Play dates with an imaginary friend could help children become better problem solvers down the road. According to The Wall Street Journal, researchers have found that children who keep imaginary friends eventually develop better internalized thinking, which separately has been found to help children do better with cognitive tasks like planning and puzzle solving. The research, led from Durham University, found that imaginary friends compelled children to talk to themselves more than they otherwise would. Eventually, around age seven, children begin to convert that chatter into private thought, which is what helps them handle complex thinking.
The research is described in the November issue of the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, and was performed by looking at 148 five-year-olds. The Journal reports that the experiment involved observing the children with their mothers while they pretended to visit an ice cream shop. After the pretend trip, the mothers would begin reading, leaving the children alone so that the researchers could watch how often they spoke to themselves. Just under half of all the children admitted to having imaginary friends, and the researchers found that having one doubled a child's private chatter. Though the link to better cognitive performance isn't a direct one, the researchers suggest that the children's private talking should be the very type of early chatter that's already been found to be a benefit just a few years later in their lives.