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Don't worry if you see your child talking to someone who's not there. It might just be good for her.

Kids with imaginary friends have better language skills than those who don't, a factor that might improve their academic performance later in life, according to a study by researchers at the University of Otago in New Zealand.

The study, Gabriel Trionfi and published in the recent issue of the journal Child Development, looked at 48 boys and girls age 5½, of whom 23 had imaginary friends. The kids with invisible pals were found to have more advanced narrative skills than children with only real-life buddies. This may give them the (completely real) upper hand in the classroom.

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"Because children's storytelling skills are a strong predictor of their later reading skill, these differences may even have positive spinoffs for children's academic performance," Ms. Reese said in a statement on the university's website.

The children were asked to recount a fictional tale and then a realistic story based on an outing, such as a trip to the beach. While the children had the same vocabulary levels, the ones with imaginary friends offered richer narrative details, including more dialogue in the fictional tale and more information about time and place in their retelling of the realistic story.

"We believe that children with imaginary friends may be getting extra practice at telling stories. First, they may be creating stories with their imaginary friends. Second, because their friends are invisible, children may recount their escapades to interested adults," Ms. Reese said.

With files from Reuters

Editor's note: The original version of this article incorrectly named the lead author of the referenced study. This version has been corrected.

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About the Author

Dave McGinn writes about fitness trends for the Life section and also reports for Globe Arts. Prior to joining the Globe, he was a freelance journalist, covering topics from trying to eat Michael Phelps' diet to why the Joker is the best villain in comics history. He's working on improving his 10k time. More

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