Application of psychological ownership theory to access-based consumption and the Circular Economy: An overview

Paul Rogers

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceeding with ISSN or ISBNConference contribution with ISSN or ISBNpeer-review


A key assumption of the Circular Economy is that people will embrace access-based consumption (ABC) through their use of product service systems and/or engagement in peer-to-peer sharing (Webster, 2017). By definition, ABC is temporary and involves no transfer of property rights meaning legal ownership remains solely with the item’s supplier/donor. Despite this, it seems plausible ABC users will develop subjective feelings psychological ownership (PO) for the things they have access to but do not legally own.

Formally, PO encompasses the motivations, perceptions, beliefs, feelings and behaviours pertaining to a sense of attachment, connectedness and possessiveness over an item as expressed through pronouns such as ‘my’ or ‘mine’ (e.g., this is my car) (Pierce, Kostova & Dirks, 2001).

According to Psychological Ownership Theory (Pierce, Kostova & Dirks, 2001) four motivational ‘roots’ - to have efficacy and effectance over one’s surroundings, to communicate self-identity, to have a place to dwell/call home, and to be stimulated - explain why individuals are driven to possess things. In addition, three behavioural ‘routes’ - attaining control over, intimate knowledge of and investment of the self into an object - explains how people satisfy their PO motives. Once formed, PO will have favourable impact on an individual’s perceptions, attitudes and behaviour towards the item in question.

Initially applied in organisational settings PO Theory has only recently been extended to marketing and consumer behaviour. The current paper reviews the related, but as yet comparatively sparse, literature linking PO Theory to ABC.

At present, there is reasonable evidence that PO does develop for ABC. Whilst PO tends to be stronger for owned than for accessed goods, the latter is often deemed a satisfactory substitute for the former. However, motives (‘roots’) for PO must be strong. When they are, attaining more control over, intimate knowledge in and/or self-investment in an accessed-only item (e.g., via customer empowerment in the co-design process) will heighten PO for it. Moreover, once developed, PO will increase the perceived monetary, utilitarian, hedonic and symbolic value of an accessed product/service, and heighten the user’s intention to purchase (rent) and/or provide favourable word-of-mouth recommendations for it. In contrast, PO for a product-service does not appear to reduce levels of material ownership for the physical object being leased.

In sum, findings from the extant PO literature offer some but as yet limited support for various demand-side assumptions underlying the Circular Economy. But more work is needed. Thus, ideas for future PO-ABC research of relevance to Economic Circularity are also presented.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the Inaugural Conference of the International Society 4 Circular Economy (IS4CE2020).
Place of PublicationExeter, UK
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jul 2020


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