Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit Invited Speaker Series, 2014/15
Several studies have shown that contrary to earlier beliefs, it is quite common for children to have imaginary companions. The appearance of the imaginary companions can cause concern to parents and others, who are not sure whether they are a positive feature or a detrimental phenomenon to be discouraged. Whilst the imaginary friends of young children are often known to parents, the imaginary friends of older children, and sometimes adults, are not known to others as their creators anticipate disapproval from others.
This paper reports on research studies I have undertaken with children, parents and adults who recollect childhood imaginary companions. The primary aim of the research has been to explore the characteristics of the imaginary companions and interactions between the child and their imaginary friends in order to shed light on possible purposes they might serve. Data included semi-structured interviews with children, and parent and adult interviews and questionnaires. Children with imaginary friends are not a homogeneous group, and the characteristics of the imaginary friends are also very diverse. Children acknowledged their friends as being imaginary yet they often felt real to the children, some having their own lives, appearing to act independently, and sometimes showing negative characteristics.
Children, parents and adults frequently gave examples of how interactions with imaginary friends were related to events in their daily lives and enabled the child to process and deal with these. Parents and adults saw the main purposes of imaginary companions were to support fantasy play and a companion to play and have fun with. These findings are reviewed in relation to psychological theories of play and imagination. It is argued that the capacity of children to create and sustain interactions with their imaginary friends, which fulfil a range of positive purposes, should be viewed as competence in imagination and creativity.
Karen is a Senior Educational Psychologist for East London Consortium of Educational Psychologists (ELCEP) and also Assistant Programme Director for the Doctorate in Professional Educational, Child and Adolescent Psychology at the Institute of Education (IOE). Her academic and professional interests include children’s friendships, social and emotional development and children’s imaginary friends. Karen completed the Doctorate in Education at the Institute of Education, University of London. The topic of her Doctoral Thesis concerned children’s perceptions of their imaginary friends. She has gone on to carry out research with parents of children with imaginary friends and adults who recollect imaginary friends. Karen has taken opportunities to disseminate research findings on national radio, and national and international conferences.
APRU Invited Speaker Programme
Dates & times
If you are attending an event and need the College to help with any mobility requirements you may have, please contact the event organiser in advance to ensure we can accommodate your needs.