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Volume 10 Issue 4 (July 2007), Pages F15-F38, 423-511

The development of prudence in the face of varying future rewards (pages 502-511)


The choice to delay gratification, opting for a greater reward later instead of a smaller reward now, has been used as a measure of preschoolers’ ability to make future‐oriented decisions. The present studies investigated to what extent these choice tasks reflect children's ability to make choices in favour of their future self. In Experiment 1, preschoolers were presented with choices between a smaller immediate reward of one sticker and larger delayed rewards varying in amount from two to five stickers. Whereas 3‐year‐olds showed no increased tendency to choose the delayed option as quantity increased from two to five, 4‐year‐olds’ future‐oriented choices reflected the value of the delayed reward. In Experiment 2, preschoolers chose between immediate and delayed rewards that were equal in amount and varied between one and four stickers. Three‐year‐olds reliably chose the immediate reward and showed no differentiation among rewards, whereas 4‐year‐olds chose in a manner that suggested they were trying to satisfy both immediate and future desires. Together these results support the notion that future‐oriented prudence reflects growth in concern for the future self.

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