Episodic future thinking and delay of gratification in children: is imagining reward pay-off helpful?

Ciarán Canning*, Teresa McCormack, Eirinn Clifford, Ciara Donnelly, Erinn Duffy, Samuel Hickland, Agnieszka J. Graham

*Corresponding author for this work

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Previous studies have failed to show an effect of episodic future thinking (EFT) on children's delay of gratification (DoG), contrasting strikingly with adult findings. Recent findings from a sample of 8–11-year-old children by Canning et al. (J. Exp. Child Psychol., 228, 2023, 105618) indicate that EFT cueing is not effective compared to a no-cue control even when it is reward related. Canning et al. suggest children's DoG performance, unlike that of adults, may be negatively affected by the cognitive load of cueing, but this leaves unexplained why EFT reward-related cueing produced significantly better performance than cueing that did not involve EFT in their study. The current study attempted to further delineate the importance of linking future thinking cues to rewards. A reward-related EFT condition was compared to a reward-unrelated EFT condition and a no-cue control on a delay choice task. No significant differences were observed between the three conditions. This suggests that even reward-related future thinking is ineffective at improving children's delayed gratification. Further research is needed to determine why children struggle to benefit from EFT cues.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages7
JournalBritish Journal of Developmental Psychology
Early online date20 Feb 2024
Publication statusEarly online date - 20 Feb 2024


  • Delay of gratification
  • Episodic future thinking
  • episodic future thinking
  • decision making
  • cued thinking
  • delayed gratification

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


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