2021 Vol. 85(1) 54-74

Sally Ann Drucker
Parapsychology Press


Laythe, B, Houran, J., and Little, C. (2021).  The Ghostly Character of Childhood Imaginary Companions: An Empirical Study of Online Accounts. Journal of Parapsychology, 85, 54-74.  http://doi.org/10.30891/jopar.2021.01.07


The Ghostly Character of Childhood Imaginary Companions: An Empirical Study of Online Accounts

Brian Laythe       James Houran       Cindy Little

Institute for the Study of Religious and Anomalous Experience (I.S.R.A.E.)

Laboratory for Statistics and Computation, ISLA—Instituto Politécnico de Gestão e Tecnologia

Integrated Knowledge Systems, Inc.

Reports of childhood imaginary companions (IC) sometimes contain “creepy or spooky” perceptions or themes that suggest such occurrences could be overlooked or disguised forms of a “ghostly episode” or “entity encounter experience.” This idea was explored via a content analysis of vetted narratives from the Reddit website involving ICs with haunt-type features (n = 143). We tested whether the phenomenology of these experiences: (a) show an “Age × Gender × Anxiety” effect consistent with the assumed psychology of focus persons in poltergeist-like experiences; (b) map to Houran et al.’s (2019b) Rasch hierarchy of anomalies associated with ghostly episodes per the Survey of Strange Events (SSE); and (c) correspond to a specific type of “haunt condition” (i.e., spontaneous, primed, lifestyle, fantasy, or illicit). Results indicated that ICs attributed to “ghosts” corresponded to higher SSE scores. Experients’ gender and inferred anxiety likewise showed significant and positive associations with SSE scores. Finally, the SSE features of ghostly IC experiences most strongly correlated to the phenomenologies of “spontaneous” and “induced” haunt conditions as reported in Houran et al. (2019b). We discuss the results in terms of some ICs being anomalous or exceptional human experiences that might require approaches beyond developmental and clinical psychology to understand fully their contents, structure, and ultimate nature.


content analysis, ghost, imaginary companion, encounter experiences, phenomenology