I hadn’t heard of this before, but in a very interesting article on his blog Predictably Irrational (after the excellent book of the same name) behavioral economist and theorist about rationality Dan Ariely describes what he calls the endowment effect:
[T]he endowment effect [is] the theory that once we own something, its value increases in our eyes. […]
But ownership isn’t the only way to endow an object or service with meaning. You can also create value by investing time and effort into something (hence why we cherish those scraggly scarves we knit ourselves) or by knowing that someone else has (gifts fall under this category).
And then there’s the power of stories: spend a fantastic weekend somewhere, and no matter what you bring back – whether it’s an upper-case souvenir or a shell off the beach – you’ll value it immensely, simply because of its associations.
I’ve got to think that this effect is something in which argumentation theorists and researchers should have an interest, as it seems to fit handily into accounts of all sorts of biases and blind spots that hobble the abilities of persons to think critically about their own positions or standpoints as well as those of others. Of particular interest is that research like Ariely’s might help to explain why a conclusion often seems more compelling to many people when the speaker relates her particular path to arriving at it in the form of a narrative rather than by giving an argument for it.
You can read the full story, which includes the account of Ariely’s recent experiment on the endowment effect here.