The psychology of why we hate cheap things

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The School of Life

Why is it that we’re often drawn to the biggest price tags, and tend to scoff at things with small ones?

“In assessing what material things are important and worth paying attention to, we’re oddly prejudiced against cheapness, and frustratingly drawn to the expensive, for reasons that don’t necessarily stand up to examination,” explains The School of Life in its mini documentary, “Why We Hate Cheap Things.”

There are both historical and psychological explanations for why we dismiss cheap things. Here’s the gist:


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The School of Life

We associate cheap prices with a lack of value.

“When we have to pay a lot for something nice, we appreciate it to the full,” explains The School of Life. “Yet as its price in the market falls, passion has a habit of fading away.”

The danger in this ingrained association of cheap prices with lack of value is that we end up overlooking, or losing appreciation for, things that are low cost but truly have value.

Take the example of the pineapple, which Christopher Columbus first brought back to Europe from the Americas. At the time, the fruit was extremely hard to transport and expensive to grow, so only royalty could afford to eat them – a single fruit sold for today’s equivalent of £5,000 (or about $7,500 at today’s exchange rates). It was so revered that temples were built in its honor, reports The School of Life.

Today, the pineapple looks and tastes the exact same, yet you can buy one for a mere $3, thanks to advances in technology and its accessibility. “Now, it’s one of the world’s least glamorous fruits. The pineapple itself hasn’t changed, only our attitude to it has,” explains The School of Life.


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The School of Life

For most of history, there truly was a strong correlation between cost and value.

We tend to associate cheap prices and lack of value because for a while, the expensive products were indeed the better products.

“The higher the price, the better things tended to be, because there was simply no way both for prices to be low and quality high,” explains The School of Life. “Everything had to be made by hand, by expensively trained artisans with raw materials that were immensely difficult to transport.”


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The School of Life

The Industrial Revolution changed things.

The relationship between price and value held true until the end of the 18th century, with the arrival of the Industrial Revolution, when we figured out how to make high quality products at cheap prices, thanks to advances in technology.

“However, despite the greatness of these efforts, instead of making wonderful experiences universally available, industrialization has inadvertently produced a different effect,” explains The School of Life. “It seemed to rob certain experiences of their loveliness, interest, and worth.”

Today, society essentially disallows us from getting excited over cheap things. It would be considered strange to get hyped over a $3 carton of eggs from a chicken, yet we’re allowed to get giddy over caviar – a different type of egg – because of its price tag.

“We’ve been looking at prices in the wrong way,” argues The School of Life. “We’ve allowed them to set how much excitement we’re allowed to have in given areas, but prices were never meant to be like this. We’re breathing too much life into them, and therefore dulling too many of our responses to the inexpensive world. We are already a good deal richer than we are encouraged to think we are.”


source
The School of Life

What’s the fix?

If we could channel the way we thought as children – when we had no idea what we were “supposed” to like and did not understand money – then price would never define value for us.

“We can’t directly go back to childhood,” The School of Life says. “But we have got people who can help us in this area: artists. They are the experts at recording and communicating their enthusiasms, which, like children, can take them in slightly unexpected directions. They offer a revolution in appreciation, a far deeper process, that could get us to notice what we already have to hand.”

Instead of reducing prices, artists raise the levels of appreciation for “cheap things,” helping us recognize that we can get a lot of great things for very little money.


Watch the entire explanation below: