Full text: Ownership as interpersonal dominance

Within the biological tradition of ethology discussed earlier, several studies have also 
provided evidence that possessiveness precedes altruism. It is important to realize, however, 
that there is considerable opportunity for confounded interpretations in ethological research 
on dominance and sharing. For example, Eisenberg-Berg, Hand, and Haake’s (1981) observed 
that preschoolers who stayed within restricted areas surrendered their possessions more 
frequently than those who moved more freely about the classroom. The interpretation of this 
was that those with restricted movement were “territorial” and that they “shared” more than 
non-territorial children. In a subsequent study, Eisenberg and Giallanza (1984) again considered 
surrendering to be evidence of sharing. 
Savin-Willlams, Small and Zeldin (1981) compared ethological, peer-rating and 
psychometric measures of dominance and altruism in two groups of adolescent boys in a 
summer camp. Although not discussed by the authors, their data show that all measures of 
dominance were positively correlated with all measures of altruism; in particular, the dominance 
subscale of the California Psychological Inventory (Megargee, 1972) was significantly related to 
the frequency of altruistic behavior (n=12, r=.56, p<.05) and to the Schwartz (1968) Ascription 
of Responsibility Scale (n=12, r=.73, p<.01). These correlations could be reflections of social 
desirability or extroversion, or it could be that dominance is leadership and that leaders tend to 
be altruistic towards their dependents (Krebs, 1970). Thus, power would be antecedent to social 
This interpretation would concur with the sociobiological study by Charlesworth and La 
Freniere (1983) in which preschoolers with high dominance status did use an attractive toy more 
than those with low dominance, but the dominant children aiso facilitated cooperation, sharing 
and overall use. Camras (1984) replicated this with the refinement of using teacher ratings to 
determine dominance independently of the behaviors being observed. In a longitudinal study 
of two-year-olds in Israel, Frankel and Arbel (1980) reported that dominance relationships 
enhanced group formation and that prior possession of an object had priority over dominance 
status in determining object use. 
A third tradition of studying property and moral development in children emerges from the 
work of Piaget (1932), which in turn can be traced to Baldwin (1897) and to concepts of self and 
dialectic in nineteenth century German philosophy. Although much of the early research on 
children’s ego development and use of self-referent speech was inspired by Piaget, his impact

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