Jon L. Pierce

Name: Jon L. Pierce
Current Position: Professor of Organization and Management
Institute & Organization: Department of Management Studies, Labovitz School of Business & Economics, University of Minnesota Duluth (Duluth, Minnesota, USA)
Main Research Interests: In general: The psychology of work and organization. Specifically (most recently): Psychological Ownership and Organization-based Self-esteem
Short Biography: Jon L. Pierce is Professor of Organization and Management in the Department of Management Studies, at the Labovitz School of Business and Economics, University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He received his Ph.D. in management and organizational studies at the University of Wisconsin Madison. In 2005 he was named one of the University of Minnesota’s Horace T. Morse Distinguished Professors in recognition of excellence in teaching and research in the areas of organizational studies. In the same year, he received the UMD Chancellor’s Award for Outstanding Research. Pierce’s teaching interests are in the area of micro-organizational behavior. His research focuses on the psychology of work and organization with a particular focus on organization-based self-esteem and psychological ownership. He is a member of the Academy of Management, was inducted into the ‘Academy of Management Journals Hall of Fame’ in 2000, and has served on the editorial review board for several academic journals (e.g., Academy of Management Journal, Journal of Management, Scandinavian Management Journal). He has published several management and organizational behavior textbooks, and he has authored and published more than seventy papers within the same discipline. His most recent book with Dr. Iiro Jussila (a finalist for the 2012 Academy of Management’s George R. Terry Book Award for its contribution to the advancement of management knowledge) is entitled Psychological Ownership and the Organizational Context: Theory, Evidence, and Application.
Contact Information: UMD Management Studies, Room 110 SBE, D195, 10 University Dr, Duluth, MN 55812
Website: Jon Pierce at University of Minnesota Duluth


the interview

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

Jon Pierce: While I recognize that there are several conceptualizations for the ownership construct (e.g., the legal right of possession or a bundle of rights; a social relationship), my work has almost exclusively revolved around ‘psychological ownership.’ Conceptually we (Pierce, Kostova, & Dirks, 2001, 2003) define psychological ownership as that “state in which an individual feels as though a target of ownership or a piece of that target is theirs” (2001, p. 266).

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

Jon Pierce: Pierce, Kostova, and Dirks (2001, 2003) introduced a theory of psychological ownership. This theory highlights the following components: a) three ‘routes to’ (i.e., paths traveled, experiences had) that are positioned as direct determinants of the emergence of a personal sense of ownership, b) illustration of a set of work and organization structural features that serve as indirect determinants of psychological ownership (i.e., work and organizational environmental conditions [e.g., job design complexity] that puts an individual on one or more of the ‘routes to’ psychological ownership), c) four human motives that serve as the ‘roots of’ (i.e., the reason for, yet not the cause of) psychological ownership, d) core attributes that make an object a viable target of ownership, and e) personal and organizational effects that are produced by a sense of ownership.

As to my core interests, I am interested in empirically examining the different components (relationships) that make up the theory of psychological ownership. In addition, I am interested in responding to the emerging science of psychological ownership by working to modify and further elaborate that theory.

In addition and as a result of the encouragement of a Journal of Organizational Behavior (JOB) reviewer, Dr. Jussila and I elevated the theory of psychological ownership from the individual- to the group-level. This work appeared in JOB in 2010. Currently, I am also working on the validation of instrument for the measurement of collective psychological ownership and an examination of its emergence and effects within the work and organizational context.

(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?

Jon Pierce: During the mid 1980s a friend (Scott Harrison) indicated that he and two other individuals were going to purchase and reopen a recently closed meat processing operation, and that they were going to operate the firm under an ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan) arrangement. It was their plan to place one-third of the firm’s stock into an ESOP trust for their newly hired employees.  Scott indicated that he and his partners understood the legal and financial side of their venture, but not the psychological, asking if I would be willing to monitor the psychological health of the organization during the early stages of its start-up.

Not at all familiar with the employee ownership literature, I buried myself in the science of employee ownership; specifically, the work related to cooperative and ESOP arrangements. By that point in time there had been many studies of both arrangements in Canada and the United States. After reviewing that literature, I came to realize that accompanying ownership, as a legal arrangement, were a set of ‘ownership expectations.’

At the time, many of the existing ESOP arrangements provided their ‘employee owners’ with a financial stake in the organization, and in very few instances did the ownership scheme correspond with the typical owner’s ‘ownership expectations.’ Ownership expectations appeared to involve more than a financial stake in the target of ownership.

More specifically, ownership expectations appear to be shaped by the full bundle of rights that typically accompany the legal right of possession. This bundle of rights consists of the right of exercise some influence/control over the target of ownership, the right of being informed (i.e., the right to information) as to the status of that which is owned, and the right to a ‘piece of target of ownership (i.e., a right to a portion of the owned object’s physical being and/or financial value). In many instances only the later of these three rights were built into the ESOP scheme, yet they were quite commonplace in many of the cooperative arrangements that had and were operating in the plywood industry in America’s pacific northwest, especially those characterized as employee owned, controlled, and managed. These observations brought us to the realization that ownership is also a psychological phenomenon as people come to a sense of ownership.

In 1991, we (Pierce, Rubenfeld, & Morgan) published an article which appeared in the Academy of Management Review (AMR) in which we laid out the results from our review of the employee ownership literature. In that article we commented that ownership not only exists as an objective (legal) phenomenon, but it is also manifests itself as a state of ‘mind.’ This state of mind we call psychological ownership.

As a part of that review process, an unidentified reviewer made a statement suggesting that one of the more intriguing things about your paper is something that you have said very little about, encouraging us in the future to work on the development and elaboration of the notion of ownership as a psychological phenomenon — “What is psychological ownership?”

That reviewer’s comment was powerful, as it launched me into reading, for example, some of the early child development and animal territoriality literature in search for answers to such questions as: What drives a young child to be so possessive, attaching the words ‘my’ and ‘me’ to a blanket and teddy bear? In so doing so, I was introduced the psychology of mine, possession and property literature. In addition, this reviewer’s comment also gave birth to the development of several collegial relationships that would have unlikely developed.

In the fall of 1995, and after numerous conversations about psychological ownership with Professor Larry L. Cummings and several of his doctoral students at the University of Minnesota-Minneapolis, I took a leave of absence to spend time as a visiting scholar in the Department of Psychology at the University of Waikato, in Hamilton New Zealand. This gave me time to read, reflect and to have conversations with Professor Michael O’Driscoll and some of his organizational psychology graduate students. By the time that I returned to Minnesota, I was ready to write the first draft of the paper that eventually appeared in 2001 (Academy of Management Review, co-authored with Drs. Kostova and Dirks).

Since that time I have maintained an interest in psychological ownership and I have had the good fortune to collaborate with many different individuals (e.g., Tatiana Kostova, University of South Carolina; Kurt Dirks, Washington University St. Louis; Michael O’Driscoll, University of Waikato; Linn Van Dyne, Michigan State University; Graham Brown, University of Victoria; Craig Crossly, University of Central Florida; Iiro Jussila, Lappeenranta University of Technology; He Peng, Fudan University; and the late Larry Cummings.

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

Jon Pierce: In 2009, Drs. Joann Peck and Susan Shu published a paper (‘The effects of mere touch on perceived ownership’) in which they reported on the manipulation of ‘object touch’ and ‘object imagery’ and its effects on the sense of ownership. I remain surprised that simply touching a coffee mug or slinky toy, or envisioning taking either home is an experience strong enough to ‘create’ feelings of ownership. For example, I struggle to see how either target possessed the attributes theorized to spawn a sense of ownership, how either act was strong enough to create the sense that the target is a part of the extended self, or how such simple acts could possibly relate to any of the primary needs (i.e., the motives for effectance, self-identity, home, and stimulation) that are theorized to underpin the state of mind that reflects the sense of ownership. Dr. Peck’s more recent work with haptic touch (cf. Peck, Barger, & Webb, 2013) and its perceived ownership effects is, for me, more interesting and understandable. All of this suggests that there remains more to this phenomenon of psychological ownership than I understand –this is both interesting and challenging, as there is much more work to be done.

(5) In Your Opinion:

  • What is the most influential article or piece of writing relevant to the phenomenon of ownership? Wow –this is tough, I don’t want to slight anyone’s work, as I have been strongly influence by many different scholars working in very diverse fields (e.g., child development, territoriality, philosophy, psychology, social psychology, geography, organization behavior/psychology). In response to your question, my initial thinking was strongly influenced by the writings of Helga Dittmar, Lita Furby, and Floyd Rudmin and their focus on the psychology of mine and possessions.
  • What is your favorite personal possession? My Sage fly rod
  • Would you share it? Reluctantly, and then only with a select few.
  • Which of your own contributions are you most proud of? Probably my work with Professors Kostova and Dirks, and the unnamed contributor Larry L. Cummings who died several years before completion and publication of the manuscript. Pierce, J. L., Kostova, T., & Dirks, K. T. (2003). The state of psychological ownership: Integrating and extending a century of research. Review of General Psychology, 7, 84-107.

(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?

Jon Pierce: Dr. Iiro Jussila and I (Pierce & Jussila, 2011) highlight several areas that we believe to be extremely promising, and when addressed should enhance the theory of psychological ownership. Among those issues for exploration are:

  • What is the triggering process for the emergence of psychological ownership (e.g., an attractive target, a manifest need, travels down one or more of the paths to psychological ownership, or the simultaneous occurrence of each)?
  • How much time is needed to facilitate the development of a sense of ownership , and what influence is played by target attribute and path traveled?
  • Who is the psychological owner? Are some individuals more-or-less predisposed to come to a sense of ownership?
  • What individual and situational forces serve as boundary conditions influencing the emergence of psychological ownership?
  • What contributes to the withering and demise of ownership feelings?

Thank you for your interest.

Editor’s note: For references see Links & Resources

One thought on “Jon L. Pierce

  1. Pingback: May We Introduce: Jon L. Pierce | The Science of Ownership

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