Mine or yours?

15. August 2019

Children have respect for the property of other children at a very early age. This is shown in a study by Dr. Patricia Kanngießer and Prof. Dr. Daniel Haun from the University of Leipzig. The scientists of the Leipzig Research Centre for Early Childhood Development conducted the study together with researchers from the University of California in San Diego, Duke University in Durham and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig and published their results in the journal “Developmental Psychology”.

What stops us from taking property from others? Above all, when they’re not around right now? And even though you could increase your own property? It is the respect for the property of others. This concept is essential in our society – yet are children already living after that? The research team asked itself this question Germany and the USA.

The aim of the study was to find out, to what extent children between the ages of five and seven years of age apply the principle of property. 152 children from four different cultures (Germany, Kenya, Namibia and Argentina) participated. In Europe and North America, the recognition of ownership has already been extensively researched. How the understanding of ownership develops in other societies is little known. “This is the first study to look at the understanding of ownership of children from different societies in social interactions with peers,” says Dr. Patricia Kanngießer. She currently has the deputy professorship for Early Childhood Development and Culture at the University of Leipzig.

Children played together with a same-sex partner of about the same age with coloured wooden beads marked in different colours. “During the development of the study, we took great care to develop a culture-fair course of study and to examine children’s understanding of property in a playful way,” explains Patricia Kanngießer.

Each child was initially assigned a color. The partners then threw the wooden beads into a marble run and at the end of the marble run all the beads mixed in a bowl. The children were given the task of taking “their” marbles out of their shells and taking them home later. “The marble run was very well received and the children had a lot of fun. Sometimes even older children or teachers wanted to try the marble run. At the end, children could thread chains with their pearls and take them home, so that it was really about something,” explains Dr. Kanngießer.

The study took place under different conditions. In some runs both children took their pearls at the same time, in others there was only one child in the room at a time and the partner waited outside the door. The children thus had the opportunity to take their partner’s pearls without him noticing.

“We can show that a basic understanding of personal property and respect for that, what belongs to others, in social togetherness. This basic aspect
can prevent social conflicts in direct interactions and is
important for our daily lives”, said Dr. Kanngießer explaining the results. “In the absence of the partner, the behavior varied more between the different societies that we examined in our study. Children from Germany, for example, were very careful only to take their own pearls. Children from an indigenous group in Namibia (≠Akhoe Hai||om)
also took the pearls of other children a few times. They are members of a hunter-gatherer group in which there are hardly any personal possessions and the sharing of goods plays an important role.

“The study was able to show that children from different societies have a basic understanding of personal property and show this in social interaction,” summarizes Dr. Patricia Kanngießer. “In addition to personal property, there are, of course, different property regulations worldwide – an exciting field for future research.”

Picture: pixabay

Madlen Bartholmeß
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