Reward-related episodic future thinking and delayed gratification in children

Ciarán Canning*, Agnieszka J. Graham, Teresa McCormack

*Corresponding author for this work

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1 Citation (Scopus)
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Cuing adults to imagine their personal futures enhances prudent choice in delay discounting tasks. However, it has not been established that such cueing also reduces discounting in children. We assessed the effect of episodic future thinking (EFT) on delay of gratification in children using EFT cues specifically related to the rewards on offer. One hundred and thirty-nine 8–12-year-olds were assigned to one of three conditions: (i) EFT (imagine spending money in the future), (ii) Imagine Place (imagine being in a certain place), or (iii) No Cue. They were cued on each trial of two tasks: a delay discounting task with hypothetical monetary rewards and a real delay choice task involving choices between real rewards over real delays (coins that could be swapped for treats). In the delay discounting task, the Imagine Place group showed significantly higher discounting than the other two groups. In the real delay choice task, the Imagine Place group made significantly fewer delayed choices than the EFT group. However, the EFT group did not differ from the No Cue group in either task. The lack of a difference between the EFT and No Cue conditions supports previous findings suggesting children struggle to benefit from EFT cues. Poorer performance of the Imagine Place group suggests that cued imagination is cognitively taxing for children, using up cognitive resources required to delay gratification.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105618
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
Early online date30 Dec 2022
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2023


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