To have and to hold: embodied ownership is established in early childhood


We investigated whether embodied ownership is evident in early childhood. To do so, we gifted a drinking bottle to children (aged 24–48 months) to use for 2 weeks. They returned to perform reach–grasp–lift–replace actions with their own or the experimenter’s bottle while we recorded their movements using motion capture. There were differences in motor interactions with self- vs experimenter-owned bottles, such that children positioned self-owned bottles significantly closer to themselves compared with the experimenter’s bottle. Age did not modulate the positioning of the self-owned bottle relative to the experimenter-owned bottle. In contrast, the pattern was not evident in children who selected one of the two bottles to keep only after the task was completed, and thus did not ‘own’ it during the task (Experiment 2). These results extend similar findings in adults, confirming the importance of ownership in determining self–other differences and provide novel evidence that object ownership influences sensorimotor processes from as early as 2 years of age.

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Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3


  1. 1.

    One child in the youngest age group (24–30 months) had an aluminium bottle.

  2. 2.

    Younger children are not included in this N because they were administered a different test battery, the Bayley Scales.


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This research was funded by a z DP13100253 to Chief Investigators Ada Kritikos, Kate Sofronoff, Virginia Slaughter and Andrew Bayliss.

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The Chief Investigators contributed equally to the design, analysis and interpretation of the data and editing of the manuscript. Ada Kritikos and Virginia Slaughter prepared the manuscript, with conceptual and editorial help from Andrew Bayliss and Kate Sofronoff. Jessica Lister collected, processed and analysed the data and helped with manuscript preparation. Samuel Sparks prepared the data processing programmes and helped with statistical analysis and manuscript preparation. We thank the anonymous reviewers and Professor Bernard Hommel for their valuable comments on previous versions of the paper.

Correspondence to Ada Kritikos.

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Communicated by Melvyn A. Goodale .

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Kritikos, A., Lister, J., Sparks, S. et al. To have and to hold: embodied ownership is established in early childhood. Exp Brain Res (2020) doi:10.1007/s00221-020-05726-w

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  • Embodied cognition
  • Ownership
  • Early childhood
  • Kinematics
  • Reach-to-grasp actions