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Abstract

This study examined the relative efficacy of explicit instruction and indirect priming on young children’s behavior in a task that required a series of choices between a small immediate reward and a larger delayed reward. One hundread and six 4-year-old children were randomly assigned to one of four conditions involving one of two goals (maximize rewards or obtain immediate rewards) and one of two types of instruction (indirect priming using stories or explicit verbal instructions). Children were more likely to make goal-congruent choices as a result of indirect priming, but there was no effect of explicit instruction, suggesting that indirect approaches to changing young children’s behavior may be more effective than direct approaches under some circumstances. These results have implications for understanding the dynamic interplay between bottom-up and top-down influences on self-regulation early in development.