Children’s understanding of ‘‘implications of ownership’’

By Dan Zhu [original research by Rossano, F., Rakoczy, H., & Tomasello, M., 2011]


If we take a teddy bear from a three-year-old, is she going to cry, screaming or allow me to take it away from her? How about if the teddy bear is not hers? We want to figure it out by conducting a series of research on Children’s understanding of ‘‘implications of ownership’’.

Each child was tested in three conditions, with two trials per condition. In each condition, a puppet performed actions on a target object, with the crucial difference between conditions being who owned the target object. The conditions were:

–Child: object owned by child.
–Third party: object owned by E2.
–Control: object owned by puppet herself.

The research had children directly involved in interactions involving property rights violations and they could respond potentially nonverbally, which opened the possibility that even 2-year-old children might show some understanding.

The children protested reasonably frequently when their own property was either taken from them or thrown away – several times more often than when anyone else’s property was similarly taken or thrown away.

The 2-year-olds appreciated that a third party’s property rights were being violated, but just did not care as much as they did about their own property. Most often when their own item of clothing was taken or thrown away, they still protested more often when a pup- pet took or threw away a third party’s clothing than when the puppet did this (legitimately) Young children’s emerging understanding of the normative dimension of property as it applies to all persons equally in an agent-neutral manner.

Now we see that two- to 3-year-old children were tested, as this is the age at which they show some normative awareness in the domain of game rules.

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Author: Rose Hendricks

I'm a PhD Candidate in Cognitive Science at UC San Diego. I work to better understand how metaphor shapes the way we perceive and think about the world.

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