Reconceptualizing imaginary friends: interdisciplinary approaches for understanding invisible companions

Kate Adams, Emma Stanford, Harpreet Singh

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    Imaginary friends or invisible companions are common features of cross-cultural childhoods. Research is primarily located in developmental psychology, where they are considered part of imaginary play. We argue for a reconceptualization of the core phenomenon, to one of regularly interacting with a person who is not normally perceptible to others, instead of uncritically adopting the dominant Euro-Western ontology of imagination. Analysing the central experience through other branches of psychology, anthropology, religion and spirituality shows that different fields are potentially discussing the same phenomenon, albeit obscured by disciplinary boundaries. We outline some implications of this new approach for the development of childhood studies.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)32-49
    Number of pages18
    JournalJournal of Childhood Studies
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 14 Oct 2022


    • Imaginary friends
    • Invisible companions
    • children's spirituality
    • Spirits
    • Ghosts
    • Imagination


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