What motivates us to feel ownership over a target?

People experience feelings of ownership not only for physical goods (i.e. products they can touch and see), but also for digital goods, ideas, designs, other people, or public goods, like organisations.

But what motivates us to feel ownership over those different targets? In a review article on psychological ownership in marketing and consumer research, Joann Peck (University of Wisconsin-Madison) and Andrea W. Luangrath (University of Iowa) are discussing the underlying motivations behind psychological ownership, as well as considering its antecedents and consequences. As key motives, they are discussing (1) effectance motivation, (2) signaling self-identity, (3) feeling at home, and (4) need for stimulation. If a person feels psychological ownership of a target, more than one motive can be active, e.g. if you experience psychological ownership of a parking space (My parking space) or a book (My edition of ‘The old man and the sea’) or a pet (My black cat).

You can find more about the research of Peck and Luangrath (2023) here.

Can’t touch this! How digitalization affects psychological appropriation

The complex relationship between digitalization and psychological appropriation is the topic of a recent work by Bernadette Kamleitner and Michail Kokkoris published in the latest edition of The Routledge Handbook of Digital Consumption (edited by Rosa Llamas and Russell Belk). In their work, the authors propose that digitalization has a profound psychological impact in that it blurs numerous perceptual and conceptual boundaries. As a consequence of this “Big Blur”, people struggle to “grasp” blurred entities and concepts, because the ability to grasp the essence of things is a deep-seated human need. Therefore, digital consumers respond to diminished graspability by craving for psychological ownership. The authors review various contemporary market trends that support this proposition, such as the use of “my” claims in marketing, regionality, voluntary simplicity and minimalism. At the same time, digitalization is also used to combat this lack of graspability. Digital market offerings promise consumers to help them psychologically appropriate entities and concepts. However, what appears to be a promise of graspability in the digital world is often a mere façade (e.g., user-friendly interfaces) that cannot adequately satisfy consumers’ appropriation needs and deliver what it promises. This inevitably leads to a vicious circle, where digitalization simultaneously erodes and fuels the desire for psychological appropriation.

You can read the full chapter here.

How to promote psychological ownership for a shared resource?

Shared resources, such as safe water infrastructure, have the potential to positively affect the environment and people’s health. In recent decades, there has been increased efforts around the world to install new shared safe water infrastructure. However, ensuring such infrastructure in low- and middle-income countries remains a challenge, often due to negligent operation and maintenance. One possible solution to ensure long-term functionality and access would be the participation of communities in planning, installing, and managing the shared resources. In their article, Benjamin Ambühl, Bal Mukunda Kunwar, Ariane Schertenleib, Sara J. Marks,  and Jennifer Inauen (Eawag: Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation, University of Bern) address this issue by investigating the effects of a participatory intervention on the acceptance, use, and management of community-based safe water infrastructure in rural Nepal and the mediating role of psychological ownership. The authors conducted a nonrandomized cluster-based controlled trial with pre–post intervention assessment in 33 villages in rural Nepal. Their results reveal that participatory intervention activities, such as influence in decision-making or contributing materials and labour, favourably affected self-reported outcomes and use of the water supply infrastructure but not observed functionality or drinking water quality. Certain participatory activities related to increased psychological ownership, such as involvement in decision-making, attending meetings, and contributing materials. Concerning the mediating role of psychological ownership, the study reveal that the effects of some forms of participation on outcomes were mediated by psychological ownership whereas others were not. By examining community managed systems and environments, the authors extend previous research on the effect of psychological ownership on stewardship of public goods (see research by Peck et al., 2021).

You can find more about this research here.

Have you ever felt like your Airbnb hosts’ property is yours? Psychological Ownership and P2P services

In their current research, Giovanni Pino (University of Chieti-Pescara), Marta Nieto-García (Portsmouth Business School) and Carol X. Zhang (Nottingham Business School) take a closer look at psychological ownership in the context of peer-to-peer (P2P) services. P2P services, like AirBnB or carpooling, do not involve ownership transfer; consumers can make use of resources without the responsibility associated with ownership. However, consumers still may experience psychological ownership toward their service providers’ resources, such as their house or car. The research of Pino and colleagues demonstrates that (1) customer–service provider identification engenders a sense of psychological ownership toward a P2P service setting, (2) psychological ownership, in turn, fosters customer attitudinal and behavioral loyalty, and, (3) cooperative interactions between customers and service providers moderate the effect that customer–service provider identification exerts on customer loyalty via psychological ownership. Thus, the consumers’ feeling of psychological ownership is relevant to P2P services as it might result in a favourable disposition toward a certain service and motivates consumers to use the same service again in the future. A lack of connection might not only result in limited interest in reusing the resources but, in some cases, might even promote misbehaviour.

You can read more about this research here.

Who should you entrust with your data? – Your selfish or your prosocial friend?

We frequently share personal data with companies when using online services. Oftentimes, these data not only include information about ourselves, but also information we hold about others, for example friends and family. In their recent research, Joris Demmers, Andrea N. Weihrauch, and Frauke H. Mattison Thompson from the University of Amsterdam examine whether consumers differ in their willingness to share others’ data depending on their social value orientation. Their findings reveal that selfish people are less likely to share others’ data compared to prosocial people, because they feel less ownership for others’ data than prosocials do. Thus, possibly contrary to your own intuition, you might want to trust your selfish friend more than your prosocial friend when it comes to your online privacy.

Demmers et al. (2021) argue that feelings of ownership are the reason why people are more or less likely to infringe on others’ privacy. Future research should have a closer look at further explanations for why people infringe on others’ privacy by sharing their data online. When is the cost of infringing on someone else’s privacy perceived as justifiable? An even deeper understanding of why these so called interpersonal privacy infringements occur is essential to prevent possible harmful consequences of this behavior. Check out this article by Kamleitner and Mitchell (2019) to find out more about the phenomenon of interpersonal privacy infringements.

Click here to read the full article by Demmers et al. (2021).

Can psychological ownership help to mobilize people to get vaccines?

Vaccines have been crucial for dealing with infectious diseases. However, overcoming vaccine hesitancy remains challenging. In their article, Hengchen Dai (Anderson School of Management, University of California) and colleagues examine whether a communication strategy using reminders impact vaccine intentions. They report data from two sequential large-scale randomized controlled trials that investigate whether nudging people to get vaccinated can improve the uptake of vaccines. The authors randomized whether participants received text-message-based reminders or not and assessed whether they subsequently scheduled an appointment for the COVID-19 vaccine and eventually obtained the vaccine. In the first reminder the authors varied whether the reminder was designed to induce feelings of psychological ownership over the vaccine. Reminders indicated that the vaccine had ‘just been made available for you’ and encouraged participants to ‘claim your dose’. The results reveal that text-based reminders designed to overcome barriers can effectively encourage vaccinations. The effects are heightened when the reminders leverage psychological ownership, making people feel that a dose of the vaccine belongs to them. The research of Hengchen Dai and colleagues thus provide valuable insights into how vaccine uptake can be maximized and highlight the value of inducing feelings of ownership.

You can read more about this research here.

Using Psychological Ownership to Enhance Stewardship Behavior for Public Goods

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.

You can read more about this research here.

Psychological ownership and prosocial behavior

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.

You can read more about this research here.

Smell and psychological ownership

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.

You can read more about this research here.

So happy that it’s mine!

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! PO emotions