Links between dissociation and role play in a nonclinical sample of preschool children

Stephanie M. Carlson, Deniz Tahiroglu, Marjorie Taylor

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8 Scopus citations


Children's role play activities are included in symptom checklists of dissociative disorders, yet little is known about the potential relation between individual differences in role play and dissociative behaviors in normative development. This issue was examined in a study of 147 children aged 3 and 4 from a nonclinical population. Parents completed the Child Dissociative Checklist (CDC; F. W. Putnam, K. Helmers, & P. K. Trickett, 1993) and a questionnaire about their child's role play, fears, behavior problems, and dreams. Children were also interviewed about these same items. Dissociation was significantly related to parent report of fears, problem behaviors, and nightmares. These results are consistent with the view that CDC scores reflect some degree of difficulty in children's lives. Children who engaged in role play, particularly children with imaginary companions, scored higher on the CDC than other children. However, role play was not related to the measures of fears or problem behaviors. The results suggest that a distinction between pathological and nonpathological dissociation is warranted, with role play activities being more closely linked to the latter. Measurement of dissociation in preschoolers is discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)149-171
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Trauma and Dissociation
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2008

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Stephanie M. Carlson is affiliated with the Institute of Child Development at the University of Minnesota. Deniz Tahiroglu and Marjorie Taylor are affiliated with the University of Oregon. Address correspondence to: Stephanie M. Carlson, PhD, Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN 55455 (E-mail: The authors would like to thank Lynn Gerow, Alicia Grandy, Amber Taylor, Alise Tome, Ken Tuttle, Rebecca Frankel, Jamie Simon, and Wednesday Lomas for their help with data collection and coding. This research was funded by National Science Foundation Grant DBS-9209318 awarded to Marjorie Taylor.


  • Imaginary companions
  • Measurement
  • Nonpathological dissociation
  • Role play


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