The ability to project oneself into the future in order to plan effectively, and to contemplate possible courses of action, is fundamental to one’s existence. Yet few studies have had as their focus the development of children’s ability to engage in this process. What we mean when we speak of children’s ability to project themselves into the future is, specifically, how children begin to anticipate future events in which the self is mentally transported. This ability has been characterized as part of what comprises a temporally extended self (Moore, 1997, but see also Tulving, 1985; Tulving, Schacter, McLachlan, & Moscovitch, 1988; and Povinelli, 1995) and, specifically, with respect to the domain of the future, a temporally extended future self (hereafter referred to as the future self). We could contrast the notion of a future self with having knowledge of the future that may not be explicitly linked to the self. This latter type of knowledge may be more of a function of recognizing the pattern of past events and applying this knowledge to the future. For example, suppose you ask a 3-year-old child what she’ll be doing for her birthday, and she replies, “I’m gonna eat cake.” Is this reply reflective of her ability to place herself in this future event of “eating cake,” or is she simply reciting this event as part of an impersonal script that describes what typically happens at birthday parties? Although, in theory, one can think about these two alternative notions of thought concerning the future, to our knowledge this distinction has rarely, if ever, been drawn. However, this same sort of distinction has been made with respect to past events. For example, some authors (see Tulving, 1985; Tulving et al., 1988; Perner & Ruffman, 1995) have referred to this distinction as the difference between knowing versus remembering past events. The former is part of what Tulving (1985) characterized as semantic memory, whereas the latter is a function of
the episodic memory system. For instance, a person can know that he or she used to drive a blue truck, without necessarily remembering any specific instances in which he or she did so (Tulving et al., 1988). Thus, if this distinction exists with respect to past events, it is not implausible to hypothesize that a similar distinction also exists with respect to future events. To determine whether this may be the case, we begin this chapter with a review of the literature that is related to children’s understanding of the future.