60-Second Mind

Young Children Think Differently about Ownership

Research shows that young children tend to think that naturally occurring objects like pinecones or rocks cannot be owned. Christie Nicholson reports

MINE! That word appears early in life. Toddlers have an idea of ownership.
They also have an idea of what can be owned, and what can’t.

Children as young as three believe human-made objects are owned but naturally occurring things like pinecones are not.

In one experiment 3-year olds looked at pictures of a fork, teddy bear, truck, and other human-made objects. They also looked at pictures of a leaf, shell, or rock. The researchers asked: Does this belong to anyone?

The kids classified human-made objects as owned 89 percent of the time and naturally occurring objects as owned only 28 percent of the time.

In another experiment scientists tested children with less familiar objects like a grenade versus coral. This time children under 6 did not tend to name the manufactured object as owned. But when the unfamiliar, artificial objects were referred to as “human-made,” the younger children tended to classify them as owned. The work appears in the journal Developmental Psychology. (pdf)

It is apparently only much later in life, when individuals have reached a seasoned maturity, that they can conceive of ownership of natural objects. “You kids get off of my lawn!”

—Christie Nicholson

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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