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The development of episodic future thinking in middle childhood

Abstract

The ability to imagine future events (episodic future thinking—EFT) emerges in preschoolers and further improves during middle childhood and adolescence. In the present study, we focused on the possible cognitive factors that affect EFT and its development. We assessed the ability to mentally project forward in time of a large cohort of 135 6- to 11-year-old children through a task with minimal narrative demands (the Picture Book Trip task adapted from Atance and Meltzoff in Cogn Dev 20(3):341–361. doi:10.1016/j.cogdev.2005.05.001, 2005) in order to avoid potential linguistic effects on children’s performance. The results showed that this task can be used to assess the development of EFT at least until the age of 8. Furthermore, EFT scores correlated with measures of phonological short-term and verbal working memory. These results support the possibility that cognitive factors such as working memory play a key role in EFT.

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Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

For the specific concerns of the Italian Academy, we specify that: FF planned the study, adapted the original tests, supervised the recruitment of the participants and wrote the paper; AC, SN and IA contributed to the adaptation of the original tests, recruited the participants, administered the tasks and wrote the paper; RM recruited the participants, administered the tasks and contributed to the interpretation of the data; SV and GV supervised the recruitment of the participants and the administration of the tasks and contributed to the interpretation of the data; AM supervised the recruitment of the participants and the administration of the tasks, ran the statistics and wrote the paper.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to F. Ferretti or A. Marini.

Additional information

Handling editor: Roy Kessels (Radboud University Nijmegen); Reviewers: Mareike Altgassen (Radboud University Nijmegen), Peter Rendell (Australian Catholic University).

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Ferretti, F., Chiera, A., Nicchiarelli, S. et al. The development of episodic future thinking in middle childhood. Cogn Process 19, 87–94 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10339-017-0842-5

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Keywords

  • Cognitive development
  • Mental time travel
  • Episodic future thinking
  • Working memory