The Two Faces of Ownership: Special Section on (Psychological) Ownership and Economic Decisions has arrived!

By Bernadette Kamleitner & Stephan Dickert

As the observant readers of this ownership blog are bound to know, many aspects of our daily decisions and routines revolve around questions related to ownership. Sometimes we pay close attention to what is “ours”, other times we have little awareness of and care for whose possession something is, or we freely share consumption goods (such as food), services (e.g., giving someone a lift), and advice. But how can we make progress on a phenomenon that is enmeshed in different approaches and frameworks, we hear you ask… Fret not, because just in time another special section on Psychological Ownership has arrived to save the day and highlight some facets of the phenomenon!

We gladly announce that all the proofs of our special section have cleared the editing stage and that the contributions are now available online (http://www.journals.elsevier.com/journal-of-behavioral-and-experimental-economics/recent-articles/); the journey that we as a team started in 2013, with the workshop on psychological ownership, has made another step forward towards providing us with a better understanding of the multifaceted influences of ownership.

The special section consists of five exciting papers and a short introduction to the topic by us (A big thank you to all contributors, reviewers, and in particular Ofer Azar for making this special section possible!). What we set out to do is to highlight the two faces of ownership, the legal and the psychological, and their various links to an explicitly varied set of economic decisions in an explicitly varied set of contexts. That is precisely what we got. Jointly the contributions manage to sketch large stretches of the vast potential scope of ownership research. The contributions help understand how legal ownership over something changes one’s attitude and treatment of one’s possessions (e.g., Arora, Bert, Podesta & Krantz, 2015), how ownership history (Wang, Ong, and Tang (2015) and congruence between oneself and the consumption good can change how much we value owning something (Thomas, Yeh, and Jewell, 2015), how psychological ownership can be a result of how financial decisions are made (Kirk, McSherry, & Swain, 2015), and whether being ostracized influences psychological ownership (Walasek, Matthews, & Rakow, 2015).

Given the pervasiveness of ownership as a phenomenon, these insights may help us to identify possible implications of changes to everyday life. And changes we see. In a time characterized by demographic change and social mobility, people are confronted with a world in which things constantly speed up: Potential de-individualization can be an ailment resulting from the speed at which our society plows forward. (Psychological) possessions could and are used to act as an antidote that is sometimes within a moment’s reach. It takes less than a second to post something on the internet and make it instantly available around the globe. It also takes less than a minute to order and potentially download nearly any digital product. For some goods, the notion of ownership history has taken on a whole new meaning.

The speed-up is not only digital, with 3D printers up and coming people not only get others to produce their customized designs, they may be able to produce them themselves. Simultaneously, whatever we make is becoming more accessible to the rest of the world than ever before. Products are on the verge of turning into agents. Many products potentially know more about us—and themselves—than we. What does this mean for the legal and the psychological face of ownership? At the recent opening symposium of SCP Vienna questions such as these have been raised. In particular, Russ Belk opened up a debate of the implications of objects becoming human like. What it means to call something our “own” may change rapidly in the future. The more we understand about it now, the better equipped we will be to use it as a key to unlocking implications of trends that engulf us as we speak.

Editor’s note:

  • For references to the articles mentioned in this post, please visit our Links & Resources Section

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