New Research Suggests The Imaginary Worlds of Children Reflect Positive Creativity

Source: University of Oregon

Summary: According to new research, children who create imaginary parallel worlds, alone or with friends, are more found more commonly than previously believed.

In a project designed to probe the dynamics of behavior among children 8-12 years old, researchers found that about 17% of them, in each of two separate studies, described imaginary worlds with often deep complexities. Unlike earlier studies, the researchers focused on children in the age group most frequently associated with this little-explored childhood phenomena. The creation of such paracosms, as the imaginary worlds were first labeled in a 1976 study, is nothing to worry about. Early research on paracosms drew from adult memories about their childhood. In the 1992 book “The Development of Imagination: The Private Worlds of Childhood,” authors David Cohen and Stephen MacKeith identified 57 imaginary worlds but considered them to be rare. Researchers from the University of Oregon found that children who create imaginary parallel worlds, alone or with friends, are more found more commonly than previously believed. The study findings were published in the journal Child Development.

Positive Creativity

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In the first study, which included 37 boys and 40 girls, the participants completed five creativity tasks tied to social skills, as well as assessments of their coping strategies and verbal comprehension. Sixteen boys and 20 girls reported having imaginary companions such as invisible friends or personified objects. Among 77 children, 44 said they thought about an imaginary place and provided descriptions. Of those, fully developed paracosms were identified in the details from six of the boys and seven of the girls. Neither verbal comprehension nor gender were found to be related to children who reported having imaginary friends and paracosms. In the second study, paracosms were identified in 16 of the 92 children 12 girls and four boys. Imaginary companions were reported by 51 participants. Most of those who had developed parallel worlds also reported having had imaginary friends.

Prof. Marjorie Taylor said, “We thought paracosms would a private thing, “Surprisingly, that was not always the case. It can be a very social activity. Often, we found that many kids would be involved together in building the parallel worlds.”

More Information: Marjorie Taylor et al, “Paracosms: The Imaginary Worlds of Middle Childhood”, Child Development (2018). DOI: 10.1111/cdev.13162 

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