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Object ownership and action: the influence of social context and choice on the physical manipulation of personal property


Understanding who owns what is important for guiding appropriate action in a social context. Previously, we demonstrated that ownership influences our kinematic patterns associated with hand–object interactions (Constable et al. in Cognition 119(3):430–437, 2011). Here, we present a series of experiments aimed at determining the underlying mechanisms associated with this effect. We asked participants to lift mugs that differed in terms of ownership status (Experiments 1 and 2) and personal preference (Experiment 3) while recording spatial and acceleration measures. In Experiment 1, participants lifted their own mug with greater acceleration and drew it closer to themselves than they did the experimenter’s mug. They also lifted the experimenter’s mug further to the right compared with other mugs. In Experiment 2, spatial trajectory effects were preserved, but the acceleration effect abolished, when the owner of the ‘other-owned’ mug was a known—but absent—confederate. Experiment 3 demonstrated that merely choosing to use a mug was not sufficient to elicit rightward drift or acceleration effects. We suggest that these findings reflect separate and distinct mechanisms associated with socially related visuomotor processing.

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This research was supported by a University of Queensland Research Scholarship (Constable) and Australian Research Council Discovery Grants (to Kritikos, Slaughter, Sofronoff & Bayliss—DP130100253; Lipp—DP110100460). The authors would like to thank Hayley Colman and Harriet Dempsey-Jones for volunteering as confederates in Experiment 2. The authors would also like to thank Hayley Colman, Harriet Dempsey-Jones, and Samuel Sparks for lending their artistic skills to painting the mugs used in Experiment 3.

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Correspondence to Merryn D. Constable.



See Table 2.

Table 2 Mean ratings (liking, masculinity/femininity, effort) of the six painted mugs used in Experiment 3 provided by 22 independent raters

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Constable, M.D., Kritikos, A., Lipp, O.V. et al. Object ownership and action: the influence of social context and choice on the physical manipulation of personal property. Exp Brain Res 232, 3749–3761 (2014).

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  • Ownership
  • Possessions
  • Kinematics
  • Embodied cognition
  • Preference
  • Social cognition