Almost everyone gets frustrated when they build IKEA furniture, but a group of psychologists wanted to know who actually wins in the battle of the sexes when an Allen wrench is involved. The stereotype goes that men are more adept in the tool belt department, but is that just a generalization or is it actually true? This curiosity started when Petra Hesser, the previous head of IKEA Germany, claimed that women were more efficient at building IKEA’s flat-pack furniture because they took the time to read directions, unlike most men.
Feeling curious, the group of psychologists based at UiT The Arctic University of Norway, decided to test those claims for a study in Applied Cognitive Psychology. Recruiting university students, they used 40 men and 40 women in their experiment, and challenged them to individually build IKEA’s UDDEN kitchen trolley as precisely as possible. According to Research Digest, half of the participants had to assemble the trolley without instructions but with a final picture of the product, and the other half used the instructions that came in the box. Not only were they going to be measured on how quickly they assembled the piece, but also how accurately.
So who reigns supreme for IKEA building? The men were both faster and more accurate in their construction. In terms of speed, men took an average of 22.48 minutes with instructions, and 24.80 minutes without. Compare that with the women taking an average of 23.65 minutes with instructions, and 28.44 minutes without. Then in terms of accuracy (rated on a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 represented a perfectly built trolley,) men averaged a score of 8.9 when using instructions, and 7.6 without. The women received an average of 7.5 with instructions, and 5.7 without.
Unpacking these results, Research Digest pointed out that once you disregarded the time it took to read the instructions, “the women’s performance with instructions was almost as good as the men’s performance without instructions.” So while women do pay more attention to directions, that doesn’t necessarily make them better at building the item. But be that as it may, this is just one study with one small sample size — so we can’t generalize and say it applies to the whole male and female population. Research Digest pointed out that there were many factors in the experiment that could have helped influence results: For example, the rules of the study never asked its participants to build the piece as quickly as possible, but to build it underneath 30 minutes. Men are known to be inclined to greater competitiveness, so they might have built it with more urgency than their female counterparts. More studies would be needed before a definite answer could be concluded.
One thing that is for certain, though, is that we all do better when we follow directions — so make sure you follow them next time!