Are children who have imaginary friends a little abnormal? Are they compensating for a lack of real friends or for some internal malaise? Not at all, according to Australian researchers at La Trobe University. In fact, it seems to come naturally to the majority of children to invent an invisible companion. What’s more, it gives them better social skills than those who don’t.
Dr Evan Kidd and colleague Anna Roby studied 44 children and found that the 22 who had imaginary friends were better able to get their point across to others.
“Children with imaginary friends have a lot of practice at inventing interactions between their imaginary friends and themselves,” said Dr Kidd. “We think that this is what facilitates their development of conversational skills – being in charge of both sides of the conversation.”
The fact that these children were generally first-born or only children does suggest that lack of siblings plays a decisive role, although Dr Kidd insists that it is not pathological. Rather, he says, this special type of pretend play appears to be an essential component of normal development.
Dr Kidd has gone on to establish in further research that the benefits of imaginary companions are long lasting. His study of university students showed that those who recalled having an imaginary companion in childhood were more creative, more achievement oriented, and more emotionally responsive than students who didn’t have one.
Interestingly, all the children in his study had the same level of listening skills.
Also interesting is the way this phenomenon overlaps with the Christian belief in the guardian angel — an invisible heavenly being often depicted as protecting a young child crossing a dangerous bridge. ~ Science Alert, June 3