Any relationship that exists in the real world, in other words, is fair game.
One challenge in studying imaginary friends, though, is that it’s hard to know if the concept has always been a part of the earliest years of life.
“She’d come home and Rachel wasn’t there, so she played with Fake Rachel,” she says.
“And Fake Rachel lasted a long time, probably longer than the real Rachel, in the child’s life.” Imaginary companions aren’t strictly friends, either; in her research, Taylor has seen kids who make up boyfriends and girlfriends, husbands and wives, pets and mentors.
Until relatively recently, though, the loss of an imaginary friend wouldn’t be considered something worth mourning.There are some studies that show they have enhanced social understanding — they’re better able to take the perspective of someone else in real life.” (It bears noting that these links are correlations, not causations — scientists don’t know if kids who already have these traits are then more likely to create imaginary friends, or if the act of having an imaginary friend in turn spurs the development of certain skills.) And while it’s rare, even healthy adults can have imaginary friends, either creating new ones as they age or maintaining characters they made up earlier in life.“If you read the autobiography of Agatha Christie — she wrote this autobiography at age 70 and she still had them.“If a mother raises her eyebrows and puffs out her cheeks to make funny faces, pretty soon a baby can imitate this in a playful way,” Yale psychologist Dorothy Singer, who pioneered imaginary-friend research in the 20interview.“[This] is really a forerunner of symbolic or pretend play.“Because so few sources are available, early conceptions regarding pretend companions are sketchy.” And it’s difficult to determine which of those early conceptions can be translated into modern terms — in earlier periods, children’s (and adults’) imaginary friends may have been described as spiritual or supernatural entities, like demons or guardian angels.Today, cultural factors may influence how and how many kids bond with imaginary figures.Recall the 65-percent figure — that’s American kids.By contrast, in a British study of 1,800 kids between the ages of 5 and 12, only 46 percent said they’d ever had an imaginary friend.As a recent Science Friday article noted, they were once considered a sign of something unhealthy, or even sinister: Historically, many researchers and parents thought that imaginary companions were harmful or evil, and were a sign of a social deficit, demonic possession, or mental illness.For instance, at the University of Alabama’s Knowledge in Development ( The stigma, as the anecdote about Gilpin illustrates, is still alive and well, but it’s fading.