• The development of prospective memory in young schoolchildren: The impact of ongoing task absorption, cue salience, and cue centrality

      Kliegel, Matthias; Mahy, Caitlin E.V.; Voigt, Babett; Henry, Julie D.; Rendell, Peter G.; Aberle, Ingo (Elsevier, 2013)
      •9- and 10-year-olds outperformed 6- to 7-year-olds in event-based prospective memory. •Varying cue centrality, age effects only emerged with cues outside the center of attention. •Findings suggest developing executive control as cognitive mechanism. •Alternative conceptual explications are deeper encoding or changes in meta-memory. This study presents evidence that 9- and 10-year-old children outperform 6- and 7-year-old children on a measure of event-based prospective memory and that retrieval-based factors systematically influence performance and age differences. All experiments revealed significant age effects in prospective memory even after controlling for ongoing task performance. In addition, the provision of a less absorbing ongoing task (Experiment 1), higher cue salience (Experiment 2), and cues appearing in the center of attention (Experiment 3) were each associated with better performance. Of particular developmental importance was an age by cue centrality (in or outside of the center of attention) interaction that emerged in Experiment 3. Thus, age effects were restricted to prospective memory cues appearing outside of the center of attention, suggesting that the development of prospective memory across early school years may be modulated by whether a cue requires overt monitoring beyond the immediate attentional context. Because whether a cue is in or outside of the center of attention might determine the amount of executive control needed in a prospective memory task, findings suggest that developing executive control resources may drive prospective memory development across primary school age.
    • 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.
    • 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’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.