Traces left by previous owners and evaluation of used goods

How do visible traces of previous owners on products in secondary markets affect buyers’ evaluations? This is an interesting question for secondary markets like eBay, where thousands of used goods are sold and products start a second life after having being disposed by their initial owners. However, as many consumers tend to customize or personalize their products, this may leave on the products visible traces of the previous owners. How does that affect potential buyers’ evaluations of these goods? Jungkeun Kim (Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand) examined this question in several studies. He found that buyers evaluate used goods with salient traces of previous owners less positively because the salience of these traces makes it harder for potential buyers to psychologically appropriate the product and develop feelings of psychological ownership. Analyses of actual transactions from also confirmed this effect. Apparently, making used goods ours presupposes forgetting that they used to be someone else’s; and erasing previous owners’ traces – even literally, e.g. with a cleaning service, as these studies show – may help overcome these psychological barriers that may prevent us from buying used goods.

You can read more about this research here.

“The Future of Ownership Research” Workshop 2017

As already announced earlier this month, our team hosted an interdisciplinary workshop on ownership research at the WU Vienna University of Economics and Business in collaboration with our colleagues Joann Peck (University of Wisconsin-Madison) and Stephan Dickert (Queen Mary University of London).


The Origanizational Committee

The workshop took place on July 7th and 8th and we are now happy to be able to share the highlights of this special get-together with you. You will find a detailled report by [CLICKING HERE]. Alternatively, you can also reach the page through the main navigation under the “events” tab.

We are still in the process of adding more material as we go so make sure to check back regularly for new insights on the future of ownership research.



The concept of psychological ownership (PO) as we know and understand today has originated from the field of organizational behavior and psychology. More precisely, Pierce, Kostova & Dirks (2001, 2003) were the first ones to coin the term and establish a theory of PO in organizations. Defined as “the state in which individuals feel as though the target of ownership (material or immaterial in nature) or a piece of it is “theirs”, they were able to show that PO develops through three distinct routes: control over, self-investment in, and intimate knowledge of the target of ownership (Pierce et al. 2003). In addition to these three routes, many scholars have argued that personality and disposition may also matter for the emergence of PO, yet this has never been properly tested.

In his PhD thesis, our current guest author Bobby Bullock, has explored this gap in the literature and has taken a closer look at the relationship between personality, job autonomy and psychological ownership. Moreover, he has looked at how the well-established routes through which PO is said to emerge come into play in the context of organizational employment.

But read for yourself what Bobby Bullock has to say:

Psychological ownership has come to light as an important state with strong implications on employee attitudes and behaviors.  However, relatively little attention has been paid towards the process by which employees come to develop feelings of psychological ownership towards their work, particularly regarding the role played by individual traits in this process.  Ownership theorists claim that personality and disposition should matter (Mayhew, Ashkanasy, Bramble, & Gardner, 2007; Pierce & Jussila, 2011), yet these claims remain largely untested.

The purpose of the current investigation is to address these gaps by exploring how employee disposition and job design contribute to the development of job-based psychological ownership.  Employing a cross-sectional approach, data were collected using an online survey where participants were asked to complete measures of trait positive affectivity (PA), job characteristics, work experiences, and job-based psychological ownership.  Because the study focused on job-related phenomena, participants were required to work full-time in a location other than their home to be considered for this study.  The final 426 participants (60.4% male, 39.6% female) had an average tenure of 5.04 years (SD = 5.03) and represented a wide range of industries and job levels (23.7% entry-level, 31.0% individual contributor, 17.8% supervisory, 10.8% mid-level manager, 2.8% senior manager, 13.8% technical or professional).  Hypotheses were tested using bootstrapped regression analyses and structural equation modeling.

Results indicated that job autonomy has a positive effect on job-based psychological ownership (B = 0.501, CI 0.415 to 0.594) through three mediated paths:  investment of ideas, effort, and self into one’s work (B = 0.252, CI 0.178 to 0.349), experienced control and influence over one’s work (B = 0.214, CI 0.137 to 0.293), and intimate knowledge and understanding of one’s job (B = 0.036, CI 0.003 to 0.082).  Employee PA significantly moderated the mediated path from autonomy to ownership through experienced control (Index of ModMed = 0.017, CI 0.000 to 0.045), such that control mattered more for high-PA employees.  Exploratory analyses suggest that PA may play a dual role – as a moderator of autonomy’s effects on control (B = 0.052, CI 0.009 to 0.100), and as an indirect effect on ownership itself.  For example, high-PA employees reported greater investment of self in their work, which in turn predicted job-based psychological ownership (B = 0.255, CI 0.177 to 0.361).

Ultimately, job autonomy stood out as having a particularly strong and consistent positive effect on job-based psychological ownership.  Results suggest that all employees, from the most enthusiastic to the most apathetic can experience this positive psychological state.  That is, as long as they are afforded a high level of autonomy in deciding how to plan and carry out their work.

If you are interested in reading the full paper including more detailed results, please click here.

About Bobby:

Dr. Robert Bullock is a management consultant with a background in industrial-organizational (I-O) psychology. Since 2010 he has been a staff consultant at Scontrino–Powell, Inc., a Seattle-based I-O consulting firm. As a consultant Robert specializes in qualitative and quantitative assessment (i.e., employee surveys, leadership evaluations, developmental needs assessments, organizational assessments, validation studies), learning and development (i.e., training workshops, on-the-job learning, leadership coaching, training evaluation), and continuous improvement (i.e., Lean workshops, continuous process improvement, culture change). He has provided those services to dozens of clients across a diverse range of sectors and industries, including Fortune 500 companies, state agencies, and the high-tech, education, health care, and non-profit sectors. As a scientist Robert has published and presented research on the psychology of ownership, organizational citizenship behaviors, and job design. He enjoys writing and has had articles published in several outlets including Forbes, Bloomberg, Profiles International, and more.

For more about Bobby, please click here.

Editor’s note: All references can be found in the whitepaper, which you can download here.

Introducing Our New Category: The Voice of Practice


Dear community,

Science – including The Science of Ownership – would not matter as much, if it had no implications for and would not be inspired by the real world out there. Though The Science of Ownership is primarily about research on the notion of ownership, we decided to extend our current lens and introduce a brand new category to this blog: The Voice of Practice.

As the name already suggests, we are trying to get practitioners and non-researchers views to find out how, why, when, and most importantly where the experience of ownership strikes and impacts our daily lives. We will co-operate with industry experts and potentially also interested lay people. We will give them the chance to reflect on the topic of ownership based on their practical know-how and everyday experiences. Sometimes, we will invite people. At other times, we will introduce individuals who have approached us.

Either way, we are excited to see how this new category will contribute to our vision: to create a much-needed and unified understanding of the diverse and fascinating concept of ownership.

If you have comments or questions on The Voice of Practice or would like to see a particular voice featured, please feel free to contact us anytime. For now, we wish you a lovely week.

All the best,

The Science of Ownership Team

May we introduce: Joann Peck

“I am surprised that [psychological ownership] 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.”

After a number of amazing guest posts and news about a variety of ownership workshops, symposia and events, we are really happy to be back with a well-deserved addition to our Featured section. More specifically, we are delighted to introduce Joann Peck to you and show you what she has to say about her relationship with the phenomenon that we call psychological ownership.


Joann is currently engaged in a triple role as an Associate Professor of Marketing, Associate Dean of the Undergraduate program as well as Interim Director of the MBA Bolz Center for Arts Administration at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In her research, she mainly focuses on psychological ownership and how it relates to haptics, i.e. the sense of touch. Beyond PO and touch, she is currently working on a plethora of exciting new projects, which she briefly touches on in the interview.If you are just as curious as we are about what Joann is up to next and how she sees the field evolving, you should definitely not miss this interview. For the full interview simply follow us this way.


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 (; 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

Keeping up with the Joneses: Thoughts About Income Inequality, Status Competition and Psychological Ownership

Like many of the members of this blog, I am interested in theories that attempt to capture the cognitive and affective components of psychological ownership. I believe that an important avenue for future research is investigation of the role of our possessions in the dynamically evolving socio-economic context. I would therefore like to use this opportunity to highlight a potentially interesting new angle in studying the role our belongings play in our lives. A growing body of empirical evidence shows that there is a strong negative relationship between income inequality and various indices of societal well-being. Income inequality is seen in distributions of income if a large proportion of income is received by a small percentage of the population, leading in turn to even greater wealth inequalities. For example, in a highly unequal country such as USA, the wealthiest 1% possess approximately 40% of all the wealth. Contrary to the predictions of economists, the money does not flow from the richest to the poorest, and income inequality worsens with time. Why is this an important issue? A great deal of evidence now shows that when large gaps in income and wealth exist between the richest and the poorest, society suffers from a range of socio-economic maladies. Income inequality is positively associated with the number of teenage pregnancies, homicides, imprisonment rates and obesity. At the same time, it is negatively correlated with social mobility and general level of trust in a society. For a great review I would recommend an excellent book by Wilkinson and Pickett (2009 – reference at the bottom).

In my research, I have been particularly interested in the psychological mechanisms that may explain the impact of inequality. One account is based on status-seeking tendencies. Some theories, such as the social rank hypothesis (Brown, G. D. A., Boyce, C. J., & Wood, 2014; Walasek & Brown, 2015), argue that when income distribution is more unequal, income becomes a better signal of our social status. What follows is that inequality will promote positional consumption, whereby people spend more time and effort to seek high-status goods. In order to “keep up with the Joneses” people become more materialistic, surrounding themselves with fancy cars (Bricker et al., 2014), bigger houses (Cynamon & Fazzari, 2013), luxurious brands (Chao & Schor, 1996). In fact, evidence from economics shows that in order to afford these goods, people work longer hours (Bowles & Park, 2005). Nonetheless, they are still more likely to take on debt (Perugini, Jens, & Collie, 2015) or declare bankruptcy (Alvarez-Cuadrado & Attar, 2012). According to the social rank hypothesis, focus on status consumption takes away from other important aspects of life, such as efforts to promote a healthy social relationships or looking after one’s own health. In one of our recent studies, together with Gordon Brown (2015), we have shown that when income inequality is high, people search Google for luxury brands and products, such as Prada, Gucci, Chanel, fur vests, jewellery etc. Thus, when distribution of income in a society is unequal, people become more interested in status competition, which is reflected in their interest in positional goods.

How this is all related to psychological ownership? As income inequality becomes recognized as a serious challenge to the well-being in our society, the role our possessions play in our lives may be changing. Many theories of psychological ownership maintain that belongings play an important role for our self-identity, satisfying many critical psychological needs (Pierce & Jussila, 2011). What happens when the utility of our belongings comes from the role they play in status competition? If we spend our money to show off our new watch or fur coat, are we unavoidably less attached to these goods? Or, perhaps, do we develop feelings of ownership towards objects while they allow us to signal our status, with these feelings dissipating when we realize that the good is owned by everyone else? Since these goods are quickly dispensable, being replaced by newer and swankier models and brands, it seems that there is little space for psychological ownership to develop. I should note that this issue is not just related to materialistic consumption but to positional consumption. For the former, owning material goods presents value in itself. For the latter, utility from owning a good comes from the fact that few others own such possession.

These and many other questions make me wonder about the ever-changing meaning of ownership in our society. It reminds me of an excellent talk by Russell Belk at the Vienna Ownership Workshop, who presented compelling evidence that the sense of owning changes (if not depreciates) with the growing popularity of shared goods and services (Belk, 2010). I think that more work needs to be done in order to explore how the concept of psychological ownership changes along with the values in a society that are determined by the socio-economic circumstances.

Perhaps this research has been already done and I am just not aware of it. Just let me know if this is the case.

Editor’s note: