Joann Peck

Name: Joann Peck
Current Position: Associate Professor of Marketing, Associate Dean of the Undergraduate program, Interim Director of the MBA Bolz Center for Arts Administration
Institute & Organization: University of Wisconsin-Madison
Main Research Interests: Psychological ownership, haptics (touch)
Short Biography: I started my academic life focused on haptics, or the sense of touch. Part of my interest was the growth of online, or no touch media. I began with an investigation of individual factors, product factors and situational factors that influence an individuals’ motivation to touch a product. From this, came the realization that touch has powers even beyond simply providing product information such as texture or weight. I was also exposed to Jon Pierce’s work as a Phd student at the University of Minnesota and couldn’t help thinking that mere touch may increase the feeling of ownership a person has over an object, even if they do not legally own it. A few years later, I was a visiting professor at the University of Chicago and met Suzanne Shu who was a PhD student working on endowment work. We were convinced that mere touch could influence the value of an object, and we continue to collaborate on interesting psychological ownership questions..
Contact Information: see e-mail
Website: Joann Peck at University of Wisconsin-Madison


the interview

(1) How do you define ownership in your research?

Joann Peck: I have used the Pierce, Kostova and Dirks 2001 definition of psychological ownership where an individual feels that the target of ownership is “theirs” and they are psychologically tied to an object.

(2) How does your research relate to ownership? What are you interested in specifically?

Joann Peck: My first work on psychological ownership looked at the mere touch of an object increasing the feeling of psychological ownership and valuation of an object, even without legal ownership (Peck & Shu, 2009; Shu & Peck 2011). An antecedent of psychological ownership is control, which may include not only control of buying and selling an of an object, but also physical control through touch. Suzanne Shu was interested in the endowment effect and I was interested in the sense of touch or haptics. We brought these together in our work.

I have also examined haptic imagery (imagine touching) and its effect on psychological ownership and object valuation (Peck, Barger & Webb 2013). Most recently Suzanne Shu and I are using psychological ownership in an effort to increase feelings of ownership over a shared resource in order to attenuate the tragedy of the commons (Hardin 1968). The “tragedy” occurs because each person is intent on maximizing their own outcome and fails to take responsibility for the resource, thus making it less valuable in the long run. We are taking the antecedents of psychological ownership as identified by Pierce et. al (2001; control, investing the self, and intimately knowing) and manipulating them in order to increase the feeling of ownership by the individuals. We are in the process of a field experiment and think that the idea of psychological ownership has been underexplored in the social marketing area.

(3) How did you first get involved with the topic and why? Are there any specific events or people from your academic or your personal life that have influenced your interest in ownership research?

Joann Peck: As a PhD student at the University of Minnesota, I had heard of Jon Pierce’s work from Don Ferrin, a friend who was a PhD student in management. Don first suggested that mere touch may have an influence on feelings of ownership. The last 1990’s was the first I had heard of this idea of psychological ownership. I had that in the back of my mind, when, several years later, I met Suzanne Shu when I was a visiting Professor at the University of Chicago and she was finishing up her PhD there. We began talking about research overlap between haptics and the endowment effect. In addition to being a friend, she is a fantastic co-author and we continue to work together.

(4) What surprises you about ownership as a human phenomenon?

Joann Peck: I am surprised that it did not make it into the marketing and consumer psychology literature until recently. There are so many ways that it is applicable from product acquisition, to use to disposition. As a field, we are just beginning to tap into it.

(5) In Your Opinion:

  • What is the most influential article or piece of writing relevant to the phenomenon of ownership? I would say the Pierce, Kostova, Dirks 2001 article.
  • What is your favorite personal possession? I feel like I don’t get too attached to objects, however, when we had a tornado warning, the only object that I worried about and carried down to the basement was my bike… so I guess that says something!
  • Would you share it? Maybe for a short time… maybe. It is a custom road bike so it likely wouldn’t fit someone else very well. When my dad died, I took the money I received and purchased the bike. I think of my dad when I am out riding.
  • Which of your own contributions are you most proud of? The first paper I did on ownership was the paper with Suzanne Shu published in 2009 in the Journal of Consumer Research. I still have a special fondness for that paper.

(6) What do you think are the most promising avenues of ownership research in the future? Where do you see the field of ownership in the future?

Joann Peck: I decided to put down some random thoughts in this section, not necessarily in any order. One area that I think need to be explored is consumer disposition of objects. Instead of increasing the feeling of psychological ownership, the antecedents of control, investing the self and coming to intimately know an object (Pierce et al. 2001) could be decreased, thus resulting in less psychological ownership. This may allow people to more easily divest of objects.

Examining individual differences as they related to psychological ownership has been understudied. I have one current project with Colleen Kirk and Scott Swain on psychological ownership and territorial infringement, with a special emphasis on narcissism. Whereas narcissists seem to perceive infringement in ambiguous ownership situations, people lower in narcissism do not. This results in interesting actions on the part of individuals. Stay tuned for more on this!

Russ Belk’s work on the sharing economy where individuals do not seem to have the same desire to own is extremely thought provoking. There are many other generational, cultural and/or individual differences that may impact feelings of psychological ownership, as well as some of the antecedents. We have yet to look in to these differences.

I think the work by Liad Weiss and Gita Johar in which your self-definition and self-attributes may change based on your ownership of objects is also fascinating. Not only does ownership flow from the self to the object (as in Belk’s extended self), but also back to the self from the object. We are just beginning to get insights into this area.

I have been fortunate to be the interim director of the Bolz Center for arts administration which is an MBA center training the next generation of leaders in arts organizations. This has opened my eyes to new applications of ownership. For example, we had students spend a half hour with a piece of art in a museum. At first, students were impatient, but, at the end of the time, we found that they developed an intense sense of ownership over “their” object. They explained their object to other students and even made a point to continue visiting their object in the museum over the semester. This seems like a great example of the antecedent “coming to intimately know an object” (Pierce et al. 2001) as a way to increase feelings of ownership. For an appreciation of the arts, and the arts role in perspective taking and empathy, psychological ownership may be critical.

One last mention is the work of Ori Friedman and his work on the development of ownership based on his work with children. Marketing and consumer behavior could examine this area much more thoroughly and develop insights that could be used in public policy.

I am especially grateful to Bernadette Kamleitner and Stephen Dickert for organizing the psychological ownership conference in Vienna. Personally meeting many of the people mentioned, as well as students from all over the world, changed the way I think about psychological ownership. I came away with new perspectives and new friends!

Editor’s note: For references see Links & Resources