The characteristics and correlates of fantasy in school-age children: imaginary companions, impersonation, and social understanding

Dev Psychol. 2004 Nov;40(6):1173-87. doi: 10.1037/0012-1649.40.6.1173.


Past research with 152 preschoolers found that having an imaginary companion or impersonating an imaginary character was positively correlated with theory of mind performance. Three years later, 100 children from this study were retested to assess the developmental course of play with imaginary companions and impersonation of imaginary characters and how these types of role play were related to emotion understanding, self-perception, and personality. The results showed that school-age children interact with imaginary companions and impersonate imaginary characters as much as preschoolers. Overall, 65% of children up to the age of 7 had imaginary companions at some point during their lives. School-age children who did not impersonate scored lower on emotion understanding. Theory of mind at age 4 predicted emotion understanding 3 years later.

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child Development
  • Child, Preschool
  • Emotions*
  • Fantasy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Personality
  • Play and Playthings
  • Self Concept
  • Social Behavior*