Children Apply Principles of Physical Ownership to Ideas


should be sent to Alex Shaw, Yale University, 2 Hilhouse Avenue, New Haven, CT, 06511 E-mail:


Adults apply ownership not only to objects but also to ideas. But do people come to apply principles of ownership to ideas because of being taught about intellectual property and copyrights? Here, we investigate whether children apply rules from physical property ownership to ideas. Studies 1a and 1b show that children (6–8 years old) determine ownership of both objects and ideas based on who first establishes possession of the object or idea. Study 2 shows that children use another principle of object ownership, control of permission—an ability to restrict others’ access to the entity in question—to determine idea ownership. In Study 3, we replicate these findings with different idea types. In Study 4, we determine that children will not apply ownership to every entity, demonstrating that they do not apply ownership to a common word. Taken together, these results suggest that, like adults, children as young as 6 years old apply rules from ownership not only to objects but to ideas as well.