Psychological ownership

Behavioral Insights Germany and Saudi Arabia

It is estimated that billions of dollars in government benefits, which are important for reducing rising income inequality and fostering well-being, are forgone annually in the US by millions of people who are eligible for them. Among other reasons, this participation gap can be due to a lack of awareness, the complexity of the process, or the discomfort around asking for financial help.

To decrease this participation gap, an award-winning paper by De La Rosa et al. tested the influence of 3 messages with different frames on people’s desire to claim government benefits: (1) psychological ownership, (2) social norms, and (3) urgency. The message that accentuated psychological ownership increased interest in government benefits by 20-128% across four experiments and performed consistently better than the urgency and social norm frames, suggesting the existence of serious aversions and psychological barriers to claiming government assistance.

The study shows how subtle variations in language can go a long way in increasing people’s fundamental desire to claim the benefits that are rightfully theirs.

Full paper: