Imaginary friends are a common—and normal—manifestation for many kids across many stages of development. In fact, by age 7, 65 percent of children will have had an imaginary friend, according to a 2004 study. Stephanie Carlson, a professor at the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Child Development and one of the study’s co-authors, says that the prime time for having imaginary friends is from the ages of 3 to 11.
While psychologists agree that the presence of imaginary friends should not cause parents concern, what is less understood is what prompts children to create these personas or why some kids invent them and others don’t, says Celeste Kidd, a professor of psychology at UC Berkeley and the primary investigator at the Kidd Lab, which studies learning throughout early development. “For the most part, there’s no widespread consensus on what triggers it,” Kidd told me. “There is, however, widespread consensus on it being a normative part of development. Not all kids have imaginary friends, but it’s very common and neither problematic nor a sign of extra intelligence.”
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