Caroline Way

Thesis title: An investigation of the relationship between young children with imaginary companions and perspective-taking ability

Start year: 2012


Supervisor(s): Professor Mary Wild

Research topic

My PhD research is a methodological extension of the theoretical study completed for my MA dissertation. I have proposed a relationship between preschool children with imaginary companions (IC) and their perspective-taking skills. Following new directions in Theory of Mind research and alternatives offered by the likes of Relational Frame Theory, I have cited evidence for the facilitative processes of the imaginary companion in young children’s ability to relate to, and understand, the mental states of others. Given the interlocking findings that have linked the imaginary companion to Theory of Mind, and the more recent literature supporting alternative, cognitively-efficient routes to perspective-taking, it has seemed reasonable and valid to infer that the IC allows even the very young child to ‘step into the shoes of others’.

In a shift from the traditional focus on how social competencies, such as empathy and perspective-taking, have to be taught to young children, transferred in a mediated and adult-generated manner, my research examines whether differential levels of perspective-taking may be due to the influence of something child-generated. Developmental literature has shown links between role-playing, frequent pretend behaviour and theory of mind tasks, although still underscoring the ‘naturalness’ and pervasiveness of children’s egocentricities. The most current findings in Theory of Mind research have suggested that some abilities, such as perspective-taking, may not be solely reliant on cognitively sophisticated skill acquisition. My study will explore the likelihood that alternative processes are at work which perhaps by-pass the need for elaborate cognitive scaffolding, and therefore do not reflect traditional theory of mind concepts. I will test the hypothesis that the IC provides the preschool aged child an opportunity to abstract from their experiences as well as to imaginatively project themselves into the perspective of others.


Imaginary companionship, perspective-taking, cognitive flexibility, creative disposition, Theory of Mind, Relational Frame Theory

General research interests

Children’s imagination, functions and contributions of fantasy play, Theory of Mind, Theories of early social development

Academic school / department

School of Education, Humanities and Languages


Work in progress

Currently working on first stage of MPhil/PhD research, with a focus on revisiting the Imaginary Companion (IC)as a lived experience; positioning the IC in memory and narrative.

Teaching experience

  • Graduate Psychology Tutor, 1996, University of South Africa

Professional information


  • An article published in PSYCHOLOGIA, 1998, Vol 25 (1), based on a project in Personology for my Psychology Honours degree Aggression: An everyday reality in the context of South African youth, Dept. of Psychology, University of South Africa.

Further details

Academic and professional training

  • BA, University of South Africa, 1992
  • BA (Hons) Psychology, University of South Africa, 1997
  • Montessori Teaching Diploma, London College of Modern Montessori, 2000
  • PGCE, University of South Africa, 2004
  • MS Psychology, California Coast University, 2010
  • MA Childhood Studies, Oxford Brookes University, 2012

Scholarships and prizes

  • Awarded Oxford Brookes Department of Education 3-year Research Studentship

Other experience and professional activities

  • Psychometrist, Private Practice, 1997–1999
  • Montessori Teacher, Preschool, 2002&2004
  • Therapist, Behavioural health, Outpatient, 2008–2011
  • Play therapy workshop, Education unlimited, South Africa
  • Autism Training, Community services group, Pennsylvania, USA
  • BPS Conference, Stratford-Upon-Avon, UK