Developmental Science

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Volume 23 Issue 1 (January 2020), Pages

Children, but not great apes, respect ownership

Abstract Access to and control of resources is a major source of costly conflicts. Animals, under some conditions, respect what others control and use (i.e. possession). Humans not only respect possession of resources, they also respect ownership. Ownership can be viewed as a cooperative arrangement, where individuals inhibit their tendency to take others’ property on the condition that those others will do the same. We investigated to what degree great apes follow this principle, as compared to human children. We conducted two experiments, in which dyads of individuals could access the same food resources. The main test of respect for ownership was whether individuals would refrain from taking their partner's resources even when the partner could not immediately access and control them. Captive apes (N = 14 dyads) failed to respect their partner's claim on food resources and frequently monopolized the resources when given the opportunity. Human children (N = 14 dyads), tested with a similar apparatus and procedure, respected their partner's claim and made spontaneous verbal references to ownership. Such respect for the property of others highlights the uniquely cooperative nature of human ownership arrangements.

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