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Gleason_2000 - Developmental Psychology 2000 Vol 36 No 4...

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Developmental Psychology 2000, Vol. 36, No. 4, 419-428 Copyright 2000 by the American Psychological Association, Inc. 0012-1649/00/S5.00 DOI: 10.1037//0012-1649.36.4.419 Imaginary Companions of Preschool Children Tracy R. Gleason, Anne M. Sebanc, and Willard W. Hartup University of Minnesota Twin Cities Campus The developmental significance of preschool children's imaginary companions was examined. Mothers of 78 children were interviewed about their children's social environments and imaginary companions (if their children had them). Results revealed differences between invisible companions and personified objects (e.g., stuffed animals or dolls) in terms of the pretend friends' stability and ubiquity, identity, and relationship with the child. Relationships with invisible companions were mostly described as sociable and friendly, whereas personified objects were usually nurtured. Mothers reported that personification of objects frequently occurred as a result of acquiring a toy, whereas invisible friends were often viewed as fulfilling a need for a relationship. Compared to children without imaginary companions, children with imaginary companions were more likely to be firstborn and only children. Studies of the imaginary companions of preschool children are widely scattered in the developmental and psychoanalytic litera- ture. Most of these investigations attempt to explain why some children create pretend friends and others do not. In particular, the structure of a child's social environment has been emphasized. Results, however, are inconsistent and largely ineffective in ex- plaining the origins of the phenomenon. Furthermore, identifica- tion of the developmental significance of imaginary companions has been compromised by a paucity of descriptive studies of pretend friends as well as by variations among researchers' defi- nitions. In this investigation, we attempt to shed light on the role that imaginary companions play in children's lives and on the reasons why some children have these charming associates. We begin by reviewing issues of definition and categorization. Subse- quently, we review the correlates of having an imaginary compan- ion that have been suggested by previous research and that prompted our examination of conditions associated with the phenomenon. Defining and Categorizing Imaginary Companions Many authors who have studied imaginary companions (Mano- sevitz, Fling, & Prentice, 1977; Manosevitz, Prentice, & Wilson, 1973; Meyer & Tuber, 1989; Somers & Yawkey, 1984) used a definition similar to that provided by Svendsen (1934): Tracy R. Gleason, Anne M. Sebanc, and Willard W. Hartup, Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities Campus. We wish to thank Kathryn Tout and Megan Gunnar for their help with this study; several undergraduate research assistants, especially Jennifer McGinley and Raechel DesCombaz, for data collection and coding; the mothers who participated in this study; and the teachers and staff at the preschools.
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