Study: Concept of property rights may come naturally to preschoolers

By Bruce Bower
Science News
Jun. 23, 2011

WASHINGTON — Young children are possessed by possessions. Preschoolers argue about what belongs to whom with annoying regularity, a habit that might suggest limited appreciation of what it means to own something.

But it’s actually just the opposite, psychologist Ori Friedman of the University of Waterloo in Canada reported on May 28 at the Association for Psychological Science annual meeting. At ages 4 and 5, youngsters value a person’s ownership rights — say, to a crayon — far more strongly than adults do, Friedman and psychology graduate student Karen Neary found.

Rather than being learned from parents, a concept of property rights may automatically grow out of 2- to 3-year-olds’ ideas about bodily rights, such as assuming that another person can’t touch or control one’s body for no reason, Friedman proposed.

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