To prove the power of touch, the researchers placed two products, a Slinky and a coffee mug, in front of 231 undergraduate students at the University of Wisconsin. About half were told they could touch the products, while the other half were prohibited from fiddling with them. Students were then asked to express their sense of ownership of the products and to indicate how much money they were willing to pay for each.
The results were clear: those who touched the items reported statistically significant higher levels of perceived ownership. They were also willing to pay more to purchase the products.
I came across the article through the consumerist a few days ago, and it has been in the back of my mind. When my husband came home from work today and asked me if I had heard about the earthquake in Italy, I was not at all surprised. He served his mission there, though he never actually served in the city that was hit. As I considered how this event occupied his mind in a way it did not occupy mine I considered again the notion of ownership.
Though I know about Italy, I've never been there. I've never stood on the streets and heard people speaking Italian all around me. The habits, the idioms, the weather, the smell is all abstract to me. On the other hand I've been to other places. I've been to Sweden and placed my hands on the tombstones of my ancestors. I've sat on the couch in 'the house' at the family farm. That place is real to me, and I feel a sense of ownership towards it.
The article I linked stresses the feelings of entitlement that come with 'ownership.' On the other side of that is, I believe, a feeling of responsibility, or stewardship. In other words, one cares about what happens to those things they feel ownership of. When I've seen the herds of bison in Yellowstone park, I'll care if I hear that they are in danger of becoming extinct. When I've watched a live performance of Carmina Burana I'll care when I learn that it won't be performed anymore. When I've been to a foreign country, I'll care when I learn that there is a tragedy affecting that nation.
It is possible to care without experiencing these things first hand, but doing so makes the feelings come more easily. And so, it is not enough to just read about places, people, things, animals, or whatever. Experiencing something first hand is vitally important for developing a sense of ownership and stewardship for the world around us.