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The referential communication skills of children with imaginary companions


Address for correspondence: Evan Kidd, School of Psychological Sciences, The University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PL, UK; e-mail:


The present study investigated the referential communication skills of children with imaginary companions (ICs). Twenty-two children with ICs aged between 4 and 6 years were compared to 22 children without ICs (NICs). The children were matched for age, gender, birth order, number of siblings, and parental education. All children completed the Test of Referential Communication (Camaioni, Ercolani & Lloyd, 1995). The results showed that the children with ICs performed better than the children without ICs on the speaker component of the task. In particular, the IC children were better able to identify a specific referent to their interlocutor than were the NIC children. Furthermore, the IC children described less redundant features of the target picture than did the NIC children. The children did not differ in the listening comprehension component of the task. Overall, the results suggest that the IC children had a better understanding of their interlocutor's information requirements in conversation. The role of pretend play in the development of communicative competence is discussed in light of these results.