Imaginary Friends Forever


Friday, November 23, 2012

Lots of kids have imaginary friends. (A young Kurt Andersen had a gaggle including Robbie Dobbie, Crackerpin, Jimmy the Cat, a poodle called Genevieve — which he pronounced in the French manner.) Marjorie Taylor, a psychology professor at the University of Oregon, has been looking at imaginary friends and the children who have them. “They tend to be more social, less shy, and do better on tasks which require you to take the perspective of another person in real life. We have found that they are more creative on some kinds of tasks. Other people have found that their narratives are richer.”

Taylor is exploring the idea that these children are more creative — in particular, the kids who build a paracosm, a country or place for their friends “where children think about all kinds of things like entertainment, the food, the clothes, the transportation, the money.”

Maxine, who is eight years old, walks us through her paracosm and the friends in it. Some are a little creepy, like Devil Man and Betchaboo, who takes the shape of a gun, but they’re not frightening to her. “They’re not the kind of people who will go and kill people. They’re not like gangsters, they’re just tricksters.” Besides, Maxine says, if imaginary friends caused trouble, “then they would be deleted. Because then you don’t exist. Sometimes when I forget about them they die, but they’re not deleted.” When you imagine the world, you get to set the rules.

Original music for this story was composed by Jason Cady.

→ Read more about the research conducted by Marjorie Taylor, Jacob Levernier, and Candice Mottweiler at the University of Oregon


Maxine’s three first imaginary friendsMaxine’s three first imaginary friends



Jessica Benko and Ann Heppermann

Comments [2]

Kimberley from Melbourne, Australia

My son had four imaginary friends when he was 4 (he's now 7) and I wrote down what he told me about them to remind him when he's older.

Sampson, a large white shaggy dog and Codpast, (pretty sure he spoonerised podcast), a border collie, could both speak and would take him on adventures.
Rachel was a fairy and she could change size at will; obviously, because she was magic. And Bolly was a boy, like my son.

These friends used to come with us whatever we were doing that day and I also wondered why they were created.
The social & creative characteristics the researchers identified certainly match my son's personality.

Feb. 05 2013 01:12 AM
Kelly Colgan Azar from West Chester, PA

Loved the show on creativity, but when it came to little Maxine and her many imaginary friends, the specificity of her comments, on language and written forms for example, suggested an educated family that read a lot to her, introduced her to Arabic perhaps or Japanese in which the written form isn't phonetic, etc., and warmly encouraged flights of imagination. Maxine may be doing what she's been taught and encouraged to do and paraphrasing and borrowing from recent readings.
As a listener, I can't make a judgement on the distance between one person's inherent creativity and another's based on little Maxine, who, for all her apparent whimsy, may be no more creative than the kid who brought the key to his mother.

Nov. 24 2012 08:56 AM

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