Children, but not great apes, respect ownership.

Journal Article (Journal Article)

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.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Kanngiesser, P; Rossano, F; Frickel, R; Tomm, A; Tomasello, M

Published Date

  • January 2020

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 23 / 1

Start / End Page

  • e12842 -

PubMed ID

  • 31038808

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1467-7687

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1363-755X

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1111/desc.12842


  • eng