Full text: Ownership as interpersonal dominance

....an original central self-feeling can never explain the passionate warmth of our 
self-regarding emotions, which must, on the contrary, be addressed directly to special 
things less abstract and empty of content. To these things the name of ‘self’ may be given, 
or to our conduct towards them the name of ‘selfishness’, but neither in the seif nor in 
selfishness does the pure Thinker play the ‘title-role’. (James, 1890, vol. 1, p. 327) 
Cooley (1902) also argues that deterministic association processes, though involved, are not 
adequate to explain the self’s appropriation processes: 
Habit and familiarity are not of themselves sufficient to cause an idea to be appropriated 
into the self. Many habits and familiar objects that have been forced upon us by 
circumstances rather than chosen for their congeniality remain external and possibly 
repulsive to the self; and, on the other hand, a novel but very congenial element in 
experience, like the idea of a new toy, or, if you please, Romeo's idea of Juliet, is often 
appropriated almost immediately. (Cooley, 1902, p. 155) 
However, the more deterministic cognitive processes have been used by others to explain 
ownership. Such explanations usually describe owning as conservative and defensive. A most 
recent review of the psychology of Loss and Change (Marris, 1986) begins with a chapter on 
“The Conservative Impulse” in which memories and associated emotions towards persons or 
property are described as the cognitive basis of resistance to change and subsequent grief 
when change occurs. Belk (1987) has reviewed some of the more recent literature of the role 
of memories in attachment to possessions. 
The conservative role of knowledge of possessions may function in processes of 
recognition as well as memory. One of the best descriptions of ownership as a conservative 
recognition process was identified by Heider (1958) in the introspective psychology of Titchener 
(1911). Ali of the emotions of familiarity and attachment described by Hume, Horwicz, and 
James are mentioned, as well as the defensive nature of familiarity: 
in experiments upon recognition, it is variously reported as a glow of warmth, a sense of 
ownership, a feeling of intimacy, a sense of being at home, a feeling of ease, a comfortable 
feeling. It is a feeling in the narrower sense, pleasurable in its affective quality, diffusively 
organic in its sensory character. That is all that analysis can tell us about it. If we aliow 
ourselves to speculate, we may go further, and find a genetic sanction for its peculiar 
warmth and diffusion; we may suppose that it is a weakened survival of the emotion of 
relief, of fear unfulfilled. To an animal so defenseless as was primitive man, the strange 
must always have been cause for anxiety; ‘fear’ is, by its etymology, the emotion of the 
‘farer’, of the traveller away from home. (Titchener, 1911, p. 408) 
Laborit (1978) expresses a similar utilitarian, cognitive basis for the conservative impulse: 
Action takes place in space, or in spaces, occupied by objects and by beings. What we 
learn about reward and punishment is based on our experiences relating to them. A 
gratifying object must be preserved so that reinforcement can occur. Here we see the 
origins of the so-called possessive instinct. The first object of gratification is the mother, 
and her importance is enhanced by the fact that gratification memory trace fixation 
precedes corporeal schema fixation. The spatial area containing the totality of gratifying 
objects for a given individual is what we call the territory. It then would seem that the 
instinct for the defense of territory is no more innate than that for the possession of 
property. There is simply a nervous system acting within a spatial area that is gratifying

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