The Diderot Effect

by | Nov 28, 2017


Denis Diderot

Have you ever bought something and found that it led to the purchase of more items to complement the new item? There is a name for that: The Diderot Effect. It’s defined as “the introduction of a new possession into a consumer’s existence will often result in a process of spiraling consumption.”

The Diderot Effect is named after philosopher Denis Diderot who wrote about the phenomenon in essay titled, “Regrets on Parting with My Old Dressing Gown.” In his essay he was gifted a beautiful scarlet dressing gown which he loved to wear.  Whenever he would wear the new gown he would compare his other possessions to it and they seemed drab next to the gown. So, he began replacing his possessions to match the splendor of the scarlet gown. The addition of one nice possession, the gown, spurred his purchase of other fine clothes and even better furniture to compliment the gown. At the end of the story Diderot noted that  “I was absolute master of my old dressing gown, but I have become a slave to my new one.”

Common examples of this occurring:

  • After buying a new dress it is common to think you need new shoes or a new piece of jewelry to complement the dress.
  • Same goes for men after buying a new suit – a new shirt or tie(s) often follow.
  • Purchase of a new couch can often cause the upgrading of the end tables, rug and other furniture in the room. (or even in additional rooms!)
  • Similarly, purchase of a new, upgraded house often brings with it a lot of new furniture to reflect the niceness of the house.
  • Buying a new car often spurs the replacement of the second (or third) family car as the old one seems older and less exciting now that a new car was purchased.


  1. Do you think it’s fair to call Diderot the father of behavioral economics rather than Thaler and Kahneman?

  2. How one reacts to a new acquisition reveals a lot about someone’s expectations. For some, nothing is enough, and for others it may give a sense of fulfillment.
    Reading the IFOD….makes me feel fulfilled, but I wonder if I should get a new ….something more worthy of my IFOD…..what should it be?


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