Children’s Predictions of Future Perceptual Experiences: Temporal Reasoning and Phenomenology

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We investigated the development and cognitive correlates of envisioning future experiences in 3.5- to 6.5-year old children across 2 experiments, both of which involved toy trains traveling along a track. In the first, children were asked to predict the direction of train travel and color of train side, as it would be seen through an arch. Children below 5 years typically failed the task, while performance on it was associated with performance on a “before/after” comprehension task in which order-of-mention in a sentence had to be mapped to a video of 2 actions (after McCormack & Hanley, 2011). In the second train task children were asked to predict the content of a doll’s visual experience at the terminal point of a train’s transit, based on the tint of a doll’s spectacles and the direction of travel (toward or away). Again, success under 5 years of age was very rare and performance was associated with performance on the before/after task. This time there was a strong association with mental rotation skill. We conclude that the consistent association with before/after reasoning suggests that future-envisioning depends upon certain temporal-order concepts being in place. The inconsistent association with mental rotation suggests that envisioning can be achieved phenomenologically, but that its role is only explicit when the question explicitly concerns the content of a visual field.

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