Researchers learn more about motivations of preschoolers
The Sector > Research > Researchers learn more about what motivates preschoolers to prepare for the future

Researchers learn more about what motivates preschoolers to prepare for the future

by Freya Lucas

May 23, 2024

While adults think about their future 59 times a day, on average, researchers sought to learn more about what motivates children to do the same. 


For adults, thinking about the future can help them to cope with upcoming challenges, however for young children, life is more about the ‘here and now’, researchers hypothesised, wondering if children have the capacity to imagine how they may feel beyond the present, and if this capacity impacts on their decision making. 


Researchers at Ruhr University Bochum, Germany, studied 90 children all five years of age as part of the Research Training Group (DFG-Graduiertenkolleg) “Situated Cognition” at the intersection of philosophy and psychology, which is funded by the German Research Foundation. 


“Even when preschool children are asked to imagine an upcoming event, their response will often be guided by their current mood,” Dr. Babett Voigt, who led the study together with Felix Schreiber said.


“Surprisingly, it was not yet known why this is the case.”


In the online study, the children visited two virtual rooms. In the first room, they were introduced to three games. They also learned that they would return to this room later, that there would be a test in one of the games and that they could win stickers. 


In the second room, some of the children were asked to imagine how good it would feel to win lots of stickers, while others were asked to imagine how bad it would feel to win just a few stickers. The third group was reminded only of the fact that the test would take place.


The researchers then presented the children with the same three games as in the first room. 


The children could decide which of the games they wanted to play before returning to the first room. The decisive factor for the researchers was whether the children chose the game which was announced to be played later to win the stickers. 


Only the children who had imagined how bad it would feel to win only a small number of stickers were more likely to choose the game on which they would later be tested.


This indicates that expectations about future events and feelings affect how children behave in the here and now, Dr Voigt said. 


“A pessimistic outlook seems to motivate children to prepare for events,” she continued. “We suspect that preschool children rarely think spontaneously about how unpleasant something will feel.” 


Access Negative (but Not Positive) Affective Episodic Future Thinking Enhances Proactive Behavior in 5-Year-Old Children here

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