Barbie® and neuroscientists from Cardiff University have collaborated on a new study which for the first time uses neuroimaging as evidence to explore the effects of doll play.1 At Barbie, we’ve always known there are many benefits of playing with dolls and now there is scientific evidence that supports it.
The study monitored the brain activity of children ages 4-8 as they played with a range of Barbie dolls and playsets. The key findings applies to all children, regardless of gender or ethnicity:
Doll play activates brain regions that allow children to develop social processing skills like empathy.
The brain activation that develops empathy is evidenced even when the child is playing with dolls by themselves.
Empathy is an important indicator of children’s future success. According to globally recognized educational psychologist Dr. Michele Borba, empathy allows children to:
Understand other points of view, helping them to be better collaborators, leaders, and parents.
Foster successful relationships and conflict resolution skills.
Build resilience which helps their ability to bounce back from adversity.
70% of parents are concerned with how social distancing might affect their children's interactions with others.2 Encouraging empathy helps children develop the skills needed to navigate an ever-changing world with confidence and compassion. Here are 10 tips from Dr. Michele Borba on how to teach empathy, by incorporating doll play as a useful tool.
Children often talk while they free play. Encourage this behavior by offering a variety of dolls, and tune in while they play to discover their interests, worries and dislikes.
Expand your child's "feeling vocabulary" by naming feelings: "Looks like you’re angry." "You seem frustrated." Ask feeling questions: "Are you tense – worried - happy?". Talk about emotions with your children, give them permission to show and convey their feelings.
Offer your children a variety of dolls with different skin colors, genders, or disabilities. Help your children look for what they have in common with others, not how they differ.
Print the names of a few basic emotion words like happy, sad, afraid, excited and surprised on index cards, and turn the flash cards into a game: each family member pulls a card and acts it out using only his face and body to depict the feeling with no sounds or words allowed.
Try the Two Kind Rule: “We say or do at least two kind things to each day.” Talk about what kindness looks like (I.e. sharing a toy or helping someone), point out kind acts whenever someone displays them, and acknowledge your child’s kind acts.
Look for opportunities that are age appropriate where your child can comfort and help like feeding the family pet or delivering cookies to a neighbor. Young children can also act out caring with dolls.
Children who were asked to help with nouns: “Will you be a helper?” were far more likely to do so verses children who were encouraged to help as a verb “Will you help?”. If you want your child to see himself as a caring person, use nouns!
Take a shoebox with a slit cut in the top and encourage them to look for others doing kind acts. Whenever kindness is discovered, the “Kindness Finder” writes or draws the deed and the family member’s name and slips it in the Kindness Box.
When playing with dolls ask questions to help discover what’s going on in your child’s mind. “What makes her happy?” “What does he do if her friend is sad? Encourage your child to practice kind, caring and helping acts as they play.
Cardiff University in the United Kingdom is globally recognized as an authority in developmental neuroscience. The Cardiff University School of Psychology was ranked among the top 3 universities in the U.K. for research in psychology, psychiatry, and neuroscience.
During her 18-year career, she has worked extensively in research and published papers on a wide range of child psychology topics.
His primary research interests focus on how the role of early experiences promote healthy brain development.
The study, led by Dr. Sarah Gerson, is published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.
1Study was commissioned by Barbie. Study was conducted with 42 children (20 boys and 22 girls) ages 4-8 years old with full data captured from 33 children.
2Survey by OnePoll in July 2020 in 22 different countries questioning 15,000 parents of children ages 3-10 years old.