Children apply principles of physical ownership to ideas

Alex Shaw, Vivian Li, Kristina R. Olson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Scopus citations


Adults apply ownership not only to objects but also to ideas. But do people come to apply principles of ownership to ideas because of being taught about intellectual property and copyrights? Here, we investigate whether children apply rules from physical property ownership to ideas. Studies 1a and 1b show that children (6-8years old) determine ownership of both objects and ideas based on who first establishes possession of the object or idea. Study 2 shows that children use another principle of object ownership, control of permission-an ability to restrict others' access to the entity in question-to determine idea ownership. In Study 3, we replicate these findings with different idea types. In Study 4, we determine that children will not apply ownership to every entity, demonstrating that they do not apply ownership to a common word. Taken together, these results suggest that, like adults, children as young as 6years old apply rules from ownership not only to objects but to ideas as well.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1383-1403
Number of pages21
JournalCognitive science
Issue number8
StatePublished - Nov 2012
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


  • Control of permission
  • First possession
  • Ideas
  • Intellectual property
  • Ownership
  • Property


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