Friendship

Imaginary Friends Have Very Real Benefits

Did you have an imaginary friend as a kid? Maybe one who joined you in blanket forts or in your treehouse? If so, good news: You just might be better off for it.

You've Got A Friend

Imaginary friends are pretty common childhood companions. In fact, according to a 2004 study, about 65 percent of kids have had an imaginary friend by age 7. And while there was a time when parents found this worrisome, plenty of research over the last decade has shown that those make-believe pals are simply a product of a creative imagination.

"Certainly, it scares many parents today when they have children who are talking to people who are not there," Ansley Gilpin, a psychologist at the University of Alabama's Knowledge in Development (KID) Lab, recently told Science Friday. As the 2004 study showed, children of all personality types had imaginary companions, so they shouldn't be considered a red flag.

The Real-Life Benefits of Imaginary Friends

Researchers have found that kids who have imaginary friends might be more equipped to deal with real relationships later on in life. A 2013 study in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology looked at how imaginary friends impacted a child's "private speech," that is, the chatter a young child has with himself, which has been shown to improve cognitive abilities. As it turned out, kids with imaginary friends were more likely than those without imaginary friends to engage in such private speech.

Marjorie Taylor, a researcher on the topic of imaginary friends, told Science Friday that the ability to create a fully formed character speaks to an imagination that will stick with a child even when they don't remember their fake pal anymore. "Imagination is not just a frivolous thing you outgrow," she explained.

That said, if you didn't have an imaginary friend, that's not cause for alarm. "It is not true that all intelligent children create imaginary companions nor that only highly intelligent children create them," Taylor said. "The absence of an imaginary friend says nothing about the child's intellectual abilities."

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Key Facts In This Video

  1. Research indicates that people with large networks of friends live longer. 01:26

  2. One study showed that teenagers who befriend fellow students with good grades are more likely to increase their own grades. 04:34

  3. Friends tend to be genetically similar to each other, and the same seems to be true of lonely individuals. 07:08

Written By
Curiosity Staff
March 13, 2015