Ideas are cheap: When and why adults value labor over ideas

Pascal Burgmer*, Matthias Forstmann, O. Stavrova

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


What do people value about a creation: the idea behind it or the labor needed for its implementation? Recent developmental research suggests that children by the age of 6 begin to value ideas over labor. Yet, much less is known about whether adults similarly attribute a higher value to ideas and idea givers than to labor and idea executors. In seven studies (N = 1,463), we explored the relative valuation of ideas versus labor in adults, its mechanisms and boundary conditions. Participants learned about an idea giver and a laborer who collaborated to create a product and indicated who deserves ownership and monetary compensation for the product. Contrary to what has been reported for children, Studies 1a-1c found that participants valued the contribution of the laborer more than the contribution of the idea giver. This labor-valuation effect emerged even when participants themselves were idea givers (Study 1b), and it was replicated across different populations (including legal professionals, Study 1c) and contexts (e.g., art works and businesses, Study 2). Studies 3a and 3b established perceived effort as a central psychological process behind the labor-valuation effect. Finally, Study 4 extended the effect to the realm of praise and blame judgments, showing that laborers receive more praise for positive outcomes, but less blame for negative outcomes, relative to idea givers. The current findings may provide a useful framework for understanding the role of effort in lay people's valuation of ideas and labor, thereby bridging research on creativity, effort, and valuation judgments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)824-844
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • BODY
  • creativity
  • idea valuation
  • labor valuation
  • perceived effort
  • praise and blame judgments


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