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Thesis title: An investigation of the relationship between young children with imaginary companions and perspective-taking ability
Start year: 2012
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
Children’s imagination, functions and contributions of fantasy play, Theory of Mind, Theories of early social development
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.