Imaginary Companions

Most of my research has been concentrated on exploring and describing the relationships that some preschool-aged children have with imaginary companions. The phenomenon of imaginary companions has not received a great deal of attention in the psychological literature and is not well understood, so one goal of my research is to provide a definitive description of pretend friends with an eye toward how they might function in development. Studying the ways in which children talk about, and sometimes interact with, imaginary companions has the potential to illuminate how young children understand and think about social relationships in general. My hope is that by thinking about imaginary companions as relationship partners, I may be able to figure out how they function within children’s social networks. Such information could lead to a better understanding of why some children create them and their functional significance in development.

Click here if you are interested in reading about my current study or in participating in research on imagination in early childhood.

friendAccording to my definition, imaginary companions come in two forms, invisible companions and personified objects. Invisible companions are often friends, as opposed to infants or elders, but they need not be human. There are probably as many different kinds of invisible friends in the world as there are children, including humans, animals, monsters and the like. Personified objects are frequently stuffed animals or dolls, and children often take care of them as though they were infants, or at least younger than the child him/herself. Here is one of my favorite personified objects. His name is Murray.

Projects with Students:

In addition to my work on imaginary companions, I have worked with several students on different projects related to my interests in social cognition and social development. These projects have included an exploration of children’s theory of mind, research on children’s concepts of their relationships with their mothers, an analysis of the relation between temperament and popularity in preschool-aged children, an investigation of the development of children’s association of particular colors with objects, and children’s understanding of differences in their relationships with different peers.


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