Beyond play: Exploring social effects of imaginary friends

Children’s interactions with imaginary friends can illuminate how they think about and form social relationships. Tracy Gleason, a developmental psychologist who studies relationships — real and imagined — will host an insightful discussion about her research on young children’s imaginary companions at 7 p.m. Feb. 27, 2020, in Tyrrell Hall on the TU campus.

“Play in the Fantasy Realm: Young Children’s Relationships with Imaginary Companions” is part of the Judy O. Berry Honorary Lecture Series, an annual event that features topics related to risk and resilience in children and families. The event is presented in partnership with the Oklahoma Center for the Humanities at TU and is free to the public.

Gleason is a professor of psychology at Wellesley College. She also for many years served as the psychological director of the Wellesley College Child Study Center and has a background in developmental psychology and a license in early childhood education. She is currently codirector of Wellesley’s Calderwood Program in Public Writing. A graduate of Dartmouth College, she holds undergraduate degrees in psychology modified with music and in French, and she earned her doctorate in child psychology at the Institute of Child Development at the University of Minnesota.

Gleason’s research is focused on young children’s social relationships with an emphasis on the relationships that children create with imaginary companions. By studying the relationships children imagine, she can examine their understanding of the dimensions and characteristics of real relationships and the role that imaginary relationships play in their social lives. She has also conducted research on young children’s real peer relationships and friendships, as well as imaginary relationships at other points in the lifespan.

Another interest is moral development, including the role that early social relationships and experiences play in fostering a moral orientation toward others. She teaches courses at Wellesley in introductory psychology, developmental psychology, research methods and writing about psychology for the layperson as well as a seminar on imagination.