Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Richard M. Sorrentino, Bertram Gawronski


Despite its significant role in the society, ownership has received little research attention from social psychology. Understanding ownership as a form of people-object relations has important implications for social cognition, as the relations between people and objects share similar mechanisms with the relations between people and other social entities. Adopting an associative approach to relations, the present research investigates how ownership influences self-object association—mental associations between the owner’s self and the owned objects in the owner’s associative network. It is argued that the formation of self-object associations is gated by the levels of congruence or incongruence between the owner’s active representation of the self and those of the objects. In five experimental studies, the effects of ownership on self-object associations were examined in two types of ownership scenario. In the mere-ownership scenario, participants received an object randomly selected from two alternatives as gift. In the ownership-by-choice scenario, participants were free to choose an object from two alternatives as gift. Objects with either positive or negative valence were included, under the assumption that they are evaluatively congruent or incongruent, respectively, with the self. In the mere-ownership scenario, it was predicted that the formation of self-object associations should be determined passively by pre-existing levels of self-object congruence, assuming the information processing of the alternatives should be at a minimal level. In the ownership-by-choice scenario, it was predicted that the formation of self-object associations should be determined by choice, assuming choice-related information processing creates self-object congruence for the chosen object. Consistent with the predictions, the findings show a moderating effect of object valence on self-object associations in the mere-ownership scenario, in that ownership effects on self-object associations were found for positive objects but not for negative objects. The findings also show an ownership-by-choice effect on self-object association for negative objects, indicating choice-induced changes in the representations of the chosen object. Additional findings indicate that such changes are caused by pre-choice information processing. The findings are discussed in light of the psychology of ownership, choice, and the self.