• Developing an understanding of others’ emotional states: Relations among affective theory of mind and empathy measures in early childhood

      Gallant, Caitlyn M. M.; Lavis, Lydia; Mahy, Caitlin (Wiley, 2020)
      Theory of mind (ToM) consists of cognitive and affective components; however, few studies have evaluated the coherence of affective ToM measures and their associations with empathy. This research examined the relations among affective ToM tasks and assessments of empathy, measured directly and via parent reports in 4‐ to 6‐year‐olds. Children (N = 117) completed: an Appearance‐Reality Emotion Task, an adapted Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test, an Affective Stories Task, and an empathy task. Parents reported on children’s ToM and empathy, and language was assessed using a Picture Vocabulary Test. Controlling for language, no relationships were found among affective ToM measures and children’s age was only related to the Affective Stories Task. Further, controlling for age, only parent‐reported empathy was associated with the Appearance‐Reality Emotion Task. Once vocabulary and age were controlled, measures of affective ToM are unrelated and different developmental patterns emerged across measures. Statement of contribution What is already known on this subject Affective theory of mind is a distinct subcomponent of theory of mind that corresponds to an independent developmental mechanism. However, little research has been conducted on affective ToM, its developmental trajectory during the preschool years, its assessment, and its relationship with related constructs, such as empathy. What the present study adds Children’s performance on affective ToM tasks was unrelated once age and language abilities were accounted for. Thus, there is a need to examine affective ToM and its measurement more extensively to ensure we are effectively capturing this construct. This study was the first to establish a Preschool Reading the Mind in the Eyes Task that uses images of children and pictorial response options and an Affective Stories Task that captures age‐related changes in affective ToM beyond language skills.
    • The development of prospective memory in children: An executive framework

      Mahy, Caitlin; Moses, Louis; Kliegel, Matthias (Elsevier, 2014)
      Existing literature on children's prospective memory has been reviewed. An executive framework for studies on prospective memory development has been suggested. This study proposes a developmental model of prospective memory. Prospective memory (PM), the ability to remember to carry out one's intentions in the future, is critical for children's daily functioning and their ability to become independent from caregivers. This review assesses the current state of research on children's prospective memory. Using an executive functioning framework the literature can be organized into studies examining four factors that influence PM. We discuss studies that have manipulated the nature of the intention, the content or length of the retention interval, the nature of the ongoing task, and the nature of the PM cue. Further, we propose a model that attempts to account for the development of PM across childhood based on advances in executive control. Finally, we suggest promising future directions for research.
    • Do verbal reminders improve preschoolers’ prospective memory performance? It depends on age and individual differences

      Mahy, Caitlin; Mazachowsky, Tessa R.; Pagobo, Jacqueline R. (Elsevier, 2018)
      We examined the effect of verbal reminders on 4- to 6-year-olds’ prospective memory (PM). Reminder type interacted with age to affect PM performance. Children with better retrospective memory had better PM in the retrospective reminder condition. Children with better executive control had better PM in the executive reminder condition. Prospective memory (PM) involves both a retrospective memory component (i.e., remembering the content of a future intention) and a prospective component (i.e., detecting the appropriate cue and carrying out that intention). The current study was the first to test the effect of a single verbal reminder on 4- to 6-year-olds’ PM performance. Children were randomly assigned to: (1) a reminder about the content of an intention (retrospective memory reminder), (2) a reminder to pay attention (executive reminder), or (3) no reminder to test the predictions of the Executive Framework of PM Development (Mahy et al., 2014b) that posit a key role for executive function in PM development once retrospective memory reaches a sufficient level. Children also completed independent measures of retrospective memory and executive control. We predicted that an executive reminder should help children’s PM by increasing cue detection, whereas a retrospective memory reminder should not affect PM because by 4 children should be able to encode and store simple future intentions. Results showed that: (1) PM performance improved with age, (2) age interacted with the reminder condition, and (3) children with better executive functioning had better PM after receiving an executive reminder. These results suggest that age and individual differences play an important role in the impact reminders have on children’s PM performance.
    • The effect of episodic future simulation and motivation on young children’s induced-state episodic foresight

      Mahy, Caitlin; Masson, Chelsey; Krause, Amanda M.; Mazachowsky, Tessa (Elsevier, 2020)
      Examined the impact of episodic simulation and motivation on children’s episodic foresight. Thirst was induced and children were asked to make future choices. 3- to 5-year-olds completed the pretzel task under 4 different experimental conditions. Children’s future predictions were most accurate in the motivation condition. A novel and motivating food item, a cupcake, helped children overcome their current state of thirst. Future simulation and motivation are two strategies that might help children improve their induced-state episodic foresight. In Study 1, 3- to 5-year-old children (N = 96) consumed pretzels (to induce thirst) and were asked what they would prefer the next day, pretzels or water. Children were randomly assigned to an experimental condition: (1) a standard thirsty condition, (2) an episodic simulation condition where they imagined being hungry the next day, (3) a motivation condition where children chose between a cupcake and water, or (4) a control condition (thirst was not induced). Future preferences did not differ by age and children were less likely to choose water (vs. a cupcake) in the motivation condition compared to the standard thirsty condition. Study 2 found that 3- to 5-year-old children (N = 22) were also less likely to choose water for right now versus a cupcake when thirst was induced.
    • The effect of psychological distance on young children's future predictions

      Mazachowsky, Tessa R.; Koktavy, Christine; Mahy, Caitlin (John Wiley and Sons, 2019)
      The current study examined the impact of psychological distance on children's performance on the pretzel task. In this task, children eat pretzels (inducing thirst) and then are asked to reason about future preferences (pretzels or water). Children typically perform poorly on this task, indicating a future preference for water over pretzels, potentially due to conflicting current and future states. Given past work showing that children's future reasoning is more accurate for another person, we asked 90 thirsty 3‐ to 7‐year‐olds to reason about their own and an experimenter's future preference. Results showed that thirsty children had more difficulty predicting their own future preference compared with the experimenter's. Thirstier children were more likely to predict a future preference for water. Thirst interacted with age when making a future choice for the experimenter. How psychological distance might boost episodic foresight and possible reasons for children's poor pretzel task performance are discussed. Does psychological distancing improve children's ability to make accurate future predictions when current and future states conflict? Using the Pretzel task, thirsty children were less accurate when predicting their own future preferences compared with the future preferences of another person. Psychological distancing may help children overcome their current state to reason more accurately about the future.
    • Emerging themes in the development of prospective memory during childhood

      Mahy, Caitlin; Kliegel, Matthias; Marcovitch, Stuart (Elsevier, 2014)
      Six years ago, Kvavilashvili, Kyle, and Messer (2008) called for more research in the area of chil dren’s prospective memory (PM), defined as the ability to remember to carry out delayed intentions (Einstein & McDaniel, 1990). At that time, the literature on PM in children was scant, although a few well-developed paradigms were available to measure PM in preschool-age children (Kvavilashvili, Messer, & Ebdon, 2001) and older children during middle childhood (Kerns, 2000). Although there is still much work to be done, the last few years have seen a steep rise in the number of studies on the topic of PM during childhood examining children as young as 2 years using a wide variety of time- and event-based PM paradigms. This recent increase in research activity in children’s PM was reflected in the high number of initial submissions for this special issue (20 manuscripts). The current special issue on the development of PM during childhood offers an overview of this burgeoning area of research, studying children from toddlerhood to adolescence, who are typically and atypically developing, using a wide variety of methods, including naturalistic tasks, experimental tasks, and parent report measures. In what follows, we first discuss the four sections of this special issue: PM research during early childhood, PM and episodic future thinking, PM in clinical populations, and PM during adolescence. We then highlight some emerging themes in this collection of articles that cut across these sections and highlight the contribution such topics will make to the field of PM.
    • How and where: Theory-of-mind in the brain

      Mahy, Caitlin; Moses, Louis J.; Pfeifer, Jennifer H. (Elsevier, 2014)
      Neuroscience has the potential to address accounts of theory-of-mind acquisition. Review of the research on the neural basis of theory-of-mind in adults and children. Future research directions include microgenetic and training fMRI studies. Theory of mind (ToM) is a core topic in both social neuroscience and developmental psychology, yet theory and data from each field have only minimally constrained thinking in the other. The two fields might be fruitfully integrated, however, if social neuroscientists sought evidence directly relevant to current accounts of ToM development: modularity, simulation, executive, and theory theory accounts. Here we extend the distinct predictions made by each theory to the neural level, describe neuroimaging evidence that in principle would be relevant to testing each account, and discuss such evidence where it exists. We propose that it would be mutually beneficial for both fields if ToM neuroimaging studies focused more on integrating developmental accounts of ToM acquisition with neuroimaging approaches, and suggest ways this might be achieved.
    • How executive functions are associated with event-based and time based prospective memory during childhood

      Zuber, Sascha; Mahy, Caitlin; Kliegel, Matthias (Elsevier, 2018)
      Age does not explain prospective memory performance above and beyond executive resources. Updating represents a general resource deployed by different PM tasks. Inhibition is particularly required to perform focal and non-focal event-based tasks. Shifting is specifically deployed by non-focal event-based time-based PM tasks. Time-monitoring is essential to succeed at time-based prospective memory tasks. A key developmental task of childhood is to gain autonomy and independence from parents and caregivers. Critical to this individualization process is the development of prospective memory (PM), the capacity to remember to carry out future intentions. In recent studies, children's PM performance has been associated with executive functions (EF). A closer inspection of the literature, however, suggests a differential impact of the three EF (updating, inhibition, and shifting) across different PM task types. The current study examined EF and PM capacities of 212 6- to 11-year-old children, examining for the first time both focal and non-focal event-based PM tasks as well as a time-based PM task in a single sample. Results show that age-differences did not persist above and beyond age differences in children's executive resources. Specifically, updating predicted children's performance on all PM tasks, inhibition predicted performance on both event-based PM tasks, whereas shifting was specifically deployed by the non-focal event-based task. Supplementary analyses of the time-based PM task illustrate how children monitor the progression of time and how preparatory processes support PM task performance. In sum, the current study presents the first comprehensive look at the specific role of age and three core EF in school-aged children's PM performance.
    • The impact of age, ongoing task difficulty, and cue salience on preschoolers’ prospective memory performance: The role of executive function

      Mahy, Caitlin; Moses, Louis; Kliegel, Matthias (Elsevier, 2014)
      5-year-old children had better prospective memory than 4-year-olds.•Children had better prospective memory performance for salient compared to non-salient cues.•Prospective memory performance was not affected by ongoing task difficulty.•Prospective memory suffered most when cues were non-salient and the ongoing task was difficult.•Inhibition fully mediated the relation between age and prospective memory performance. The current study examined the impact of age, ongoing task (OT) difficulty, and cue salience on 4- and 5-year-old children’s prospective memory (PM) and also explored the relation between individual differences in executive function (working memory, inhibition, and shifting) and PM. OT difficulty and cue salience are predicted to affect the detection of PM cues based on the multiprocess framework, yet neither has been thoroughly investigated in young children. OT difficulty was manipulated by requiring children to sort cards according to the size of pictured items (easy) or by opposite size (difficult), and cue salience was manipulated by placing a red border around half of the target cues (salient) and no border around the other cues (non-salient). The 5-year-olds outperformed the 4-year-olds on the PM task, and salient PM cues resulted in better PM cues compared with non-salient cues. There was no main effect of OT difficulty, and the interaction between cue salience and OT difficulty was not significant. However, a planned comparison revealed that the combination of non-salient cues and a difficult OT resulted in significantly worse PM performance than that in all of the other conditions. Inhibition accounted for significant variance in PM performance for non-salient cues and for marginally significant variance for salient cues. Furthermore, individual differences in inhibition fully mediated the effect of age on PM performance. Results are discussed in the context of the multiprocess framework and with reference to preschoolers’ difficulty with the executive demands of dividing attention between the OT and PM task.
    • “I’ll remember everything no matter what!”: The role of metacognitive abilities in the development of young children’s prospective memory

      Lavis, Lydia; Mahy, Caitlin (Elsevier, 2021)
      Young children made prospective and retrospective memory predictions and postdictions. Children’s prospective memory postdictions were influenced by task difficulty. Children’s metacognitive monitoring was related to prospective memory predictions. With age, children’s metamemory judgements became more accurate. Overall, 4- to 6-year-olds are optimistic in their memory predictions and postdictions. Prospective memory (PM), the ability to remember to carry out future intentions, is a critical skill for children’s daily activities. Despite this, little is known about young children’s awareness of their PM ability (metamemory), how metamemory is affected by PM task difficulty, and how metacognitive abilities might be related to metamemory. The current study examined the effect of task difficulty on children’s PM predictions, actual performance, and postdictions and relations among episodic memory metamemory, metacognitive control, and executive functioning. Children aged 4 to 6 years (N = 131) made PM predictions, completed an easy or difficult PM task, and then made PM postdictions. Children also made predictions and postdictions for their performance on an episodic recall task and then completed an independent measure of metacognitive control and two measures of executive function (working memory and inhibition). Results showed that (a) children’s PM increased with age and was worse in the difficult PM task condition, (b) PM predictions and postdictions did not increase with age and only PM postdictions were affected by PM task difficulty; (c) children’s PM and episodic recall predictions and postdictions were more accurate with age, (d) children’s PM postdictions best predicted PM performance, whereas predictions best predicted episodic recall task performance, and (e) children with better metacognitive control had better PM and more accurate PM predictions. These results are discussed in terms of young children’s optimism surrounding their memory performance and the emergence of early metacognitive abilities.
    • The role of subvocal rehearsal in preschool children’s prospective memory

      Mahy, Caitlin; Mohun, Hannah; Muller, Ulrich; Moses, Louis (Elsevier, 2016)
      4-year-olds had worse PM than 5-year-olds.•Children in the verbal interference condition had worse PM compared to children in the standard condition.•PM performance was correlated with verbal working memory and receptive vocabulary in the verbal interference condition only.•Children with better verbal ability were better able to cope with verbal interference to the benefit of their PM performance. The current study examined the impact of a verbal interference manipulation on 4- and 5- year olds’ prospective memory (PM). Children were randomly assigned to either complete a quiet delay activity (standard condition) or answer questions aloud during the delay activity (verbal interference condition). Children then completed a PM task followed by several individual differences measures (verbal working memory, inhibitory control, and receptive vocabulary). Four-year-olds showed worse PM than 5-year-olds, children in the verbal interference condition showed worse PM compared to the standard condition, and there was a marginal interaction between age and condition driven by poor performance of 4-year-olds in the verbal interference condition. PM performance was positively correlated with verbal working memory and receptive vocabulary (but not inhibitory control) in the verbal interference condition only suggesting that children with better verbal abilities were more able to cope with verbal interference to the benefit of their PM.
    • 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.
    • Testing the validity of a continuous false belief task in 3- to 7-year-old children

      Mahy, Caitlin; Bernstein, Daniel M.; Gerrard, Lindsey D.; Atance, Christina M. (Elsevier, 2017)
      A continuous measure of false belief showed development in 3–7 year old children. False belief bias was related to Change of Location task performance. False belief bias was unrelated to measures of inhibition. The continuous measure of false belief shows convergent and discriminant validity. In two studies, we examined young children’s performance on the paper-and-pencil version of the Sandbox task, a continuous measure of false belief, and its relations with other false belief and inhibition tasks. In Study 1, 96 children aged 3 to 7years completed three false belief tasks (Sandbox, Unexpected Contents, and Appearance/Reality) and two inhibition tasks (Head–Shoulders–Knees–Toes and Grass/Snow). Results revealed that false belief bias—a measure of egocentrism—on the Sandbox task correlated with age but not with the Unexpected Contents or Appearance/Reality task or with measures of inhibition after controlling for age. In Study 2, 90 3- to 7-year-olds completed five false belief tasks (Sandbox, Unexpected Contents, Appearance/Reality, Change of Location, and a second-order false belief task), two inhibition tasks (Simon Says and Grass/Snow), and a receptive vocabulary task (Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test). Results showed that false belief bias on the Sandbox task correlated negatively with age and with the Change of Location task but not with the other false belief or inhibition tasks after controlling for age and receptive vocabulary. The Sandbox task shows promise as an age-sensitive measure of false belief performance during early childhood and shows convergent and discriminant validity.
    • These pretzels are going to make me thirsty tomorrow: Differential development of hot and cool episodic foresight in early childhood?

      Mahy, Caitlin; Grass, Julia; Wagner, Sarah; Kliegel, Matthias (Wiley, 2014)
      The current study examined 3‐ and 7‐year‐olds' performance on two types of episodic foresight tasks: A task that required ‘cool’ reasoning processes about the use of objects in future situations and a task that required ‘hot’ processes to inhibit a salient current physiological state in order to reason accurately about a future state. Results revealed that 7‐year‐olds outperformed 3‐year‐olds on the episodic foresight task that involved cool processes, but did not show age differences in performance on the task that involved hot processes. In fact, both 3‐ and 7‐year‐olds performed equally poorly on the task that required predicting a future physiological state that was in conflict with their current state. Further, performance on the two tasks was unrelated. We discuss the results in terms of differing developmental trajectories for episodic foresight tasks that differentially rely on hot and cool processes and the universal difficulties humans have with predicting later outcomes that conflict with current motivational states.
    • Thinking about the future: Comparing children’s forced-choice versus “generative” responses in the “spoon test”

      Atance, Christina M.; Celebi, Seyda Nur; Mitchinson, Sarah; Mahy, Caitlin (Elsevier, 2019)
      Episodic future thinking has been assessed in children using the “spoon test”. In this test, children select an item that will be useful in the future. We adapted this test so that preschoolers had to verbally generate the item. For all age groups generating the correct item was more difficult than selecting it. Performance in the “generate” condition was related to category fluency. One of the most popular methods to assess children’s foresight is to present children with a problem (e.g., locked box with no key) in one room and then later, in another room, give them the opportunity to select the item (e.g., key) that will solve it. Whether or not children choose the correct item to bring back to the first room is the dependent measure of interest in this “spoon test.” Although children as young as 3 or 4 years typically succeed on this test, whether they would pass a more stringent version in which they must verbally generate (vs. select) the correct item in the absence of any cues is unknown. This is an important point given that humans must often make decisions about the future without being explicitly “prompted” by the future-oriented option. In Experiment 1, using an adapted version of the spoon test, we show that as the “generative” requirements of the task increase, 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds’ (N = 99) performance significantly decreases. We replicate this effect in Experiment 2 (N = 48 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds) and also provide preliminary evidence that the capacity to verbally generate the correct item in a spoon test may draw more heavily on children’s category fluency skills than does their capacity to select this item among a set of distracters. Our findings underscore the importance of examining more generative forms of future thought in young children.
    • Young Children Have Difficulty Predicting Future Preferences in the Presence of a Conflicting Physiological State: Conflicting State EFT

      Mahy, Caitlin (Wiley and Sons, 2016)
      This study examined children's predictions about their future preferences when they were in two different physiological states (thirsty and not thirsty). Ninety 3- to 7-year-olds were asked to predict what they would prefer tomorrow: pretzels to eat or water to drink after having consumed pretzels, and again after having had the opportunity to quench their thirst with water. Results showed that although children initially preferred pretzels to water at baseline, they more often indicated that they would prefer water the next day after they had consumed pretzels. After consuming water, however, the same children indicated they would prefer pretzels the next day. Children's verbal justifications for their choices rarely made reference to their current or future states, but rather justifications were more likely to make reference to their general preferences when they were no longer thirsty compared to when they were thirsty. Results suggest that current physiological states have a powerful influence on future preferences. The findings are discussed in the context of the development of episodic foresight, the Bischof-Kohler hypothesis, and the important and often overlooked role that children's current states play in future decision making.
    • 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.