Ownership Effects Across Territory Boundaries


Self-relevant information is subject to privileged processing over information related to other people. Object ownership is a way of making otherwise neutral objects self-relevant, and therefore giving these items access to the same privileges as other self-relevant stimuli. Previous research has shown that object ownership effects (faster processing of self-owned over other-owned items) are reliable and consistent across a range of tasks. One dimension of ownership that has yet to be explored, however, is the role of territory. We know that space and territory play a role in terms of the physical environment – people show privileged processing for items that are accessible to them (peripersonal space; Constantini et al., 2011) – but we can also conceptualise territory in more abstract terms. For example, you do not need to be physically present in your own house for it to be your house. The question is, does territory affect processing even when it is an abstract, arbitrary compartmentalising of space that does not impact physical affordances? And how does ownership of territory interact with ownership of objects? We explore how territory affects ownership effects in an adapted trolley-sorting paradigm. Participants sort items that belong to them or to another person into relevant baskets or trolleys. The key manipulation is that items can appear in a territory belonging to the self or to the other. Across three experiments we find that territory does affect ownership effects, as the privileged processing of self-owned items disappears when those items appear in another’s territory. This indicates that people are not just responding to the ownership status of items in a universal way, but are taking into account how these items are embedded within the social environment.

University of Porto, Porto, Portugal