The cognitive bases of the development of past and future episodic cognition in preschoolers

J Exp Child Psychol. 2017 Oct;162:242-258. doi: 10.1016/j.jecp.2017.05.014. Epub 2017 Jun 20.


The aim of this study was to use a minimalist framework to examine the joint development of past and future episodic cognition and their underlying cognitive abilities in 3- to 5-year-old Turkish preschoolers. Participants engaged in two main tasks, a what-where-when (www) task to measure episodic memory and a future prediction task to measure episodic future thinking. Three additional tasks were used for predicting children's performance in the two main tasks: a temporal language task, an executive function task, and a spatial working memory task. Results indicated that past and future episodic tasks were significantly correlated with each other even after controlling for age. Hierarchical multiple regressions showed that, after controlling for age, the www task was predicted by executive functions, possibly supporting binding of episodic information and by linguistic abilities. The future prediction task was predicted by linguistic abilities alone, underlining the importance of language for episodic past and future thinking.

Keywords: Cognitive development; Episodic future thinking; Episodic memory; Mental time travel; Minimalism; What–where–when task.

MeSH terms

  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Executive Function / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Male
  • Memory, Episodic*
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Spatial Memory / physiology*