Artifacts and natural kinds: children's judgments about whether objects are owned

Dev Psychol. 2012 Jan;48(1):149-58. doi: 10.1037/a0025661. Epub 2011 Sep 19.


People's behavior in relation to objects depends on whether they are owned. But how do people judge whether objects are owned? We propose that people expect human-made objects (artifacts) to be more likely to be owned than naturally occurring objects (natural kinds), and we examine the development of these expectations in young children. Experiment 1 found that when shown pictures of familiar kinds of objects, 3-year-olds expected artifacts to be owned and inanimate natural kinds to be non-owned. In Experiments 2A and 2B, 3-6-year-olds likewise had different expectations about the ownership of unfamiliar artifacts and natural kinds. Children at all ages viewed unfamiliar natural kinds as non-owned, but children younger than 6 years of age only endorsed artifacts as owned at chance rates. In Experiment 3, children saw the same pictures but were also told whether objects were human-made. With this information provided, even 3-year-olds viewed unfamiliar artifacts as owned. Finally, in Experiment 4, 4- and 5-year-olds chose unfamiliar artifacts over natural kinds when judging which object in a pair belongs to a person, but not when judging which the person prefers. These experiments provide first evidence about how children judge whether objects are owned. In contrast to claims that children think about natural kinds as being similar to artifacts, the current findings reveal that children have differing expectations about whether they are owned.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Artifacts*
  • Child
  • Child Behavior*
  • Child Development*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognition
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Judgment / physiology*
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Recognition, Psychology