As an alternative to ownership, access-based consumption allows consumers to gain access to products by paying a usage fee. Such fees tend to be lower than purchase prices. Can access-based consumption therefore reduce perceived social inequality?
Two weeks ago, Yang Guo (University of Pittsburgh) and Cait Lamberton (University of Pennsylvania) presented their poster “Signaling Status by Acquiring Ownership (vs. Access)” at the Annual Meeting of the Society for Judgment and Decision Making (SJDM 2020). Their research challenge the assumption that access-based consumption reduces social inequality by highlighting the role of acquisition modes (owning vs. accessing) as status signals. Ownership maintains a premium in status signaling, and thus, access-based consumption may even intensify rather than reduce social inequality. The research by Guo and Lamberton shows that individuals have a higher subjective social rank when they own but their friend accesses similar products, compared to when acquisition modes are reversed. However, the status signaling effectiveness of acquisition modes changes as a function of payment structure (when ownership is achieved via extended payments vs. an immediate lump sum), and the framing given to the access-based alternative (when access-based consumption is framed as a rent-to-own option).
By showing that access-based consumption options may not effectively reduce perceived social inequality, Yang Guo won the Society of Judgment and Decision Making’s Student Poster Award. Congratulations!
Smartphones, online platforms, technological advances in collecting consumer data – How are these developments changing our relationships with the goods we own? In their recent article Morewedge, Monga, Palmatier, Shu, and Small (2020, you can find the article HERE) state that while technological innovations create value for consumers in many ways, they may disrupt psychological ownership–the feeling that a thing is “MINE.” This constitutes a potentially big challenge to consumers and marketers and it is a an insight that chimes in well with earlier research that suggests that considerations of (psychological) ownership are needed to understand how consumers behave in digital spheres (you can find Kamleitner and Mitchell’s 2019 article “Your Data is my Data” HERE or download their book chapter “Personal data and (psychological) ownership” HERE).
To address the question of how psychological ownership is affected by technological developments, Morewedge, Monga, Palmatier, Shu, and Small (2020) suggest a psychological ownership framework in their article. They propose that technological innovations are driving an evolution in consumption along two major dimensions. The first dimension of change is from a model of legal ownership, in which consumers purchase and consume their own private goods, to a model of legal access, in which consumers purchase temporary access rights to goods and services. The second dimension of change is from consuming solid material goods to liquid experiential goods. The authors propose a psychological ownership framework, in which these changes and effects are organized, and examine this framework across three macro trends in marketing: (1) growth of the sharing economy, (2) digitization of goods and services, and (3) expansion of personal data. The framework predicts when technological innovations will threaten, transfer, and create opportunities to preserve psychological ownership, and it helps to identify research opportunities for marketing scholars.
This nice overarching framework aligns well and can be complemented with other recent findings on psychological ownership. For example, Ruzeviciute, Kamleitner, and Biswas (2020, you can find the article HERE) show that a sense of visceral proximity to an object, an experience that can be triggered via the object’s scent, instills psychological ownership and in turn product appeal. Perceived proximity thus enhances feelings of ownership, but we cannot touch or smell online products. Maybe the advancement of digital scent delivery technologies could thus be added to the opportunities to preserve psychological ownership for online products in the future. Another recent finding is likely to hold implications for the identified challenge. In times of online recommendation systems and omnipresent advertisements in online media, consumers are often trying out new products based on suggestions that were made to them. Yet, Kokkoris, Hoelzl, and Kamleitner (2020, you can find the article HERE) and Kirk, Peck, and Swain (2018, you can fine the article HERE) find that consumers are more likely to psychologically appropriate things they discovered autonomously and intended to discover it. Maybe toning down the recommendations and letting consumers discover offers by themselves may equally buffer against a loss of psychological ownership when it comes to purely digital access-based products.
The importance of the findings discussed above is that they show that current developments and innovations are changing consumption models and that psychological ownership is a valuable lens through which to understand and manage the consumer experience. Psychological ownership is a central theme and provides many opportunities for further research. Certainly, upcoming developments will raise important questions, to which the concept of psychological ownership can make a valuable contribution.
The tragedy of the commons is a well-known problem we face: How can consumers be encouraged to take better care of public goods? In their recent research, Joann Peck (University of Wisconsin-Madison), Colleen P. Kirk (New York Institute of Technology), Andrea W. Luangrath (University of Iowa), and Suzanne B. Shu (Cornell University) use marketing knowledge to address issues of sustainability for public resources. The authors propose that psychological ownership over a public good, i.e. people feel as if the property is one’s own, increases the propensity for stewardship behaviors. Their research shows that individual-level behavioral intervention of increasing psychological ownership is able to affect nonowners’ behavior toward resources. These findings offer new insights into how social welfare can be improved and can benefit marketers of public good.
Research on the consequences of psychological ownership has mostly focused on its effects on the relationship with a specific target of ownership. But could it be that psychological ownership also has carry-over effects on domains unrelated to the specific target of ownership? A new research by Ata Jami (Northwestern University), Maryam Kouchaki (Northwestern University), and Francesca Gino (Harvard University) examines this question. Specifically, the authors propose that psychological ownership increases prosocial behavior behavior because it boosts people’s self-esteem and therefore makes them more willing to help out. They also identify materialism and mine-me sensitivity as moderators of this effect. This research suggests that psychological ownership besides having profound implications on our relationships with possessions can also affect behavior in unrelated domains, such as altruistic behavior.
A recent research reveals a novel antecedent of psychological ownership: smell. Ruta Ruzeviciute (University of Amsterdam), Bernadette Kamleitner (WU Vienna University of Economics and Business) and Dipayan Biswas (University of South Florida) examined the effect of scented advertising on product appeal. They found that scented as opposed to non-scented advertising increases product appeal. Interestingly, the authors found that the mechanism accounting for this effect is a sense of proximity induced by scent, which in turn increases psychological ownership. In other words, when people smell a scented (vs. non-scented) ad, they like the advertised product more because they experience it as being closer to them and more ‘theirs’. These findings add to the literature on proximity as an antecedent of psychological ownership implying that it is not only through direct contact and touch that people can experience psychological ownership, as prior research has shown; smell can also induce psychological ownership through its ability to represent the essence of an object that is not physically present.
The self-ownership effect is well-documented in the literature: Objects that are owned by the self are categorized faster than objects owned by others. This effect has been repeatedly shown indicating that the self is a very powerful category that influences memory and information processing. However, not much is known about boundary conditions of this effect and more specifically if valence of the objects plays a role. Prior research has mostly used abstract geometric shapes. But what about objects that differ in their desirability? Does the self-ownership effect hold for all self-owned objects or only for those with positive valence? This is the question that Marius Golubickis (University of Aberdeen, UK; University of Toronto, Canada), Nerissa S. P. Ho (University of York, UK), Johanna K. Falbén (University of Aberdeen), Carlotta L. Schwertel (University of Aberdeen), Alessia Maiuri (University of Aberdeen), Dagmara Dublas (University of Aberdeen), William A. Cunningham (University of Toronto, Canada), and C. Neil Macrae (University of Aberdeen) addressed in their research. Their results show that object desirability does play a role and that the effect of ownership is moderated by pre-existing object properties. That is, the effect holds only when desirable (vs. undesirable) objects are owned by the self and is reversed for objects owned by others. These findings offer new insights into the self-ownership effect and the moderating role of valence.
In these hard times, films have become loyal companions in many people’s lives, which have been radically altered by social distancing. Our blog is taking this opportunity to present today a short film that explores the interplay between boundaries and ownership. The film is inspired by scenes from everyday life that all of us have repeatedly experienced: For example, arriving at a doctor’s office and having to wait for some time. How do you decide where to sit? Or how do you decide whether to sit or stand in the first place?
Situations like this and the ensuing questions about the usage of shared space inspired the research behind the film “Inclusion by Division: When Boundaries Turn No Man’s Land into Some Man’s Land” by Renato Regis, Bernadette Kamleitner, Monika Koller (WU Vienna) and Carina Thürridl (University of Amsterdam). By means of interviews and a small scale experiment, the researchers shed light on how people use and create visual boundaries in space to demark their territory in social occasions. The film was presented at the film festival of ACR (Association for Consumer Research) 2019 conference in Atlanta.
This work proposes that visual boundaries facilitate the (temporary) appropriation and ownership of restricted spaces, helping people within them to protect their (temporarily owned) space and people outside to identify and reduce empty spaces. Seemingly, the simple addition of small boundaries in the environment can allow for inclusion and curb space-consuming by reducing territorial behaviors.
At the upcoming Society for Consumer Psychology (SCP) conference in Huntington Beach, CA, there will be a session dedicated to the topic of psychological ownership. The session is called “Experiencing ‘MINENESS’: Extensions of Psychological Ownership in New Consumer Contexts” and is chaired by Ipek Demirdag, University of California Los Angeles. According to the conference website, it includes the following talks: “Creating Ownership Where Ownership Does not Exist: Psychological Ownership Increases Enjoyment in Sharing Economy” (Demirdag and Shu); “Virtual Touch Facilitates Psychological Ownership of Products in Virtual Reality” (Luangrath, Peck, Hedgcock, and Xu); “‘It Can (Cannot) Be Mine’: How a Person in a Photo Impacts the Viewer’s Perception of a New Experiential Product” (Lu, Peck, and Barfield); and “Psychology of Heritage: The Endowment Effect for Extraordinary Goods” (Christensen and Shu). The session will take place on Saturday 7 March from 9:10 to 10:30 am at Salon F of Hyatt Regency Hotel in Huntington Beach, CA. If you are attending the conference, don’t forget to mark your calendars. We are excited to hear more about current developments in psychological ownership research!
Can experiencing positive affect during consumption make consumers feel that a brand is ‘theirs’? A recently published paper by Carina Thürridl (University of Amsterdam), Bernadette Kamleitner (WU Vienna), Ruta Ruzeviciute (University of Amsterdam), Sophie Süssenbach (WU Vienna), and Stephan Dickert (Queen Mary University London) answers that yes, it can! Among the authors of this paper, the readers of this blog can recognize many researchers who have been associated for long with the current blog as contributors. This team of researchers examined the role that positive affect may play in the development of psychological ownership. Across various studies with various product categories and real as well as fictitious brands, they found that experiencing positive affect during consumption induces stronger feelings of psychological ownership for a brand. They also found that this effect is stronger when a brand has an affective positioning in the first place. You can learn more about this research by having a look at the cartoon-style summary below. And if this triggers your curiosity further, you can read the complete article here. Don’t forget: for a maximum sense of psychological ownership, make sure you read it when being in a good mood!
A survey of pet owners found that they spent an average of US$2,883 in 2016 on 22 “common expenses” for their dogs, compared with $1,926 for cats, based on an analysis of the data collected for the 2017-2018 National Pet Owners Survey. The extra money went primarily toward vet visits and kennel boarding, but dog owners also spent more on treats, grooming and toys.
And almost half of households own a dog, while just 38 percent have a cat. Generational trends suggest this divergence is likely to grow, as millennials are more likely to adopt a canine, while baby boomers tend to be cat lovers.
One reason suggested was that dog owners had stronger bonds to their pets, which prompted them to spend more on things like veterinary care.
My research uncovered a key factor indicating why dog owners feel more attached to their pets: Dogs are famously more compliant than cats. When owners feel in control of their pets, strong feelings of psychological ownership and emotional attachment develop. And pet owners want to be masters – not servants.
Like other marketing researchers, my work uses “willingness to pay” as an indicator of the economic, rather than emotional, value owners place on their pets. It shows – and compares – how much pet owners would pay to save their animal’s life.
Who’s in control?
So I carried out three online experiments to explore the role of psychological ownership in these valuations.
In the first experiment, I asked dog or cat owners to write about their pet’s behavior so I could measure their feelings of control and psychological ownership. Participants then imagined their pet became ill and indicated the most they would be willing to pay for a life-saving surgery.
Dog owners, on average, said they would pay $10,689 to save the life of their pet, whereas cat owners offered less than half that. At the same time, dog owners tended to perceive more control and psychological ownership over their pets, suggesting this might be the reason for the difference in spending.
Of course, correlation is not causation. So in a second experiment, I asked participants how much they would be willing to pay to save their animal’s life after I had disturbed their sense of ownership. I did this by asking participants to imagine their pet’s behavior was a result of training it received from a previous owner.
As expected, disrupting their feelings of ownership eliminated the difference in valuation between dogs and cats.
Since pet owners like to control their animals, and since cats are less controllable than dogs, the third experiment went straight to the point: Does the owner value the dog or cat for its own sake or for its compliant behavior?
To find out, I again asked survey respondents to describe how much they’d be willing to pay to save their pet’s life, but this time I randomly assigned one of four scenarios: Participants were told they either own a dog, a cat, a dog that behaves like a cat, or a cat that behaves like a dog.
Participants reported they would pay $4,270 to save the life of their dog, but only $2,462 for their cat. However, this pattern was reversed when the pet’s behavior changed, with dog-behaving cats valued at $3,636, but cat-behaving dogs only $2,372.
These results clearly show that the animal’s behavior is what makes people willing to pay.
Master or servant
These findings establish that psychological ownership is a driving factor in dog owners’ higher valuations.
People feel ownership because they perceive that they can control their pets’ behavior. This research even distinguishes the type of control that probably most stimulates ownership feelings: It’s not just physical control, such as being able to pick up an animal or drag it by a leash. Rather, it’s the animal’s voluntary compliance with its owner’s wishes.
No matter how cute and cuddly your kitties may be, they can’t compete with dogs when it comes to giving pet owners the sense of mastery they seek.
This article has been updated to correct how much pet owners say they spend on their cats and explain the data more completely.