Anna Roby, who is studying for her Master of Science degree in Applied Psychology, is carrying out the research, which aims to test whether having an imaginary friend can help children's learning, development and creativity.
The theory is that by chatting to an imaginary companion a child becomes more practiced at using language and constructing conversation, as he or she is carrying out both sides of the interaction. Children aged 4 to 11, both with and without imaginary friends, are therefore being studied, to compare their ability to communicate meaning and the complexity of their grammar.
Researchers estimate that up to 25% of children have imaginary companions, particularly only- or first-born children. They are defined as vivid, imagined characters which might be people, animals or objects, which a child believes they are interacting with in an on-going way. The friend may be 'invisible' or take the form of a toy animal or doll, and is treated as if it has a personality and consciousness of its own.
Roby also works as a Research Assistant at the University's Max Planck Child Study Centre, and is being supervised in the study by colleagues Dr Evan Kidd and Dr Ludovica Serratrice. Dr Kidd said, "We are very interested in the outcome of this study, and it has opened up an area which has great potential for further investigation."
"If Anna's theories are correct, they will help reverse common misconceptions about children with imaginary friends, as they come to be seen as having an advantage rather than anything to worry about."
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