An advantage for ownership over preferences in children’s future thinking.

The ability to anticipate the future improves significantly across the preschool years. Whereas 5-year-olds understand that they will prefer adult items in the future, 3-year-olds indicate they will continue to prefer child items. We explore these age-related changes in future-oriented cognition by comparing children’s inferences about their future preferences with judgments about their future ownership. In Experiment 1, we show that 3- to 5-year-olds (N = 120) exhibit an ownership advantage in their future thinking—they are better able to indicate which objects they will own as adults than to indicate which they will prefer. We propose 2 explanations for this finding. First, children may rely more heavily on their semantic knowledge when inferring ownership than when inferring preferences, allowing them to sidestep the difficult task of mentally projecting themselves into the future. Second, ownership inferences may involve less conflict than preference inferences (e.g., conflict between a child’s present and future desires). In Experiment 2, we test these accounts by comparing 3-year-olds’ (N = 120) judgments about their own future ownership and preferences with judgments about what a present adult owns and prefers. We replicate the ownership advantage from Experiment 1 and further find that the ownership advantage holds when reasoning about a present adult. Our findings therefore support the conflict account, suggesting children struggle to infer what they will prefer as adults because their present and future preferences are in conflict. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)