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Tots Have Trouble Anticipating Future Needs

They base decisions on how they're feeling now, study finds

FRIDAY, Sept. 1, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- A new study suggests that young children make decisions about tomorrow, or even further in the future, based on how they are feeling right now.

"The popular idea is that children are rooted in the here and now, but little research to date has directly explored this claim. On the basis of this study, I think we can conclude that in some instances, at least, this claim is accurate," research leader Cristina Atance, assistant professor of psychology, University of Ottawa, Canada, said in a prepared statement.

In the study, 48 children aged 3 to 5 were divided into different groups. Two groups were given 36 pretzel sticks and encouraged to eat as many as they wanted in 12 minutes. The goal was to make them thirsty.

The researchers then asked one group of children if they wanted pretzels or water right now and asked the second group if they would want pretzels or water the next day. Nearly all the children in both of the groups said they wanted water.

Another group of children received no pretzels. They were asked to make the same choices and expressed a strong preference for the pretzels over the water.

Atance said this kind of research reveals how difficult it can be for young children to think about the future. The findings may help parents and teachers better interpret youngsters' behavior.

"For instance, we often see children object when mom asks them to put on their coat in a warm house before going outside into the cold, or when she tells them to bring water to the park when they are not yet hot and thirsty," Atance said. "Although we may think the child is simply being disobedient, it may be that they don't understand that they might be cold or thirsty later."

The study was published in the journal Psychological Science.

More information

The American Academy of Pediatrics has more about child behavior.

SOURCE: University of Washington, news release, August 2006
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