The development of territory-based inferences of ownership

Cognition 177:142-149 (2018)
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Abstract
Legal systems often rule that people own objects in their territory. We propose that an early-developing ability to make territory-based inferences of ownership helps children address informational demands presented by ownership. Across 6 experiments (N = 504), we show that these inferences develop between ages 3 and 5 and stem from two aspects of the psychology of ownership. First, we find that a basic ability to infer that people own objects in their territory is already present at age 3 (Experiment 1). Children even make these inferences when the territory owner unintentionally acquired the objects and was unaware of them (Experiments 2 and 3). Second, we find that between ages 3 and 5, children come to consider past events in these judgments. They move from solely considering the current location of an object in territory-based inferences, to also considering and possibly inferring where it originated (Experiments 4 to 6). Together, these findings suggest that territory-based inferences of ownership are unlikely to be constructions of the law. Instead, they may reflect basic intuitions about ownership that operate from early in development.
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Archival date: 2018-04-24
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