A Project of the University of Pennsylvania and the John Templeton Foundation

Preschoolers’ current desires warp their choices for the future

Published: July, 2006

Investigator(s): Other Investigator(s)

Researcher(s): Atance, C. M. & Meltzoff, A. N.


We introduce a new paradigm to assess how children's choices for the future are influenced by their current desires. Forty-eight 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds were assigned to one of four conditions. In two of these conditions (intervention), we manipulated children's current state of thirst by allowing them to eat pretzels. In the remaining two conditions (baseline), we did not give them pretzels. The children were then asked to choose between water and pretzels. In one intervention and one baseline condition, they chose what they would like “now,” whereas in the other intervention and baseline conditions, they chose what they would like “tomorrow.” Results revealed that, despite children's overwhelming desire for pretzels in the baseline conditions, children in both intervention conditions chose water. The data support the notion that children's current state influences not only their choices for the present, but also their choices for the future. We discuss this finding in terms of both cognitive-developmental and adult social-cognitive theory.

JTF grant funded: No