University of Leicester
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The social acceptability of children hearing voices

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posted on 2014-12-15, 10:45 authored by David. Pearson
The aim of the study was to explore whether imaginary companions (ICs) in childhood might represent a social construction of childhood verbal hallucinations (VHs) which renders the experience socially acceptable. The objectives were to investigate: whether ICs amongst children occur at comparable rates to VHs among adults whether the phenomenology of ICs and VHs are similar whether adult ICs are perceived as less acceptable than childhood ICs. N = 1795 children aged five to twelve years, a random sample, were asked whether they had an IC and given measures of creativity. N = 70 randomly selected children who had ICs were given structured interviews that were based mainly on previous adult hallucination studies. Lastly, a questionnaire in two formats was administered to two groups of N = 70 adults. The first group was asked to rate the acceptability of an adult having a conversation with an IC the second to do the same but for a child having a conversation with an IC. Key results were as follows prevalence of ICs in the study sample was approximately 50%. Younger children had more ICs than older, more girls had ICs. Children with ICs tended, unexpectedly, to be less creative. Results of the structured interview about ICs showed that the phenomenology of ICs was similar to that of adult VHs. Childhood ICs fell within the parameters of VH definitions. A statistical difference was found between the 'adult' and 'child' formats of the questionnaire about the acceptability of having a conversation with an IC. The idea of adults engaging in such behaviour was much less acceptable. In conclusion, ICs among children are more common than previously thought. Frequency occurs at a similar high rate and is phenomenologically strikingly similar to adults' VHs. ICs may represent a social construction of VHs which becomes less acceptable as the individual gets older, resulting in adults' hallucinations being perceived as unacceptable.


Date of award


Author affiliation

Clinical Psychology

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • DClinPsy



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