The role of association in pre-schoolers' solutions to "spoon tests" of future planning
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Imagining the future is a powerful tool for making plans and solving problems. It is thought to rely on the episodic system which also underpins remembering a specific past event [1, 2, 3]. However, the emergence of episodic future thinking over development and evolution is debated [4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9]. One key source of positive evidence in pre-schoolers and animals is the “spoon test” or item choice test [4, 10], in which participants encounter a problem in one context and then a choice of items in another context, one of which is the solution to the problem. A majority of studies report that most children choose the right item by age 4 [10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, cf. 16]. Apes and corvids have also been shown to pass versions of the test [17, 18, 19]. However, it has been suggested that a simpler mechanism could be driving choice: the participant simply chooses the item that has been assigned salience or value, without necessarily imagining the future event [16, 20, 21, 22, 23]. We developed a new test in which two of the items offered to children were associated with positive outcomes, but only one was still useful. We found that older children (5-, 6-, and 7-year-olds) chose the correct item at above chance levels, but younger children (3- and 4-year-olds) did not. In further tests, 4-year-olds showed an intact memory for the encoding event. We conclude that positive association substantially impacts performance on item choice tests in 4-year-olds and that future planning may have a more protracted developmental trajectory than episodic memory.
Dickerson , K L , Ainge , J A & Seed , A M 2018 , ' The role of association in pre-schoolers' solutions to "spoon tests" of future planning ' , Current Biology , vol. 28 , no. 14 , e2 , pp. 2309-2313 . https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2018.05.052
© 2018 Elsevier Ltd. This work has been made available online in accordance with the publisher’s policies. This is the final published version of the work, which was originally published at https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2018.05.052
DescriptionKLD was funded by a Bobby Jones scholarship and by the University of St Andrews.
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