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In psychology, ownership is the feeling that something is yours. Psychological ownership is distinct from legal ownership: one may feel that one's cubicle at work is theirs and no one else’s (i.e. psychological ownership), but legal ownership of the cubicle is actually conferred to the organization.
People can feel ownership about a variety of things: products, workspaces, ideas, and roles. An example of ownership is the feeling that a product that you developed is YOURS and no one else’s. At its core, ownership is about possession, stewardship, and the need to have control over something.
Ownership is distinctly related to psychological concepts such as organizational identification and organizational commitment. Organizational identification is the sense of belongingness to an organization and using the organization to define oneself. An example of organizational identification could be proudly stating for which organization you work in a casual conversation with a new acquaintance. Organizational commitment is defined as accepting the organization’s goals, exerting effort, and a desire to maintain membership. An example of organizational commitment could be deciding to stay at an organization despite receiving an attractive job offer from another organization. Psychological ownership answers the question, ‘What is mine?’ Organizational identification answers the question, ‘Who am I?’ Organizational commitment answers the question, ‘Should I stay?’
Ownership emerges in three ways:
- Control – “that over which I exercise control becomes a part of my sense of self”.
- Intimate knowledge - the more we know something the more likely we are to feel it belongs to us.
- Self-investment – by expending energy and time in something we begin to feel greater ownership.
Ownership can lead to several positive outcomes:
- Citizenship behavior, discretionary effort, and personal sacrifice.
- Experienced responsibility and stewardship
Ownership can also lead to negative outcomes, especially when that sense of ownership is challenged (either legitimately, by a higher authority asserting their ownership of an entity, or illegitimately, by a subordinate or co-equal entity usurping one's own ownership):
- Feelings of personal loss
- Interpersonal conflict
- Unwillingness to accept advice
- Resistance to change
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