's change the subject and close this podcast out on IKEA. Because IKEA - what is this but the iconic symbol of all objects known to man that can be acquired by man, right?
Robert Lamb: Right. And of course the thing that we always come back to with IKEA anytime we're talking about IKEA, anytime we're thinking about IKEA and I'm not talking about the podcast, but just in general, all of us, is the assembly of these items. They come with the really well designed graphically instructions and you bring them home and you try to make sense out of them and then you take one or two, three or four goes at assembling it correctly. Generally with some - there's a little - it's like going through a maze because you end up hitting a dead corner and then you realize, "Oh, I already used those screws in the wrong spot. Let's see if they can actually be removed without destroying the product."
Julie Lamb: Is that little - the L is that an Allen wrench?
Robert Lamb: Yeah.
Julie Lamb: That thing is ridiculous to me. Because you have this - you have all these pieces in front of you and then you have this tiny little Allen wrench that's supposed to do the job.
Robert Lamb: Well, you can get a screwdriver with an Allen wrench.
Julie Lamb: Well, power tools always come out. That's the joke of it, right? And I feel like the little man that is - that is the symbol of the person who's supposed to be you, is overly comical, too and it's sort of like this commentary on the whole process.
Robert Lamb: I think he's supposed to be kind of disarming as well when you reach that frustration point with it.
Julie Douglas: See, I see his facade as being mocking.
Robert Lamb: He's laughing at you as he's - as you're just sitting on the living room floor, just surrounded by half assembled furniture.
Julie Douglas: Yeah, yeah. Beating away.
Robert Lamb: I mean I have - there have been times when I've been assembling IKEA furniture, and I love IKEA furniture, but there have been times when I've been assembling it where I just about lost my mind.
Julie Douglas: Well, I think that is what plays into this whole idea of this IKEA effect, right?
Robert Lamb: Right. And this is the idea - ultimately it's the idea that if we build something ourselves, even if it's crap, we care more about it. And we've all encountered this with people. Anybody that knows somebody who engages in a bit of art, a bit of creative endeavor, be it somebody who's really good at it or someone who's new to the practice, there's the tendency to - to love your own work even when it's not good.
Julie Douglas: Well you see this in fiction writing a lot, right? When you're going through the editing process is that - what is that term? Kill your children?
Robert Lamb: Kill your darlings.
Julie Douglas: Kill your darlings. You don't want to - this is your creation and it doesn't fit in and it doesn't really even matter to the plotline anymore, but it's very hard to get rid of those things.
Robert Lamb: Yeah. I mean it's why you need an outsider to come in and look at your stuff. That's the beauty of the editor. That's why I have Allison Laudermilk around to edit my work for the website because otherwise stuff would remain in there that really needs to be cut. You need a hard, cruel Laudermilk -
Julie Douglas: She is not cruel.
Robert Lamb: To come in and take out all the unimportant organs. Just rip them right out of the body.
Julie Douglas: Yeah, you do need someone putting in comments next your work saying, "Hey, what's up with this?"
Robert Lamb: Yeah.
Julie Douglas: But see this is - what you really - it's usually about the IKEA effect is that - and the NPR story about this called "Why You Love that IKEA Table Even if it's Crooked." They're saying that people don't have this editor coming in and you see this in companies, you see people getting ready tied to this idea of what a product is or what it is that they're making it. Sometimes it's two years in the making.
Robert Lamb: Yeah, you're putting just loads of time and energy into it and you're just - you're in the jungle with it.
Julie Douglas: You're in the jungle and then somebody from the outside comes in and goes, "It's crooked."
And that you need that. You need that sort of fresh perspective. So that's helpful. We've kind of transitioned away from objects more into philosophy here, but, hey, I mean isn't that what objects are doing in the first place? They're just metaphors for us, really.
Robert Lamb: So the study was that building your own stuff boosts your feeling of pride and confidence, signals to others that you are confident, which I think is good as well and reminds me of that recent Portlandia sketch. Did you see this with dude who builds his own furniture?
Julie Douglas: No, I didn't see that one.
Robert Lamb: He's like the - all the women want to date him and marry him and make him their own because they learn, oh, he makes his own furniture.
Julie Douglas: Right.
Robert Lamb: Because like it's the perfect thing, right? But then they find out he makes really crappy furniture, but he just doesn't realize it. So it kind of fits in with what we were talking about. But the third thing that they found in the study that was interesting was that - and this is a direct quote from the study, "Threatening consumers sense of self increases their propensity to make things themselves."
The idea here that the author talks about in this article is that theoretically if you were to provide a visit to IKEA with a really difficult math problem to really bust them down a few chops and make them - make them feel kind of stupid, then let them into IKEA, they're going to be even more into the idea of buying something and building it themselves.
Julie Douglas: So they can make good again?
Robert Lamb: Yeah, yeah.
Julie Douglas: Because their ego's been taken down a couple notches and then if they can just assemble something, they can regain that? Is that the idea?
Robert Lamb: I think so because it's kind of like anything. Whenever you're logged in a process that is just seemingly never ending that you don't really feel like there's a sense of completion or you have one of those days where you work on 18 different things and finish none of them. What you really want to do is nail something. You want to say, "I went home and I made a grilled cheese from start to finish and then I ate it. Case closed. Close that loop."
Julie Douglas: Well that would get you a lot of ladies. Hey, he makes cheese.
Robert Lamb: He makes cheese, yeah. Well, not from start to finish. Not making your own bread and cheese, but that would be impressive as well.
Julie Douglas: I don't know. This is what the author was saying that maybe IKEA could start to game their customers to their advantage and give them these math problems, or just put up big placards that say like, "You're awful and lousy. Put some furniture together and you'll feel better."
Robert Lamb: Yeah. Some people love it. I know people who are just in love with the idea of putting together furniture.
Julie Douglas: Well, IKEA hacker is a great website to see what people do to sort of change the - to make it more unique or try to game the furniture to have another purpose.
Robert Lamb: I've been saying for a while that IKEA needs to do like a game show where teams of IKEA hackers have to compete against each other and maybe they're having to assemble furniture in weird places like in a hot air balloon or on a subway.
Julie Douglas: My boy, I think you've got something there.
Robert Lamb: Yeah?
Julie Douglas: Yeah. Did that sound like 1940s?
Robert Lamb: Yeah, a little bit, a little bit.
Julie Douglas: All right.
Robert Lamb: So there you go, objects - a little insight into why we surround ourselves with so much stuff, why it's so important and I was really interested in - you know we were talking about that space that your mind occupies, that moment when you're holding something in your hand and trying to decide whether you can part with it, throw it away or if it has value that and needs to be held and maintained. Like that's - that to me is a very interesting frame of mind to occupy. We've all been there.
Julie Douglas: Yeah.
Robert Lamb: And we all kind of skew different ways when faced with that situation, some of us will just throw stuff away at the drop of the hat. My wife is one and she's been a good influence on me in making me more susceptible to getting rid of things instead of keeping them around needlessly, so you just have boxes of notes and stuff.
Julie Douglas: You know, if I'm in a store, which I don't really shop that much, but I'm in a store and I see something I fancy, I actually will carry it around for about 15 minutes to see whether or not I actually want it. 9 out of 10 times I put it back.
Robert Lamb: That's a good way of doing it. I found myself doing that sometimes when there's a wait, you know. You're having to wait in line to checkout and you have the object in your hand and you really start to think about what you're doing and decide, "I don't know that I really need that." And of course, therein lies the danger of online shopping.
Julie Douglas: Ah, immediate. Yep.
Robert Lamb: So, hey, we would love to hear from everybody about this about your thoughts on your relationships with objects. We all have them. And I'd love to hear some stories. Love to hear some new insight on blankies that you were fond of as a child. Other stranger things that you attached to as a child, things that you are still attached to as an adult, the various deities that may occupy your work desk, be they actual Hindu gods or action figures. I have both on mine, so no judgment. Let us know what you think. We'd love to hear from you at our Facebook account, at our Tumbler account on both of those we are Stuff to Blow Your Mind. We also have a twitter account where our handle is blowthemind.
Julie Douglas: And you can always drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org