Imagining the future improves saving in preschoolers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Preschoolers are notoriously poor at delaying gratification and saving limited resources, yet evidence-based methods of improving these behaviors are lacking. Using the marble game saving paradigm, we examined whether young children's saving behavior would increase as a result of engaging in future-oriented imagination using a storyboard. Participants were 115 typically developing 4-year-olds from a midwestern U.S. metropolitan area (Mage = 53.48 months, SD = 4.14, range = 47–60; 54.8% female; 84.5% White; 7.3% Hispanic/Latino ethnicity; median annual household income = $150,000–$174,999). Children were randomly assigned to one of four storyboard conditions prior to the marble game: Positive Future Simulation, Negative Future Simulation, Positive Routine, or Negative Routine. In each condition, children were asked to imagine how they would feel in the future situation using a smiley face rating scale. Results showed that children were significantly more likely to save (and to save more marbles) in the experimental conditions compared with the control conditions (medium effect sizes). Moreover, imagining saving for the future (and how good that would feel) was more effective at increasing saving behaviors than imagining not saving (and how bad that would feel). Emotion ratings were consistent with the assigned condition, but positive emotion alone did not account for these effects. Results held after accounting for game order and verbal IQ. Implications of temporal psychological distancing and emotion anticipation for children's future-oriented decision making are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number105966
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
StatePublished - Oct 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 Elsevier Inc.


  • Anticipated emotion
  • Decision making
  • Future episodic thinking
  • Imagination
  • Saving
  • Self-control

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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