Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Children find human-made objects more likely to be owned than natural objects

October 9, 2011
American Psychological Association
Children as young as three are likely to say that things made by humans have owners, but that natural objects, such as pine cones and sea shells, are not owned, according to a new study.

This is an example of an unfamiliar human-made object.
Credit: Image courtesy of the American Psychological Association

Children as young as 3 are likely to say that things made by humans have owners, but that natural objects, such as pine cones and sea shells, are not owned, according to a new study published by the American Psychological Association.

"Determining whether an unfamiliar object is owned is very important because it shows us that young children can decide when they're allowed to take or handle something," said the study's lead author, psychologist Karen Neary, PhD, of Waterloo University in Canada. "This article provides the first evidence about how children judge the ownership of things based on whether those things are 'artificial' or 'natural.'"

A total of 131 children, ages 3 to 6 and mostly from white, middle-class families, were tested in five different experiments at their daycare or preschool. The findings are published online in the APA journal Developmental Psychology.

In the first experiment, 3-year-olds looked at pictures of five recognizable human-made objects (fork, teddy bear, ball, shoe, truck) and five familiar natural objects (leaf, shell, rock, branch, pine cone). The testers did not name the objects but asked each child, "Does this belong to anyone?" Children named the human-made objects as owned 89 percent of the time and natural objects as owned 28 percent of the time.

To ensure that the children weren't basing their judgments on personal experiences, such as owning a teddy bear, the researchers showed six photos of unfamiliar objects to a different group of 57 children, ages 3 to 5. Half of the objects appeared to have been made by people and the other half looked natural. They asked the children the same question: "Does this belong to anyone?" They also conducted a similar experiment with a separate group of 3- and 4-year-olds, but this time the testers told the children which objects were human-made or natural.

In one "unfamiliar objects" experiment, children of each age mostly viewed the natural objects as not being owned, but children younger than 6 were less consistent when asked if the synthetic objects belonged to anyone. However, in the second experiment, the 3- and 4-year-olds judged the human-made objects to be owned more often. This was because the children were told that they were human-made objects, the researchers said.

In a final experiment, the researchers questioned whether 4- and 5-year-olds based their judgments of ownership on the desirability of objects. They showed them a picture of a woman named "Sally" and two pictures of unfamiliar objects, one natural and the other human-made, and asked half the children, "Which one belongs to Sally?" Seventy-two percent of these children said the human-made object belonged to Sally. When they asked the other children which object Sally liked better, 47 percent said Sally liked the human-made object better.

"Although children thought Sally would like the natural objects just as much, they were still more likely to say that she owned the human-made objects," said study co-author Ori Friedman, PhD, also of the University of Waterloo. "It appears children's views of object ownership are not based on whether they think the object is more likeable."

It was difficult to judge if the children consistently considered the objects' origins in determining whether they were owned, according to the researchers. Nonetheless, when the children learned which objects were artificial or natural, they were more likely to say unfamiliar artificial objects were owned.

"It's possible young children are more likely to think artificial objects are owned and natural ones are not because of their experience with objects," Friedman said. "For example, if the object is made of plastic, like a toy, then they assume it most likely belongs to someone. They may transfer that assumption to all things made of plastic."

They also might reason that artificial objects are likely to be owned because they are made by people and natural objects are unlikely to be owned because they are not, according to the researchers.

"The current studies show that young children have differing expectations about the ownership of all kinds of objects, both familiar and unfamiliar, which is contrary to previous research that suggests children view natural objects as similar to artificial ones," Neary said.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by American Psychological Association. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Karen R. Neary, Julia W. Van de Vondervoort, Ori Friedman. Artifacts and natural kinds: Children's judgments about whether objects are owned.. Developmental Psychology, 2011; DOI: 10.1037/a0025661

Cite This Page:

American Psychological Association. "Children find human-made objects more likely to be owned than natural objects." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 October 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111006113616.htm>.
American Psychological Association. (2011, October 9). Children find human-made objects more likely to be owned than natural objects. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 29, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111006113616.htm
American Psychological Association. "Children find human-made objects more likely to be owned than natural objects." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111006113616.htm (accessed August 29, 2014).

Share This

More Mind & Brain News

Friday, August 29, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Treadmill 'trips' May Reduce Falls for Elderly

Treadmill 'trips' May Reduce Falls for Elderly

AP (Aug. 28, 2014) Scientists are tripping the elderly on purpose in a Chicago lab in an effort to better prevent seniors from falling and injuring themselves in real life. (Aug.28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Alice in Wonderland Syndrome

Alice in Wonderland Syndrome

Ivanhoe (Aug. 27, 2014) It’s an unusual condition with a colorful name. Kids with “Alice in Wonderland” syndrome see sudden distortions in objects they’re looking at or their own bodies appear to change size, a lot like the main character in the Lewis Carroll story. Video provided by Ivanhoe
Powered by NewsLook.com
Stopping Schizophrenia Before Birth

Stopping Schizophrenia Before Birth

Ivanhoe (Aug. 27, 2014) Scientists have long called choline a “brain booster” essential for human development. Not only does it aid in memory and learning, researchers now believe choline could help prevent mental illness. Video provided by Ivanhoe
Powered by NewsLook.com
Personalized Brain Vaccine for Glioblastoma

Personalized Brain Vaccine for Glioblastoma

Ivanhoe (Aug. 27, 2014) Glioblastoma is the most common and aggressive brain cancer in humans. Now a new treatment using the patient’s own tumor could help slow down its progression and help patients live longer. Video provided by Ivanhoe
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.


Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News


Free Subscriptions

Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile

Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?

Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins