Property Frames

Jonathan R. Nash (Emory University School of Law)
Stephanie M. Stern (Chicago-Kent Law School)

Abstract: How can we most effectively weaken property rights? Property law confronts circumstances where owner’s excessive perceptions of their ownership rights impose social costs, frustrate policy goals, and hamper the very institutions meant to support private property. Groundbreaking research on cognitive framing suggests an answer to the question of how to selectively attenuate ownership perceptions. In a novel application of this research, we investigate how property law may “set frames” for individual owners. Specifically, we hypothesize that framing property as bundles of rights and forewarning of limitations weakens perceptions of ownership and decreases resistance to subsequent restrictions. We conducted experiments to evaluate this claim and found that both bundle/discrete asset framing and forewarning framing affect perceptions of ownership, rights infringement, valuation, and satisfaction. Our study shows that “layering” both of these conditions (bundle of rights framing and forewarning) has a stronger, synergistic impact than the sum of each effect alone.

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