• 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.
    • 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.
    • 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.