Young Children’s Understanding of the Limits and Benefits of Group Ownership

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Group ownership is ubiquitous—property is owned by countries, corporations, families, and clubs. However, people cannot understand group ownership by simply relying on their conceptions of ownership by individuals, as group ownership is subject to complexities that do not arise when property is individually owned. We report 6 experiments investigating whether children ages 3 to 6 (N = 540) understand group ownership. In Experiments 1 and 2 children were asked who different objects belong to, and they appropriately judged that certain objects are more likely to belong to a group than to individual people. Experiments 3 and 4 investigated whether children understand the limits of group ownership. Children saw vignettes where agents modified or depleted property. Children ages 3 and older understood that individual members of a group should not deplete group-owned property, and children ages 5 and 6 understood that individual members should not modify group-owned property. Finally, Experiments 5 and 6 investigated whether children understand the benefits of group ownership. Children ages 5 and 6 judged that it is more acceptable for a group member to take group property than for a nonmember to do this, and children ages 4 to 6 judged that group members can take more group resources than can nonmembers. Together, these results are informative about how children conceive of group ownership rights, and about children’s conceptions of groups.

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