Children’s capacity to remember a novel problem and to secure its future solution


Thomas Suddendorf, School of Psychology, University of Queensland, Brisbane Qld 4072, Australia; e-mail:


Much of humans’ success rests on foresight, the ability to predict what will happen or what is needed in the future. Surprisingly little is known about how this faculty develops. In three experiments (N = 170), 3- and 4-year-old children were presented with simple puzzles. Fifteen minutes later in a different room they were given the opportunity to secure a solution to take back to the puzzle. Only the older children performed above chance, whereas both age groups could solve the task in an instant condition. The same pattern of results emerged for another task involving selection of something to ‘feed ’ a puppet whose favorite food was initially unavailable. Control conditions suggest that temporal rather than spatial displacement influenced performance. Verbal reports substantiated the conclusion that by age 4 some children can remember a novel problem sufficiently enough to recognize a solution and select that solution in anticipation of applying it to the problem in the future.