Why do we get so attached to our things?

Humans are just naturally clingy – but why is that? There’s a reason behind our sense of ownership and why we get so attached to our things.

After witnessing the violent rage shown by babies whenever deprived of an item they considered their own, Jean Piaget – a founding father of child psychology – observed something profound about human nature.

He concluded that our sense of ownership emerges particularly early.

There’s a well-established phenomenon in psychology known as the endowment effect. This means we value items much more highly just as soon as we own them.

This has to do with how quickly we form connections between our sense of self and the things we consider ours. That can even be seen at the neural level.

In one experience neuroscientists scanned participants’ brains while they allocated various objects either to a basket labelled “Mine” or another labelled “Alex’s”.

When participants subsequently looked at their new things, their brains showed more activity in a region that usually flickers into life whenever we think about ourselves.

Another reason why we are so fond of our possessions is that from a young age we believe they have a unique essence. For example, consider the huge value placed on objects that were once owned by celebrities.

For similar reasons many of us are hesitant to part with family heirlooms, which help us feel connected to lost loved ones.

Although feelings of ownership emerge early in life, culture also plays a part.

For example, it was recently discovered that Hadza people of northern Tanzania, who are isolated from modern culture, don’t exhibit the endowment effect. That’s possibly because they live in an egalitarian society where almost everything is shared.

At the other extreme, sometimes our attachment to things can go to far, resulting in situations like hoarding – a disorder characterized by excessive acquisition and an inability or unwillingness to discard large quantities of objects that cover the living areas of the home and cause significant distress or impairment.

To learn more what the following TED-Ed video:

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