Grasping the concept of personal property

Merryn Constable, Ada Kritikos, Andrew Bayliss

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

65 Citations (Scopus)


The concept of property is integral to personal and societal development, yet understanding of the cognitive basis of ownership is limited. Objects are the most basic form of property, so our physical interactions with owned objects may elucidate nuanced aspects of ownership. We gave participants a coffee mug to decorate, use and keep. The experimenter also designed a mug of her own. In Experiment 1, participants performed natural lifting actions with each mug. Participants lifted the Experimenter’s mug with greater care, and moved it slightly more towards the Experimenter, while they lifted their own mug more forcefully and drew it closer to their own body. In Experiment 2, participants responded to stimuli presented on the mug handles in a computer-based stimulus–response compatibility task. Overall, participants were faster to respond in trials in which the handles were facing in the same direction as the response location compared to when the handles were facing away. The compatibility effect was abolished, however, for the Experimenter’s mug – as if the action system is blind to the potential for action towards another person’s property. These findings demonstrate that knowledge of the ownership status of objects influences visuomotor processing in subtle and revealing ways.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)430-437
Number of pages8
Issue number3
Early online date5 Mar 2011
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2011
Externally publishedYes


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