Category Archives: body

Nancekivell, Van de Vondervoort, & Friedman, 2013 – Children’s understanding of ownership

Paper #5

Nancekivell, S. E., Van de Vondervoort, J. W., & Friedman, O. (2013). Young Children’s Understanding of Ownership. Child Development Perspectives, 7(4), 243–247.

This is a nice and well written paper that reviews the state of the art in the study of ownership development in children.

I already knew most of the findings they present. But there is something new and interesting at the end of the paper, where they discuss children’s understanding of property rights. They make the point that property rights might be considered as an extension of personal rights and bodily rights. This is exactly what I argue at the end of my (unpublished) paper comparing Hegel’s philosophy and current research on ownership: we first take possession of our bodies, gain autonomy, differentiate ourselves from others (think of a two-year old saying “no” when he is told to go to the toilet or to take a bath), draw a limit between our body and other people, and then we extend this “ownership” of our own body and self to the objects we possess.

In the authors’ terms, “notions of ownership rights might stem from people’s appreciation of personal rights and bodily rights (…) children’s belief that owners are typically entitled to control their own property (ownership rights) might be linked with their awareness that people are typically entitled to control themselves (bodily rights). Hence, children may judge that using a stranger’s comb is impermissible for the same reason they would judge it impermissible to touch the stranger’s hair. The possibility that children’s notion of ownership rights is linked with their notions of bodily rights is also consistent with the possibility that their notions of ownership rights stem from their appreciation of the personal domain—the actions and choices people can decide for themselves, free from regulation by others (Nucci, 1981).”

And also: “Evidence for the view that ownership rights and bodily rights are connected comes from the finding that preschoolers reason similarly when making moral judgments in these two domains. Four-year-olds were presented with scenarios in which an agent acted on the body or property of an evaluator (e.g., a boy touched a girl’s hair or touched her doll), or on the agent’s own body or property. Children’s moral evaluations of the agent’s actions were influenced by the evaluator’s approval and by whether the target of the action belonged to the actor or the evaluator. However, their evaluations were not influenced by whether the target of the action was an object or body part. Hence, children’s evaluations of ownership violations apparently are not based on rules that apply specifically to owned objects. (Van de Vondervoort & Friedman, 2013).”

A fascinating topic. I wish I knew how to investigate that.

The doctor will tell you to behave

At about 3 years of age, I tell L. that he will be having a haircut later. I ask him, “Do you know where we’ll take you for the haircut?”. And he replies: “Yes, to the doctor”. This makes sense, I think: both the doctor and the barber do something intrusive with your body.

A month later he is scratching persistently a mosquito bite and I tell him to stop so that he doesn’t hurt himself. He says: “Take me to the doctor”. “Why?”, I ask. His response is: “He’ll ask me to behave” (“me va a decir portate bien“).

A couple of weeks after that he sees me trying to repair my car. He tells me: “call the doctor”. I ask him: “What for?” And his response is: “He’ll ask the car to behave” (Para que le diga portate bien).

So not only behavior problems (or disobedience) are assimilated to physical body problems. In a twist to child animism, the car body is like a human body, and a car can be taken to the doctor to get disciplined, or at least to be scolded and instructed on how to behave.

Foucault lives.