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Imaginary friends and imaginary companions are a psychological and social phenomenon where a friendship or other interpersonal relationship takes place in the imagination rather than external physical reality. Imaginary friends are fictional characters created for improvisational role-playing. They often have elaborate personalities and behaviors. They may seem real to their creators, though they are ultimately unreal, as shown by studies.[1].

Imaginary friends are made often in childhood, sometimes in adolescence, and rarely in adulthood. They often function as tutelaries when played with by a child. They reveal, according to several theories of psychology, a child's anxieties, fears, goals and perceptions of the world through that child's conversations. They are, according to some children, physically indistinguishable from real people, while others say they see their imaginary friends only in their heads. There's even a third category of imaginary friend recognition: when the child doesn't see the imaginary friend at all, but can only feel his/her presence.


It has been theorized that children with imaginary companions may develop language skills and retain knowledge faster than children without them, which may be because these children get more linguistic practice while carrying out "conversations" with their imaginary friends than their peers get.[2]

Kutner (n.d.) holds that:

Imaginary companions are an integral part of many children's lives. They provide comfort in times of stress, companionship when they're lonely, someone to boss around when they feel powerless, and someone to blame for the broken lamp in the living room. Most important, an imaginary companion is a tool young children use to help them make sense of the adult world.[3]

Taylor, Carlson & Gerow (c2001: p. 190) hold that:

...despite some results suggesting that children with imaginary companions might be superior in intelligence, it is not true that all intelligent children create them.[4]

A long-time popular misconception is that most children dismiss or forget the imaginary friend once they begin school and acquire real friends. According to one study, by the age of seven, sixty-five percent of children report that they have had an imaginary companion at some point in their lives.[5] Some psychologists[attribution needed] have suggested that children simply retain but stop speaking about imaginary friends, due to adult expectations and peer pressure. Still, some children report creating or maintaining imaginary friends as pre-teens or teenagers. Few adults report having imaginary friends. Dr. Benjamin Spock believed that imaginary friends past age four indicated that something was "lacking" in the child or his environment. Some child development professionals still believe that the presence of imaginary friends past early childhood signals a serious psychiatric disorder.[6][7] Others disagree, saying that imaginary friends are common among school-age children and are part of normal social-cognitive development.[8]

See also


  1. Taylor, M. (1999) Imaginary Companions and the Children Who Create Them. New York: Oxford University Press
  2. Imaginary Friendships Could Boost Child Development
  3. Kutner, Lawrence (n.d.). Insights for Parents: Midnight Monsters and Imaginary Companions. Source: [1] (accessed: Monday May 18, 2009)
  4. Taylor, Marjorie; Carlson, Stephanie M.; Gerow, Lynn (c2001). 'Imaginary Companions: Characteristics and Correlatres' in Reifel, Robert Stuart (2001). Theory in Context and Out. Greenwood Publishing Group. Edition: illustrated. ISBN 1567504868. Source: [2] (accessed: Monday May 18, 2009)
  5. Two-thirds Of School-age Children Have An Imaginary Companion By Age 7
  6. News in Science – Imaginary friends open up fantastic world – 15 May 2006
  7. Book Review: Imaginary Companions and the Children Who Create Them
  8. Marjorie Taylor and Stephanie M. Carlson, "The Characteristics and Correlates of Fantasy in School-Age Children: Imaginary Companions, Impersonation, and Social Understanding." In Developmental Psychology 2004 Nov;40(6):1173-87.

Further reading

  • Dierker, L. C., Davis, K. F., & Sanders, B. (1995). 'The imaginary companion phenomenon: An analysis of personality correlates and developmental antecedents.' Dissociation: The Official Journal of the International Society for the Study of Multiple Personality and Dissociation, 8, 220–228.
  • Gleason, T. (2002). 'Social provisions of real and imaginary relationships in early childhood.' Developmental Psychology, 38, 979–992.
  • Gleason, T., Sebanc, A., & Hartup, W. (2000). 'Imaginary companions of preschool children.' Developmental Psychology, 36, 419–428.
  • Hall, E. (1982). 'The fearful child's hidden talents [Interview with Jerome Kagan].' Psychology Today, 16 (July), 50–59.
  • Hurlock, E., & Burstein, M. (1932). 'The imaginary playmate: A questionnaire study.' Journal of Genetic Psychology, 41, 380–392.
  • Manosevitz, M., Fling, S., & Prentice, N. (1977). 'Imaginary companions in young children: Relationships with intelligence, creativity and waiting ability.' Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 18, 73–78.
  • Manosevitz, M., Prentice, N., & Wilson, F. (1973). 'Individual and family correlates of imaginary companions in preschool children.' Developmental Psychology, 8, 72–79.
  • Mauro, J. (1991). 'The friend that only I can see: A longitudinal investigation of children's imaginary companions' (Doctoral dissertation, University of Oregon, Eugene, 1991). Dissertation Abstracts International, 52, 4995.
  • Meyer, J., & Tuber, S. (1989). 'Intrapsychic and behavioral correlates of the phenomenon of imaginary companions in young children.' Psychoanalytic Psychology, 6(2), 151–168.
  • Nagera, H. (1969). 'The imaginary companion: Its significance for ego development and conflict solution.' Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 24, 165–195.
  • Partington, J., & Grant, C. (1984). 'Imaginary playmates and other useful fantasies.' In P. Smith (Ed.), Play in animals and humans (pp. 217–240). New York: Basil Blackwell.
  • Imaginary Friends with Dr Evan Kidd podcast interview with Dr Evan Kidd of La Trobe University

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