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Who has property in a found item X, which is contained in Y? The finder of X or the person who has property in Y? The common law says it depends. It depends upon whether the owner of Y knew about X, or whether X was lost or mislaid, or how small the weight of X is relative to Y (as compared to its value), or whether the finder was an employee of the owner of Y, to name just a few. Wilson (2020) hypothesizes that humans universally cognize property as being contained in a thing. A testable implication of the hypothesis reveals a simpler, clearer rule for settling found property disputes in the common law: if A has property in Y and X is in Y, then A has property in X, even if B finds X. Using a 2 × 2 design, I report the results of a three-dimensional virtual world experiment to test how incentivized panels of participants award a found item to one of two actual parties who have an all-or-nothing financial stake in the panel's decision. The results of the experiment strongly support the hypothesis, even, unexpectedly, under counterfactual conditions.


NOTICE: this is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, volume 178, in 2020.

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