Speaker series
Evolution and the Social Mind
Speaker series

Of  Hobbes and Harvey:
The imaginary companions created by children and adults

A Presentation by Marjorie Taylor
Professor of Psychology at the University of Oregon
Friday 14 January 2000 at 12:30 - 2:00pm
Anthropology Department, HSSB 2001A


Of  Hobbes and Harvey:  The imaginary companions created by children and adults

In the past, having an imaginary companion was often interpreted as evidence that a child was having difficulty making real friends or was experiencing some sort of psychological distress.  The results of recent research by myself and others show that these kinds of concerns are unwarranted.  Imaginary companions are surprisingly common and they play a healthy role in children's cognitive and emotional development.  In this talk, I will describe imaginary companions and some of the characteristics of the children who create them.  In addition, I will discuss adult forms of fantasy behavior and present the results of recent research investigating the relationship between adult fiction writers and the characters they create for their novels.

Marjorie Taylor is Professor of Psychology at the University of Oregon. She is the author of Imaginary Companions and the Children Who Create Them (Oxford University Press, 1999).

Selected Publications:

Carlson, Stephanie M.; Taylor, Marjorie; Levin, Gerald R.  The influence of culture on pretend play: The case of Mennonite children. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 1998 Oct, v44 (n4):538-565.

Abstract: Teacher attitudes about pretend play were compared in Old Order Mennonite, New Order Mennonite, and non-Mennonite Christian schools. These subcultures differ in modernity, media exposure, and encouragement of pretend play. Non-Mennonite teachers were the most positive about pretend play, but Old Order Mennonite teachers were the most positive about private fantasies (e.g., imaginary companions). Although the proportion of children's pretend play at recess did not differ across groups, Old Order Mennonite children's play themes adhered more closely to real-life family roles. Teacher attitudes about pretend play were related to the imaginativeness of children's social play. These findings suggest it is important to investigate the influence of culture on pretend play in both social and nonsocial contexts and the processes by which this influence occurs.

Taylor, Marjorie. The role of creative control and culture in children's fantasy/reality judgments. Child Development, 1997 Dec, v68 (n6):1015-1017.

Abstract: Comments on the article by J. D. Woolley regarding fantasy thinking by children and adults. It is contended that Woolley has done an important service by carefully assessing the relevant research and challenging the claim that children cannot distinguish between fantasy and reality. This comment (1) strengthens Woolley's case for young children as competent negotiators of at least some fantasy-reality boundaries, (2) discusses the fantasy/reality distinction as actually a family of distinctions that vary in the extent that children are in control (as well as in other ways), and (3) argues that it is crucial to consider the role of culture.

Taylor, Marjorie; Carlson, Stephanie M. The relation between individual differences in fantasy and theory of mind. Child Development, 1997 Jun, v68 (n3):436-455.

Abstract: 152 3- and 4-yr-old boys and girls were interviewed about their fantasy lives (e.g., imaginary companions, impersonation of imagined characters) and were given tasks assessing their level of pretend play and verbal intelligence. In a 2nd session 1 wk later, Subjects were given a series of theory of mind tasks, including measures of appearance-reality, false belief, representational change, and perspective taking. The theory of mind tasks were significantly intercorrelated with the effects of verbal intelligence and age statistically controlled. Individual differences in fantasy/pretense were assessed by identifying subjects who created imaginary characters, and by extracting factor scores from a combination of interview and behavioral measures. Each of these fantasy assessments was significantly related to the theory of mind performance of the 4-yr-old subjects, independent of verbal intelligence.

Esbensen, Bonnie M.; Taylor, Marjorie; Stoess, Caryn. Children's behavioral understanding of knowledge acquisition. Cognitive Development, 1997 Jan-Mar, v12 (n1):53-84.

Abstract: Young children often absorb the information they are taught without being aware they are learning something new. In two experiments, we tested the hypothesis that children are more aware of transitions in their own knowledge that involve changes in behavior than transitions that involve changes in vocabulary or general knowledge. In Experiment 1, 4- and 5-year-olds were taught a variety of new facts and new behaviors. In Experiment 2, 4-year-olds heard stories under two conditions: In one condition, the emphasis was on behaviors (e.g., how to count in Japanese), whereas in the other condition, the information was essentially the same, but the emphasis was on vocabulary (e.g., the meaning of Japanese counting words). Overall children tended to report they had learned something new when the novel information was behavioral and tended to claim prior knowledge of the novel information when it was factual. These results are consistent with J. Perner's (1991) claim that young children initially have a behavioral understanding of knowledge acquisition.

Taylor, Marjorie. A theory of mind perspective on social cognitive development. IN:  Perceptual and cognitive development. Edited by Rochel Gelman, Terry Kit-Fong, et al.  Academic Press, Inc, San Diego, CA, USA. 1996. p. 283-329.  Series title:  Handbook of perception and cognition (2nd ed.).

Abstract: in this review, [the author describes] how concepts such as belief and desire fit into the child's developing theory of mind and theory of mind provides a conceptual framework for exploring issues related to children's understanding of emotion, the development of self, [and] social cognition in infancy; focus on how and why theory of mind research and research influenced by theory of mind ideas have arguably become some of the most exciting and prominent work in the area of social cognitive development; [focus] on early childhood, the developmental period in which theory of mind development has been most thoroughly studied; provides a brief history and overview of some of the empirical findings in this area; discuss how this body of work has influenced 4 important and active areas of social cognitive research [in 9-mo- to 15-yr-olds]: children's understanding of emotion, the development of self, social cognition in infancy, and autism; presents some speculations about the future.

Samuels, Adrienne; Taylor, Marjorie. Children's ability to distinguish fantasy events from real-life events. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 1994 Nov, v12 (n4):417-427.

Abstract: Examined children's ability to discriminate real life from fantasy events by asking 62 preschool children if events depicted in illustrations from storybooks could happen in real life. For half the children, the pictures showed emotionally neutral events and for the other half, the pictures showed emotionally charged events. The older children (aged 4 yrs 6 mo to 5 yrs 10 mo), but not the younger children (aged 3 yrs 1 mo to 4 yrs 5 mo), were able to distinguish fantasy events from real events. Children in the emotion condition tended to report that the events (both fantasy and real) could not happen in real life. The younger children were as likely to report that a fantasy event could happen in real life as to report that it could happen in a dream.


Speaker series
Evolution and the Social Mind
Speaker series