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Image by Jelleke Vanooteghem


This attachment to one’s own “custom” creation extends not only to physical things but also to ideas. This attachment begins surprisingly early. In an interesting set of experiments by Vivian Li, Alex Shaw, and Kristina Olson,11 four-year-olds were presented with two identical sets of craft materials—five paper shapes and two cotton balls that could be glued together to make a design on a piece of construction paper. The experimenters told the children to think of an idea for a picture they could create using these materials and then to tell the experimenter exactly how to put all the pieces together.

Next, the children and the experimenter switched roles. The experimenter would think of an idea and tell the child where exactly to place the shapes. The children could pick their favorite picture and take it home. Which do you think that the kids preferred? The one that was the result of their idea or the one that was the result of their physical labor? If you, at your current age, were deciding, which one would you prefer?

By a pretty wide margin, the children picked the picture that was the outcome of their own idea, not the one where they provided the physical labor.

In another experiment, this time involving five-year-olds, researchers asked each child to dream up a story (for example, “Make up a story about a dragon and a little boy”). After the child invented the story, another adult entered the room, and the experimenter repeated the child’s story by saying, “Tommy just told me the best story . . . !” In the “no-credit” condition, the experimenter told the other adult, “I have the best story . . . !” In this case, the children vociferously objected, saying, “That was my story!”12

What all of this means is that by a very young age, we already care about our ideas and are attached to them.

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