Ori Friedman
University of Waterloo
People are normally restricted from accessing property without permission from the owner. The principle that nonowners are excluded from property is central to theories of ownership, and previous findings suggest it could be a core feature of the psychology of ownership. However, we report six experiments on children (N = 480) and adults (N = 211) showing that this principle may not apply for actions that benefit the owner—actions like repairing broken property. In Experiment 1, 3–5-year-olds judged it more acceptable for a nonowner to repair broken property than to move it. Experiments 2 and 3 replicated this with 4–6-year-olds using different question wordings and showed that children also approve of replacing broken property. Experiment 4 showed these findings replicate regardless of whether the nonowner and owner are acquainted. Finally, Experiments 5 and 6 revealed a boundary condition on approval of unsolicited beneficial actions: Both 4–6-year-olds and adults judged repairing property more acceptable than modifying it to suit the owner’s preferences. These findings suggest that restrictions on nonowners are less absolute than often claimed, and that participants’ judgments depended on generic information about which actions are typically beneficial, rather than on consideration of owners’ specific preferences.
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DOI 10.1037/xge0000877
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