Attività di spostamento e interiorizzazione di un divieto in bambini in età prescolare durante un compito di ritardo della gratificazione.

Aim of the study: This study was aimed at investigating whether displacement activities had an
effect on preschool children's internalization of a rule, that is, on the ability to comply with an
adult's demands even without surveillance. Displacement activities are commonly recognized as
behavioral patterns, mostly including self-directed actions (e.g. scratching, self-touching), which
often occur in situations involving conflicting motivational tendencies. In ethology, several
researchers have suggested that displacement activities could facilitate individuals in dealing with
the stress experienced in a frustrating context. In child developmental research, some authors have
assessed whether distraction strategies could help children to inhibit a dominant response during
delay of gratification tasks (i.e., tasks in which they need to postpone a pleasant activity). However,
little is known about the role played by the displacement activities displayed by young children in
such situations, especially when children are required to comply with an adult's request without
surveillance. In this study, we hypothesized that displacement activities would have helped children
to cope with the stress experienced during the delay to play with an attractive stimulus, thus
functioning as regulators of their emotional state and facilitating children to wait longer in the task.
We also hypothesized that playing with an alternative toy would have functioned as distractor and
led children to be better able to tolerate the delay. Method: To this end, we administered 143 2-to-
4-year-olds with a delay maintenance task and related their performance with the displacement
activities they showed during the delay and with different types of actions (i.e., literal, conventional,
and symbolic actions) produced with an alternative object (i.e., four rubber ducks). Results:
Children's latency to touch the musical box (i.e., indicator of internalization) was positively related
with the rate of displacement activities. However, the rate of displacement activities increased
progressively as long as children were able to inhibit the interaction with the musical box. In
addition, the rate of displacement activities during the first minute of test did not predict the ability
of children to inhibit the interaction with the box. Furthermore, none of the different types of action
with the rubber ducks had an effect on children's delay tolerance. Conclusion: These results
suggest that displacement activities represented a functionless by-product of motivational conflict
rather than a strategy that children used to inhibit a response toward an attractive stimulus in a delay
maintenance task without adult's surveillance. Moreover, distraction with an alternative object did
not help children to perform better in the task.

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Il Pensiero Scientifico Editore, Roma , Italia
Infanzia e adolescenza (Testo stamp.) 14 (2015): 232–249. doi:10.1710/2124.23002
info:cnr-pdr/source/autori:Pecora, G., Addessi, E., Schino, G., Bellagamba, F./titolo:Attività di spostamento e interiorizzazione di un divieto in bambini in età prescolare durante un compito di ritardo della gratificazione./doi:10.1710/2124.2
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Elsa Addessi's picture
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Gabriele Schino's picture
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