Property Frames

55 Pages Posted: 31 Aug 2009 Last revised: 12 Jun 2012

See all articles by Jonathan Remy Nash

Jonathan Remy Nash

Emory University School of Law

Stephanie M. Stern

University of Arizona College of Law

Date Written: 2009


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 contend that 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 framing and forewarning) have a stronger, synergistic impact than the sum of each effect alone. The potential applications of this research to property theory are numerous. Legislators, judges, and regulatory agencies craft legal measures that respond to, or even capitalize on, strong, pre-existing frames of citizen-owners. These institutional players may also endeavor to limit spillovers and other social harms by reframing property as a limited set of use rights in areas of law such as pollution rights, intellectual property, and common interest communities.

Keywords: property, psychology, framing, environment, intellectual property

Suggested Citation

Nash, Jonathan and Stern, Stephanie M., Property Frames (2009). Chicago-Kent Intellectual Property, Science & Technology Research Paper No. 09-020, Emory Public Law Research Paper No. 9-70, Emory Law and Economics Research Paper No. 9-47, Washington University Law Review, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

Jonathan Nash

Emory University School of Law ( email )

1301 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30322
United States

Stephanie M. Stern (Contact Author)

University of Arizona College of Law ( email )

1201 E Speedway Blvd
Tucson, AZ 85721
United States
3128066865 (Phone)
85750 (Fax)

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