Temporal Decentering and the Development of Temporal Concepts

In P. Indefrey & M. Gullberg (eds.), Time to Speak. Cognitive and Neural Prerequisites of Time in Language. Blackwell (2008)
Abstract
This article reviews some recent research on the development of temporal cognition, with reference to Weist's (1989) account of the development of temporal understanding. Weist's distinction between two levels of temporal decentering is discussed, and empirical studies that may be interpreted as measuring temporal decentering are described. We argue that if temporal decentering is defined simply in terms of the coordination of the temporal locations of three events, it may fail to fully capture the properties of mature temporal understanding. Characterizing the development of mature temporal cognition may require, in addition, distinguishing between event-dependent and event-independent thought about time. Experimental evidence relevant to such a distinction is described; these findings suggest that there may be important changes between 3 and 5 years in children's ability to think about points in time independently of the events that occur at those times.
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