Ownership (psychology)

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In psychology, ownership is the feeling that something is yours.[1][2][3][4] Psychological ownership is distinct from legal ownership:[5] 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.[6] 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.[7] 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.[8] 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?’[1]


Ownership emerges in three ways:

  • Control – “that over which I exercise control becomes a part of my sense of self”.[9]
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  • Self-investment – by expending energy and time in something we begin to feel greater ownership.[10]


Positive outcomes[edit]

Ownership can lead to several positive outcomes:

  1. Citizenship behavior, discretionary effort, and personal sacrifice.[11]
  2. Experienced responsibility and stewardship[12]

Negative outcomes[edit]

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):

  1. Feelings of personal loss[13]
  2. Interpersonal conflict[6]
  3. Unwillingness to accept advice[13]
  4. Resistance to change[14]


  1. ^ a b Pierce, J. L.; Kostova, T.; Dirks, K. (2001). "Toward a theory of psychological ownership in organizations". Academy of Management Review. 26: 298–310. doi:10.5465/amr.2001.4378028.
  2. ^ Pierce, J. L.; Kostova, T.; Dirks, K. T. (2003). "The state of psychological ownership: integrating and extending a century of research". Review of General Psychology. 7: 84–107. doi:10.1037/1089-2680.7.1.84.
  3. ^ Pierce, J. L.; O’Driscoll, M. P.; Coghlan, A. M. (2004). "Work environment structure and psychological ownership: the mediating effects of control". Journal of Social Psychology. 144 (5): 507–34. doi:10.3200/SOCP.144.5.507-534. PMID 15449699.
  4. ^ Pierce, J.L.; Van Dyne, L. "Psychological ownership and feelings of possession: three field studies predicting employee attitudes and organizational citizenship behavior". Journal of Organization Behavior. 25: 439–459. doi:10.1002/job.249.
  5. ^ Etzioni, A. (1991). "The socio-economics of property." In F. W. Rudmin (Ed.), To have possessions: a handbook on ownership and property. [Special Issue] Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 6(6), 465–468
  6. ^ a b Brown, G.; Robinson, S. (2011). "Reaction to territorial infringement". Organization Science. 22: 210–224. doi:10.1287/orsc.1090.0507.
  7. ^ Mael, F.; Ashforth, B.E. (1992). "Alumni and their alma mater: A partial test of the reformulated model of organizational identification". Journal of Organizational Behavior. 13: 103–123. doi:10.1002/job.4030130202.
  8. ^ Mowday, Richard T.; Porter, Lyman W.; Steers, Richard M. (1982). Mowday, Richard T., ed. Employee-organization linkages: the psychology of commitment, absenteeism, and turnover. Academic Press. ISBN 9780125093705.
  9. ^ Furby, Lita (January 1978). "Possession in Humans: an Exploratory Study of its Meaning and Motivation". Social Behavior and Personality. 6 (1): 49–65. doi:10.2224/sbp.1978.6.1.49.
  10. ^ Rochberg-Halton, E. (1980). Cultural signs and urban adaptation: The meaning of cherished household possessions (Thesis). University of Chicago.
  11. ^ "The Psychology of Ownership: Work Environment Structure, Organizational Commitment, and Citizenship Behaviors". Group and Organization Management. 31 (3): 388–416. June 2006. doi:10.1177/1059601104273066.
  12. ^ Davis, James H.; Schoorman, F. David; Donaldson, Lex (January 1997). "Toward a Stewardship View of Management". The Academy of Management Review. 22 (1): 20–47. doi:10.5465/amr.1997.9707180258. JSTOR 259223.
  13. ^ a b Baer, M.; Brown, G. (March 2012). "Blind in one eye: How psychological ownership of ideas affects the types of suggestions people adopt". Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. 118: 60–71. doi:10.1016/j.obhdp.2012.01.003.
  14. ^ Dirks, Kurt; Cummings, Larry; Pierce, John (1996). "Psychological ownership in organizations: Conditions under which individuals promote and resist change". Research in Organizational Change and Development. 9: 1–23. JSTOR 259223.

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