Do displacement activities help preschool children to inhibit a forbidden action?

Displacement activities are commonly recognized as behavioral patterns, mostly including self-directed actions (e.g., scratching, self-touching), that 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. However, little is known about the displacement activities that young children may produce in such situations. This study was aimed at investigating whether displacement activities had an effect on preschool children's ability to postpone an immediate gratification (i.e., interacting with an attractive toy, a musical box), thereby functioning as regulators of their emotional state. To this end, we administered 143 2- to 4-year-olds with a delay maintenance task and related their performance with displacement activities they produced during the task and with actions with an external object. Children's latency to touch the musical box was positively related to their rate of displacement activities. However, the rate of displacement activities increased progressively as long as the children were able to inhibit the interaction with the musical box. In addition, the rate of displacement activities during the first 1 min of test did not predict the ability of children to inhibit the interaction with the box. These results suggest that displacement activities represented a functionless by-product of motivational conflict rather than a strategy that children used to inhibit their response to an attractive stimulus. (C) 2014 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Pecora, Giulia
Addessi, Elsa
Schino, Gabriele
Bellagamba, Francesca
Elsevier., Amsterdam,, Paesi Bassi
Journal of experimental child psychology (Print) 126 (2014): 80–90. doi:10.1016/j.jecp.2014.03.008
info:cnr-pdr/source/autori:Pecora, Giulia; Addessi, Elsa; Schino, Gabriele; Bellagamba, Francesca/titolo:Do displacement activities help preschool children to inhibit a forbidden action?/doi:10.1016/j.jecp.2014.03.008/rivista:Journal of experimental child
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Elsa Addessi's picture
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Gabriele Schino's picture
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