Childhood fantasy play relates to adult socio-emotional competence

Abigail Halliday, Susanna Kola-Palmer, Paige Davis, Nigel King, Jenny Retzler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Childhood fantasy play and creation of imaginary companions are thought to confer socio-emotional benefits in children, but little is known about how they relate to socio-emotional competence in adulthood. A total of 341 adults (81 males) aged 18 and above (M= 31.47, SD= 12.62) completed an online survey examining their fantasy play as a child, their childhood imaginary companion status, and their adult socioemotional competence. Adults who reported higher levels of childhood fantasy play were found to be significantly more prosocial, empathetic, and emotionally intelligent than their counterparts after controlling for demographic factors. Recall of a childhood imaginary companion, however, was significantly related only to higher scores for perspective taking and did not explain unique variance in any adult competence measure. Findings suggest that engagement in fantasy play during childhood may be a precursor to later socio-emotional competence, while benefits previously associated with imaginary companions specifically may not extend into adulthood.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2451
Number of pages11
JournalInfant and Child Development
Issue number5
Early online date15 Jul 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2023

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