When People Want an Upgrade They Tend to Break and Lose Their Old Gadgets

Researchers call it the “Must-Have Effect”

broken phone
Peer Grimm/dpa/Corbis

Anyone who loses their iPhone can check an online database to see if their phone has been found. But when a new model is about to be released, fewer people check for their lost phones, researchers report in a new study. Cracked phones were also deemed more seriously broken during new release times. The scientists call this phenomenon"The Must-Have Effect." 

At Scientific American, researcher Francesca Gino explains the results of his investigations into why humans find the old dispensable when the new comes along:

As human beings, we are wonderful storytellers. We want others to believe we are responsible, fair, and logical, and it’s also important for us to view ourselves this way. For this reason, when we behave in ways that are not consistent with the rosy image we hold of ourselves, we come up with all sorts of justifications to rationalize our behavior. In fact, we go as far as treating our possessions—and even our romantic partners—carelessly when an “upgrade” is on the market.

Gino and her colleagues tested this careless behavior with some less expensive goods. In the lab, they told researcher participants to play Jenga — a game where wooden blocks are removed from a tower one by one until the precarious structure tumbles down. In the experiment, the participants earned money for each block they removed. But the catch was a coffee mug balanced on top of the tower. Earlier, the researchers gave the participants this mug and told them it was worth about $1. If it fell and broke, they didn’t get to keep it. 

Half the participants were also told that they had the opportunity to purchase a nicer-looking mug (with a given value of $10) for a special price at the end of the experiment. Those participants offered the upgrade option were more cavalier with the $1 mug: 61 percent dropped the mug, compared to the 37 percent who did when they didn’t have an option to get a better mug. "Careless behavior allowed participants to justify buying an upgrade without having to consciously admit to themselves or others that they had been intentionally wasteful," Gino writes. 

The researchers published their findings, along with the results from the iPhone data, online at the Social Science Research Network

Gino also quotes Benjamin Franklin: "So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do."

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