- Also referred to as childhood companion and hallucinated playmate. The term imaginary companion is indebted to the Latin verb imaginari, which means to copy, to imitate, to picture. It has been in use at least since the late 19th century. It refers to a fictitious character created and perceived by a child. The imaginary companion was defined in 1934 by the American paediatrician Margaret Svendsen as "an invisible character, named and referred to in conversation with other persons or played with directly for a period of time, at least several months, having an air of reality for the child but no apparent objective basis." Imaginary companions are also created and perceived by adolescents and adults, but they have been described most frequently in children aged around 4. Estimates as to the lifetime prevalence of imaginary companions range from 13.4% in Svendsen's sample to 65% in a study by the American child psychologists Dorothy and Jerome Singer. This huge difference in prevalence figures may well stem from the Singers' use of a broader definition of imaginary companions, which includes items such as stuffed animals and dolls. In effect, this led the Singers to include cases of imaginary companions proper, as well as cases more indicative of a syndrome of delusional companions (i.e. a vari-antofthe " misidentification syndrome). A more prudent estimate by the British child psychologists John Newson (b. 1925) and Elizabeth New-son (b. 1929) yields a prevalence of 22% in 4-year olds. However, later studies have indicated that imaginary companions may occur even more frequently in older children. Thus the British psychologists David Pearson et al. found a prevalence rate of 46.2% for imaginary companions in children between 5 and 12 years of age. Children tend to describe their imaginary companions as other children, fairy tale characters, television characters, or toy animals, all with definite sensory characteristics. They may be persistent in their demand that these companions be treated as living beings, who must be consulted before a decision can be made, or who deserve a place at the dinner table, with plates, cutlery, and all. These features would seem to hint at some type of juvenile "hallucinatory experience, but the children involved tend to be aware of the imaginary status of their companions. In addition, many of them appear to have conscious control over them. Although admittedly arbitrary, these are the principal reasons why imaginary companions are sometimes regarded as products of fantasy rather than " hallucinations proper. And yet they have also been referred to in the literature as 'non-pathological, developmental hallucination experiences'. A relation between imaginary companions and a later proneness to hallucinations or psychiatric disorders has never been established (see also the entry Hallucinated game). Sometimes the term imaginary companion is also used to denote a hallucinated person accompanying mountaineers and other explorers subject to isolation and stressful circumstances.ReferencesBass, H. (1983). The development of an adult's imaginary companion. Psychoanalytic Review, 70, 519-533.Pearson, D., Rouse, H., Doswell, S., Ainsworth, C., Dawson, O., Simms, K., Edwards, L., Faulconbridge, J. (2001). The prevalence of imaginary companions in a normal child population. Child: Care, Health and Development, 27, 13-22.Svendsen, M. (1934). Children's imaginary companions. Archives of Neurology and Psychiatry, 2, 985-999.Taylor, M. (1999). Imaginary companions and the children who create them. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Vostrovsky, C. (1895). A study of imaginary companions. Education, 15, 393-398.
Dictionary of Hallucinations. J.D. Blom. 2010.
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