Children's and Adults' Reasoning in Property Entitlement Disputes
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An understanding of ownership is an important aspect of child development because it helps to promote harmonious social interactions. People are typically restricted from using objects belonging to others. Respecting others’ ownership rights is necessary for socially appropriate behaviour. Because of the frequent property disputes that children engage in, it might be expected that preschoolers’ appreciation for ownership is limited and that adult input is needed to teach children about ownership rights. In three experiments, I demonstrate the opposite. Preschoolers value ownership rights more strongly than do adults and support ownership rights in property entitlement disputes between a possessor and an owner. An additional two experiments demonstrate that although children strongly value ownership rights above other principles of entitlement, they show some flexibility in their reasoning about ownership rights when provided with sufficiently compelling reasons to consider disregarding these rights. These findings show developmental differences in children’s ability to determine when ownership rights should be disregarded. Older children and adults disregard ownership rights when they are provided with compelling enough reasons do so, whereas younger children often uphold owners’ rights to the exclusion of all other factors. Together, these studies challenge the intuitive view that children learn about ownership from adult input. Rather than strengthening children’s appreciation of ownership rights, adult input may serve to teach children about situations where it is socially appropriate to disregard ownership.