Dive Into the World of Imaginary Friends

What may seem like whimsical creations are much more than child’s play.

His name was Pierre the Bear. He looked like any other stuffed brown teddy bear, but in my 6-year-old developing mind, he was a visionary and charismatic leader of a ragtag tribe of plush toys. As with most people who have had imaginary friends, the relationship and adventures I had with Pierre hold a special spot in my memory—they were a carefree time of pure amusement.

But after interviewing developmental psychologists who have dedicated their careers to studying imaginary companions, I’ve learned that whimsical creations like Pierre are much more than child’s play. For some researchers, imaginary companions represent windows into the growing mind, allowing us to see how young children process their relationships, and reality itself. For others, they represent the expression of a child’s initial ability to distance oneself or think creatively. Indeed, the past two decades of research have radically changed how the scientific and educational communities view children with pretend friends—they’re no longer considered potentially disturbed loners, but rather highly social and creatively gifted kids.

Starting with our three-part video series, The Real Guide to Imaginary Companions, we will examine why children create imaginary companions, which kids create them, and what kinds of psychological developments—such as social relationships and cognitive function—these companions may help guide. We’ll continue the conversation with a profile of one of the leading researchers in the field, whose work has reshaped how parents and psychologists view the phenomenon. And we’ll also share entertaining stories of your own imaginary friends, and answer questions about what to do if your kid dreams one up.

As a science communicator, I thought that diving into this topic was the perfect opportunity to learn how we all acquire the uniquely human skills of creativity and imaginative expression. It also gives us a chance to indulge in the carefree and limitless imaginations of children. That’s an endeavor that would make Pierre proud!

Meet the Writer

About Luke Groskin

Luke Groskin is Science Friday’s video producer. He’s on a mission to make you love spiders and other odd creatures.

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