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Preparation for certain and uncertain future outcomes in young children and three species of monkey

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Abstract

This study examined 3‐year old children and monkeys’ capacities to prepare for immediate future events. In Study 1, children were presented with several tube apparatuses with two exits. When targets were certain to emerge from both, children tended to prepare to catch them by covering each exit. When it was uncertain where targets would emerge, however, they tended to prepare for only one possibility. These results substantiate the claim that simultaneous preparation for mutually exclusive possibilities develops relatively late. Study 2 found no evidence for such a capacity in monkeys (Ateles geoffroyi, Cebus apella, Papio hamadryas) given the same tasks.

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... The capacity to imagine and evaluate events from mutually exclusive timelines is currently a hot topic of research in developmental [11][12][13][14][15][16], comparative [15,[17][18][19][20][21], and clinical psychology [22][23][24][25][26], as well as in cognitive neuroscience [7,8,[27][28][29]. In this opinion article, we propose that thinking about alternative timelines principally rests on representations of temporal junctures (see Glossary), or points in time at which subjectively possible worlds branch off from one another. ...
... The results again replicated the finding of improved performance from 2 to 4 years of age, but children failed to perform better than on the original forked tube task. Critically, in two other recent studies [18,53], we found that 2.5-and 3-year-olds who struggled to prepare for alternative possibilities nevertheless performed close to ceiling on control tasks requiring them to use two hands to catch two rewards dropped simultaneously on certain trajectories. This pattern suggests that young children's difficulties with the original tasks were due to the uncertainty of the single outcome rather than with manual motor coordination. ...
... Notably, several studies [15,[17][18][19] have found that non-human great apes and monkeys, like young children, tend to prepare for only a single version of the future on uncertain versions of the task. Interpretations of these negative results, however, remain contentious (Box 1). ...
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Humans can imagine what happened in the past and what will happen in the future, but also what did not happen and what might happen. We reflect on envisioned events from alternative timelines, while knowing that we only ever live on one timeline. Considering alternative timelines rests on representations of temporal junctures, or points in time at which possible versions of reality diverge. These representations become increasingly sophisticated over childhood, first enabling preparation for mutually exclusive future possibilities and later the experience of counterfactual emotions like regret. By contrast, it remains unclear whether non-human animals represent temporal junctures at all. The emergence of these representations may have been a prime mover in human evolution.
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... Only the 5-year-olds in the Gautam et al. study provided compelling evidence that they appreciated the exclusive "or" relation by consistently passing both versions of the task. This interpretation is consistent with other recent data Suddendorf et al., 2020) and aligns with theory (Leahy & Carey, 2020; suggesting that young children and nonhuman primates-unlike older children-may not represent mutually exclusive possibilities as such (see Laland & Seed, 2021, for a related discussion). ...
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... In general, this paradigm, which originates from the above mentioned study by Sarah Beck and colleagues (2006), offers an impressively minimalist way to test for children's and animal's understanding of branching futures. More and diverse research will shed light on whether animals may eventually be shown to succeed on these and similar tasks (see also Suddendorf et al. 2017Suddendorf et al. , 2019 for slightly different versions of the task). For now, it would be premature to make any conclusive claims (Redshaw and Suddendorf 2016, 3; see also a review by Seed and Dickerson 2016 states can be quite complex. ...
... For what it is worth, in recent studies we failed to fi nd evidence that even monkeys and great apes, when given the opportunity to prepare for extremely simple immediately upcoming events, could consider two mutually exclusive possibilities [30,31]. ...
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Experimental psychologist Jonathan Crystal and evolutionary psychologist Thomas Suddendorf debate with nonhuman animals experience human-like episodic memory.
... Younger children, however, typically covered one exit only. Two follow-up studies showed that 2.5-year-olds performed much better when two balls were dropped at the same time on certain trajectories, suggesting that young children's trouble with the original task was to do with the uncertainty of the outcome, and not with coordinating their hands [80,117]. ...
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The ability to consider multiple possibilities forms the basis for a wide variety of human‐unique cognitive capacities. When does this skill develop? Previous studies have narrowly focused on children's ability to prepare for incompatible future outcomes. Here, we investigate this capacity in a causal learning context. Adults (N = 109) and 18‐ to 30‐month olds (N = 104) observed evidence that was consistent with two hypotheses, each occupying a different level of abstraction (individual vs. relational causation). Results suggest that adults and toddlers identified multiple candidate causes for an effect, held these possibilities in mind, and flexibly applied the appropriate hypothesis to inform subsequent inferences. These findings challenge previous suggestions that the ability to consider multiple alternatives does not emerge until much later in development.
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