• 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.
    • 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.