Prevalence of imaginary companions in Chinese children aged 4 to 6 years
Qiyi Lin (Huaiyin Normal University and Nanjing Normal University), Nan Zhou (Jiangsu College of Nursing), Hong Fu (Nanjing Normal University), 2020, 48(3), e8845. 

This title was the first I have encountered that gave me an “ah-ha” experience. I have great respect for the trait of imagination, and particularly in children. It must always be valued and nurtured. 

This research was focused on Chinese children and their association with personified objects (PO) and invisible friends (IF), with consideration for their relationships with imaginary companions (IC) and how these are affected by gender, birth order, and household income.

In their sample, the researchers found that gender was not significant, and there was no association between IC status and birth order. However, based on their findings, they speculated that a family’s socioeconomic environment may be associated with children’s imaginary play. Further investigation revealed that the type of IC was not associated with the quality of the child’s relationship with the IC.

Although this left me a little underwhelmed and disappointed with what I had hoped to discover about children’s imagination, I found myself questioning some of the rationale and the limitations of the study.

The authors considered that children from higher socioeconomic households were exposed to greater stimulation in terms of access to toys, books, animated movies; thus making them more imaginative in their play than those from lower socioeconomic households. I wonder if the reverse is not true. Children with fewer resources may need to be more creative and thus develop greater use of imagination.

I am not sure that birth order per se is a factor relevant to imaginative play. From experience, I would suggest that the age gap between siblings may be significant in that a child who is at either end of the order by a significant number of years may often find they have to play with companions they imagine.

Some of the ICs of children participating in this study were reported only by their mothers, some by the children themselves.  There might, therefore, be a number of unreported ICs that mothers do not know about, or that children were reluctant to reveal.

There is seemingly a lot more to be discovered in this area of research. In particular, how does it relate to the great world of the virtual and real to which children are now exposed? What level of imagination and reality is there in the young creative mind? I questioned this as I watched a 4-year-old granddaughter (much the youngest in the family and used to playing on her own) who had lined up some stuffed toys to “read” to. She spoke directly to a cute brown dog, introducing his neighbor: “This is a rabbit; he’s not real.”

Lesley Aitken | Copyeditor
Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal