Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Current desires distort children's choices about the future

17.08.2006
When it comes to predicting what they want in the future, even a crystal ball probably wouldn't help preschool children figure out what they might want tomorrow.

Psychologists looking at the largely unknown world of how children perceive the future have found that the youngsters' choices are warped when they are caught up in a primal desire such as thirst.

The researchers, headed by Cristina Atance, a University of Ottawa assistant professor of psychology, used pretzels to induce thirst in 3-to-5-year-olds. Then they asked one group of these children whether they wanted pretzels or water right now and asked a second group if they would want pretzel or water for tomorrow. Another group of youngsters was not fed pretzels and, when asked to make these same choices for now or for tomorrow, expressed a strong preference for pretzels over water. This was in stark contrast to the first two first groups of children who almost unanimously said they wanted water both for now and for tomorrow. The findings, published in the current issue of the journal Psychological Science, show the extent to which young children's current desires can impact their choices for the future.

"The popular idea is that children are rooted in the here and now," said Atance, "but little research to date has directly explored this claim. On the basis of this study, I think we can conclude that in some instances, at least, this claim is accurate.

Co-author Andrew Meltzoff, co-director of the University of Washington's Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences and the Job and Gertrud Tamaki Chair in psychology, said, "We think of anticipating the future as being one of the most distinctively human traits. We don't only live in the present. It is characteristic of human beings that we engage in mental time-travel. We have present and future selves. Sometimes the needs and desires of the present self conflict with those of the future self."

Atance said the study echoes well-known experiments that showed hungry adults bought more food at the grocery store than those who ate before shopping. The new study looked at thirst instead of hunger. For it, 48 children – 16 three-year-olds, 16 four-year-olds and 16 five-year-olds – were recruited. Equal numbers of boys and girls participated.

The children were randomly divided into four groups. In two intervention groups, the children were individually seated at a table and given 36 pretzel sticks and encouraged to eat as many as they wanted while an experimenter read to them for 12 minutes. Afterward, they were asked questions that tested their comprehension about "tomorrow." Then the intervention was divided. Twelve of the children were told to pretend that they were going to come back tomorrow and play a game with marbles and were asked what they would like with the game, pretzels or water. In the other intervention, the children were shown the marbles, told they were going to play with them now and asked if they wanted pretzels or water.

Children in the other two groups went through the same procedure except they were not given pretzels to eat during the reading period. Twenty of these 24 youngsters said they wanted pretzels and their choices did not differ when asked about now versus tomorrow. The results were the exact opposite in the intervention group with 20 of the children asking for water, including 11 of 12 who were questioned about what they preferred tomorrow.

There was no improvement in the children's ability to distinguish what they wanted now and tomorrow by age, even though the 4- and 5-year-olds had a better concept of the different times than did the 3-year olds.

Atance said the practical application of the research is that it can help parents and teachers better interpret young children's behavior and understand how difficult it is for children to think about the future.

"For instance, we often see children object when mom asks them to put on their coat in a warm house before going outside into the cold, or when she tells them to bring water to the park when they are not yet hot and thirsty," she said. "Although we may think that the child is simply being disobedient, it may be that they don't understand that they might be cold or thirsty later."

"Knowing about the future is something that is important in adult life," added Meltzoff. "All of education is built on the idea that learning things will be good for you and you will know more in the future. Young children almost have a mental inability to plan accurately for the future when they are in the strong grip of desire. Young children see their future selves through a present veil that is distorted by their current self. As adults we have tricks, experience, friends and spouses to help us focus on the future. Children don't have those capacities or resources."

Atance and Meltzoff plan to continue this line of research with older children and hope to pin-point when children develop the ability to distinguish between present and future desires.

Joel Schwarz | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.washington.edu

More articles from Social Sciences:

nachricht Fixating on faces
26.01.2017 | California Institute of Technology

nachricht Internet use in class tied to lower test scores
16.12.2016 | Michigan State University

All articles from Social Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Scientist invents way to trigger artificial photosynthesis to clean air

26.04.2017 | Materials Sciences

Ammonium nitrogen input increases the synthesis of anticarcinogenic compounds in broccoli

26.04.2017 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

SwRI-led team discovers lull in Mars' giant impact history

26.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>