• 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.