Australian researchers say having an imaginary friend can help a child learn.
According psychologist, Dr. Evan Kidd at Melbourne's La Trobe University, children with imaginary friends are better at learning to communicate than other children because they have a lot of practice at inventing interactions with their friends, which helps them improve their conversational skills.
Dr. Kidd and his colleague Anna Roby explored the hidden world of imaginary companions in a study which involved 44 children, 22 of which had imaginary friends in an attempt to understand the benefits.
The study found that the 22 children who had imaginary friends were better able to get their point across than were children of the same age who did not have an imaginary friend - Dr. Kidd says these children are in charge of both sides of the conversation so have a lot of practice at inventing interactions between their imaginary friends and themselves and this is what facilitates the development of their conversational skills.
The researchers also discovered that children with an invisible friend or personified toy had a better social understanding, were generally first born or only children and were very creative.
Dr. Kidd says all the children with imaginary friends were very creative and treated these imaginary 'friends' as real, played with them throughout the day and referred to them in conversation - one child reported having a companion named Sarah, who had a pet dragon while another enjoyed a friendship with an imaginary family, Mr and Mrs Driller who had two children - another child had an imaginary tomato called 'Bodder' and a potato called 'Bun.
Dr. Kidd says the phenomenon of the imaginary friend is really misunderstood and people think it is rare and a concern but past studies have shown that around 65% of children aged between three and nine, had imaginary friends and the characters, rather than due to some internal malaise, appear to be an essential component of normal development.
Dr. Kidd has established in his research that the benefits of imaginary companions are long lasting - a 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.
However, there was no difference between any of the 44 children when it came to listening skills.
Dr. Kidd is a Research Fellow at La Trobe's School of Psychological Sciences.