The nature, function and development of imaginary friendships

  • Caoimhe McCarthy

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


OBJECTIVE: To explore the nature, function and development of the relationship that some children have with an imaginary companion.

BACKGROUND: The focus of much recent research on imaginary companions has been on comparing children who do and do not have one. Studies that gain a deeper insight into these relationships by detailing them in a more thorough, qualitative manner may provide additional information on the rote that the companions play in children's lives.

METHODS: Two semi-structured interviews were conducted, with six Primary 3 children, in May and October of 2013. Thematic analysis was used to analyse the data.

DISCUSSION: The qualities of the imaginary companions were largely positive. A striking feature of the interviews was the sense of reality the children ascribed to their companion, yet they still held an awareness of the fantasy nature of the relationship. Over a five month period the accounts given by the children were remarkably consistent indicating the longevity of the relationships. An array offunctions were discerned which resulted in the formation of an imaginary companion being viewed as a positive, creative and highly adaptive strategy to alleviate feelings of loneliness and boredom, provide companionship and friendship, provide help and assistance, and allow access to something unavailable in the real world.

CONCLUSION: This study contributed to the current body of research by investigating the phenomenon of imaginary companions as they are experienced by the child. With so few qualitative studies pertaining to imaginary companions, further research in this area should be welcomed and encouraged.
Date of AwardDec 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorHarry Rafferty (Supervisor), Patricia Davison (Supervisor) & Lesley Storey (Supervisor)

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