Training Preschoolers’ Prospective Abilities Through Conversation About the Extended Self

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Abstract

The ability to act on behalf of one’s future self is related to uniquely human abilities such as planning, delay of gratification, and goal attainment. Although prospection develops rapidly during early childhood, little is known about the mechanisms that support its development. Here we explored whether encouraging children to talk about their extended selves (self outside the present context) boosts their prospective abilities. Preschoolers (N = 81) participated in a 5-min interaction with an adult in which they were asked to talk about events in the near future, distant future, near past, or present. Compared with children discussing their present and distant future, children asked to discuss events in their near future or near past displayed better planning and prospective memory. Additionally, those 2 conditions were most effective in eliciting self-projection (use of personal pronouns). Results suggest that experience communicating about the temporally contiguous, extended self may promote children’s future-oriented thinking.

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