Sharing our possessions is apparently harder than most of us realize. Even outside the context of a toddler anxiously gripping his favorite toy firetruck at daycare, people seem to have a predisposition to avoid giving up what’s ours, even temporarily. Even for friends. Even over a silly coffee mug that was given to us for the purpose of sharing it.
Helping with the hand-off
A study of people’s behavior when handing objects to each other was predicated on the idea that, overall, we do want to get along with each other. There are simple, small things we can do to facilitate cooperation, such as positioning an object so that it’s easier to grasp for the person we want to give it to. A pointed (ahem) example of this would be turning a knife around so that you pass the handle to your partner, instead of passing the blade, but this kind of action even happens when people give each other something safer, like a room-temperature coffee mug.
At the same time, the degree that we help out recipients apparently varies depending on how attached we feel to the object being shared. Test participants were prompted to pass a recently acquired mug to a friend or a stranger. If the participant expected their partner would pick the mug up, they were more likely to position the handle in a helpful orientation. But the partner’s expected response didn’t fully determine how people arranged the handle— ownership played a factor as well.
Who’s mug matters
When people were sharing someone else’s mug, basically returning it, they were more helpful. When asked to hand over their own mug, they would subtly, and almost certainly unconsciously, keep the handle just a bit closer to themselves. On it’s own, it’s a small tick in human behavior, but it likely reveals instincts that also influence bigger moments. Even when we intend to share with others, we can’t seem to help but keep a subtle or symbolic grip on what we think is ours. So the next time you want to be generous, maybe make a point stretch yourself and really reach out to whomever you’re helping.
Source: Yours or mine? How we handle objects depends on who owns them, Scienmag