• 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.
    • “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 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.
    • 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.