Adult 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.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.She liked them better than the characters in her novels,” Taylor says.“I’m not worried by imaginary friends whenever they happen.” Or however they happen.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.
“[This] is really a forerunner of symbolic or pretend play.
“In a lot of ways they’re really similar, but when we do find differences, they tend to show an advantage for kids who have imaginary friends,” says University of Oregon psychologist Marjorie Taylor, the author of .
“They’re sociable kids, they’re less shy than other children.
“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.
Taylor, who has developed a taxonomy of imaginary friends based on descriptions she’s collected over the years, wrote in a 2003 paper that while fully made-up companions are occasionally superheroes or ghosts, most often they take the form of animals or people.