• The roles of perspective and language in children’s ability to delay gratification

      Mahy, Caitlin; Moses, Louis; O'Brien, Bronwyn; Castro, Alex W.; Kopp, Leia; Atance, Christina (Elsevier, 2020)
      We manipulated psychological distance in a delay of gratification paradigm. Younger children showed an other-over-self advantage but older children did not. Using “want” vs. “should” did not impact children’s delay of gratification. Increasing psychological distance is an established method for improving children’s performance in a number of self-regulation tasks. For example, using a delay of gratification (DoG) task, Prencipe and Zelazo (Psychological Science, 2005, Vol. 16, pp. 501–505) showed that 3-year-olds delay more for “other” than they do for “self,” whereas 4-year-olds make similar choices for self and other. However, to our knowledge, no work has manipulated language to increase psychological distance in children. In two experiments, we sought to manipulate psychological distance by replicating Prencipe and Zelazo’s age-related findings and extending them to older children (Experiment 1) and also sought to manipulate psychological distance using the auxiliary verbs “want” and “should” to prime more impulsive preference-based decisions or more normative optimal decisions (Experiment 2). In Experiment 1, 96 3- to 7-year-olds showed age-related improvements and interactive effects between age and perspective on DoG performance. In Experiment 2, 132 3- to 7-year-olds showed age-related improvements and a marginal interaction between age and perspective on DoG performance, but no effect of auxiliary verbs was detected. Results are discussed in terms of differing developmental trajectories of DoG for self and other due to psychological distancing, and how taking another’s perspective may boost DoG in younger children but not older children.
    • Young children’s future-oriented reasoning for self and other: Effects of conflict and perspective

      Atance, Christina; Rutt, Joshua L,; Cassidy, Katie; Mahy, Caitlin (Elsevier, 2021)
      In some contexts, children more accurately predict another’s future than their own. Adopting another’s perspective may provide psychological distance. This distance may be especially beneficial when present and future desires conflict. Here, only age and conflict systematically affected preschoolers’ future thinking. Older preschoolers were less affected by conflict than younger preschoolers. Young children reason more adaptively about the future (e.g., predicting preferences and delaying gratification) when they are asked to think about another person’s perspective versus their own perspective. An explanation for this “other-over-self” advantage is that in contexts where current (e.g., small reward now) and future (e.g., larger reward later) desires conflict, adopting the perspective of another person provides psychological distance and hence more adaptive decision making by reducing conflict. We tested this hypothesis in 158 preschoolers using a battery of representative future-oriented reasoning tasks (Preferences, Delay of Gratification, Picture Book, and “Spoon”) in which we varied the perspective children adopted (self or other) and the level of conflict between current and future desires (high or low). We predicted that perspective and conflict would interact such that children would benefit most from taking the perspective of “other” when conflict was high. Although results did not support this hypothesis, we found significant effects of conflict; children reasoned more optimally on our low-conflict task condition than on our high-conflict task condition, and these differences did not appear to be related to inhibitory control. The effect of conflict was most marked in younger preschoolers, resulting in Age × Conflict interactions on two of our four tasks. An other-over-self advantage (i.e., perspective effect) was detected on the Preferences task only. These results add to the growing body of literature on children’s future thinking by showing the important role of conflict (and its interaction with age) in the accuracy with which children reason about the future.