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Does Having an Imaginary Companion Relate to Children’s Understanding of Self and Others?

DAVIS, PAIGE,ELIZABETH (2011) Does Having an Imaginary Companion Relate to Children’s Understanding of Self and Others? Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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Imaginary companions (ICs) have been discussed in psychological literature for centuries. Over the last decade, researchers have begun investigating how having an IC relates to children’s development, but they have focused on a narrow range of social-cognitive abilities. This thesis expands upon previous studies, investigating whether having an IC relates to children’s understanding of self and others.

The first study focused on whether IC status related to children’s ability to cite themselves versus an adult as the best judge of their interior self-knowledge (e.g., whether they were hungry, ill, angry, etc.) in a sample of 82 4- to 7-year-olds. Findings indicated that children with ICs tended to designate less knowledge about their inner states to adults compared with children with no imaginary companion (NIC), with a non-significant trend for IC-group children also to designate more knowledge about their own inner states to themselves. The results of Study 1 showed that performance on the self-knowledge task was unrelated to children’s theory of mind (ToM) abilities, and that IC status did not relate to children’s ToM performance.

Study 2 addressed the relation between IC status and the extent to which children invoked internal states when describing their best friend in a sample of 144 5-year-olds. Findings confirmed that children with ICs are more likely to spontaneously use more mental states when describing a friend than their NIC peers. This relation was independent of verbal ability, gender, ToM understanding, and overall verbosity. Study 2 found no relation between IC status and either previous or concurrent ToM performance.

Study 3 investigated the IC-related differences in the use of self-directed or private speech during free play in the same sample of 5-year-olds who had participated in Study 2. Findings indicated that children with ICs produced more overall private speech than did NIC children. Specifically, IC-group children produced more covert, partially-internalised private speech (unintelligible muttering, whispering, verbal lip movements) compared with their NIC counterparts, although there was no difference between the IC and NIC groups with respect to the content of their private speech. Findings are discussed with reference to how engaging with an IC provides the child with an enriched social environment that helps to hone their skills of distinguishing between the mental orientations of themselves and others, and also with reference to the social origins of private speech.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Imagination, Imaginary companions, Self-knowledge, Mental state commentary, Private speech, Theory of mind
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Science > Psychology, Department of
Thesis Date:2011
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:31 May 2011 14:50

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