Talking to a Tiger: A Diary Study of Imaginary Companions

Imaginary companions have been described in terms of the social benefits they offer as well as the interdependent way in which children describe or enact them. One of the important determinants of the nature of a relationship is the content of the day-to-day interactions of the relationship partners. Consequently, this study explores child-imaginary companion relationships using a new method: parents’ daily diaries of the interactions between children and imaginary companions. My hope is that these diaries will help describe and delineate the similarities and differences between real and imaginary friendships, thus providing insight into young children’s understanding of their relationships.
            Previous research has provided some information on the nature of children’s relationships with their imaginary companions. In particular, child-imaginary companion interactions may differ according to companion type and gender. Some research has suggested that children tend to have egalitarian friendships with invisible friends and hierarchical relationships (child as boss) with personified objects (e.g., stuffed animals treated as real). Other work has demonstrated that girls often nurture their companions whereas boys’ companions are often powerful and superior. Accordingly, imaginary companion type and child gender are both of interest as no work has addressed this question using descriptions of daily child-imaginary companion interaction.
The objective of this study is to provide thorough qualitative descriptions of preschool children’s imaginative activities, including invisible friends and personified objects. Although these creations have received more and more attention in the literature over the past decade, to date, no research has been conducted with an aim toward understanding exactly how imaginary companions are manifest in children’s lives. My goal is to identify the circumstances under which imaginary companions appear, and their activities and attitudes when they are around, as a way of identifying the functional significance of these fantastical friends.

Click here for the latest newsletter for participants in this ongoing project.

If you would like to participate in my research on imaginary companions, please contact me by phone (781-283-2487) or email ( We need children both with and without imaginary companions for this study!


Tracy R. Gleason, Ph.D.
Professor of Psychology
Wellesley College
Wellesley, MA 02481-8203


Created By : Dorothy Brown '09 | Maintained By: Tracy Gleason | Date Created:July 20, 2007 | Last Modified: October 14, 2016 | Page Expires: August 1, 2018