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Chinese children's imaginary companions: Relations with peer relationships and social competence


  • Individual contributions of the named authors are as followed: Qiyi Lin has participated in the design, data collection, data analysis, data interpretation and drafting the early version of the article. Hong Fu has participated in the design and revising the article critically for better intrinsic logicality. Yingjia Wan has participated in the overall revision of the article for better language expression. Nan Zhou has participated in the data collection and data analysis and commented on the early version of the article. Hui Xu has participated in drafting some parts of the article, including the method and the results.


We investigated relationships between Chinese children's imaginary companions (ICs) and peer relationships and social competence in 160 children, aged 5–6 years old. Children and their mothers participated in the interviews regarding the details of the children's ICs, including the type of the companion and the quality of the child–IC relationship. Peer relationships were assessed using sociometric nomination and perceived popularity nomination. Teachers rated children's social competence. Here, 55 children (34.3%) were deemed to have engaged in imaginary companion play. There was no relationship between imaginary companion types and child–IC relationship qualities. Children with invisible friends received more positive nominations than children with personified objects. Children with egalitarian relationships received more positive nominations and popularity nominations, but fewer negative nominations and unpopularity nominations than children with hierarchical relationships. Compared with children with hierarchical relationships, teachers rated the children with egalitarian relationships higher in social competence. The results suggest that imaginary companion types and relationship qualities may represent different dimensions of imaginary companions, calling attentions to the different mechanisms underlying imaginary companion types and relationship qualities with respect to social functioning.