Young children often dispute for objects' ownership. This may have relationship with their ownership cognition. Further，children’s ownership cognition may affect their sharing behavior. A full understanding of ownership demands people to identify who is the owner, what can be owned, and reason ownership basing on different cues correctly. Previous developmental studies mainly focused on western samples, and the relationship between children’s ownership cognition and sharing behavior was not clarified. Based on prior research, we investigated Chinese preschoolers' development of ownership cognition and its relationship with sharing behavior in the study.
In Study 1, we used the scale rating method and order ranking method to investigate adults and 3~5-year olds' understanding of who can be the owner. The results revealed that preschoolers aged above 4 years old ranked competence-abled people as the most possible owner, followed by competence-disabled people, and followed by animals and plants. The most impossible owner ranked by them was the artifacts. Three -year olds had a tendency to rate animals and plants as owners. In Study 2, we adopted a method of picture evaluation, and investigated 3~5 year olds' intuitive judgment of what has been possessed. The result revealed that from 3 years
old, preschoolers could identify the ownership status of animals according to their local information (i.e., indoors or ourdoors), but children below 4 years old could not identify the ownership status of plants outdoors. Besides, 3 year olds often judged lifeless natural objects to be owned wherever they were indoors or outdoors, and had difficulty in judging ownership status of artifacts outdoors. Such pattern of Chinese children's judgment was different from their counterparts in western countries, which suggests the necessity of the cross-cultural study.difficulty in judging ownership status of artifacts outdoors. Such pattern of Chinese children's judgment was different from their counterparts in western countries, which suggests the necessity of the cross-cultural study.
Study 3 investigated young children's ownership judgment basing on different cues, by which we would like to know the role of subjects' motivation, others' testimony and actors' personality in children's attribution of ownership. In Experiment 3, we explored 3- and 5-year old children's ownership judgment basing on first possession when they were involved or not involved in the real context. We found that two age groups generally tended to judge the first possessor as the owner in both conditions. This demonstrates that from 3 years old, children's ownership judgments basing on first possession are not influenced by their individual motivation.
Experiment 4 adopted the conflicting cues paradigm, investigating 3~5 year olds' and adults' ownership reasoning basing on other people's testimony. The results revealed that 3- and 4- year olds' ownership judgments were easily influenced by mother's testimony, but 5-year olds' and adults' judgments were rarely influenced by authority's testimony. This indicates the authority figures play an important role in children's ownership cognition. Experiment 5 investigated 3~5 year olds' and adults' ownership judgment basing on actor's moral characteristics. The results found that when there was only cue about actor's moral characteristics, 4~5 year olds and adults tended to choose the the owner according to such cue and regarded the prosocial individual as the owner, but 3 years olds had no such preference. When the cue of actor's moral characteristics conflicted with the cue of first possession, children aged above 3 years
old and adults all tended to support the first possessor as owner, but not the one whom the moral characteristic cue directed to. The result demonstrates at least from 3 years old, children gave more weight to the cue of first possession than the cue of moral characteristics in deciding ownership.
In Study 4, we selected 3- and 5- year old children as subjects, and investigated the relationship among children's ownership cognition of different level (i.e.,ownership differentiation, ownership reasoning based on different cues, and understanding of ownership transfers), ownership perception and their sharing behavior. Children's ownership cognition was tested by story method, and ownership perception was initiated by a guessing game. The dictator game was used to examine children's sharing behavior. We found only in 5 years old group, ownership perception moderated the relationship between ownership differentiation and their sharing amount. For those children who performed better in ownership differentiation, when ownership perception was initiated, they were more likely to share. This indicates children’s ownership cognition may affect thier sharing behavior via extent of ownership perception.
In summary, this study demonstrates that Chinese children's ownership understanding are to some extent different from those in western countries and has specific features, suggesting the necessity of cross-cultural research. The results showed children's ownership reasoning basing on first possession is relatively steady and insusceptible of subject's motivation and actor's moral dispositional characteristics, but it can be affected by authority's testimony, which implicates the postnatal experiences may mold children's ownership understanding. Ownership cognition may influence preschoolers' sharing behavior through ownership perception, which implicates to us that we may cultivate children's sharing behavior by intervening their ownership cognition and ownership perception.