Full text: Ownership as interpersonal dominance

As presented in the historical introduction, psychological discussion of property has been 
concerned with the motivations underlying ownership (e.g. Beaglehole, 1932; Belk, 1983; Furby, 
1980) and with the meaning of owning (e.g. Csikszentmihalyi & Rochberg-Halton, 1981; Miller & 
Johnson-Laird, 1976; Rudmin & Berry, 1987). Whereas Study 1 examined interpersonal values 
and attitudes of cultural aggregates of people towards the institution of private property, this 
study will focus on individual differences within a single society. It will examine individual 
nuances in the meaning of owning and relate them to individual trait motivations. 
The intent was use measures of semantic similarity to represent individual variations in 
conceptualizations of owning and to use personality traits to represent individual variations in 
motivational tendencies that have been hypothesized to underlie owning. Correlational 
analyses were used to examine the relationships, if any, between conceptualizations of owning 
and trait motivational tendencies. The principal hypothesis of this study was that ownership is 
an interpersonal relationship (e.g. Heider, 1946; 1958). The ownership of property, through intent 
or consequence, puts the owner into certain relationships with the non-owners, in particular, the 
relationship of dominance. Owners dominate non-owners by controlling things and resources 
and thereby controlling non-owners. 
This study was designed to allow this hypothesis to compete with other traditional 
psychological explanations of ownership which have been discussed at length in the 
introduction. For example, Pythagoras (De Vogel, 1966) and Plato (Hamilton & Cairns, 1961) 
argued that private property impaired social affiliation. Aristotle (Barker, 1952) countered that 
private property served social orderliness, and that without private property, there could be no 
acts of benevolence. The Scholastics also saw the function of property in acts of benevolence 
and nurturance (Schlatter, 1951; Tawney, 1926). For the political theorists of the liberal tradition 
(3) This study was presented at the annual conference of the American Psychological 
Association, New York City, August, 1987. It is now in press in L. Alwitt (Ed.), Division 23 
conference proceedings.

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