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.
Evidence shows that doll play activates brain regions which are associated with social information processing and empathy, indicating that doll play enables children to rehearse, use and perform these skills even when playing on their own.
Other findings show that doll play allows children to develop empathy and social processing skills more so than solo tablet play, even when playing by themselves.
To understand the relevancy of the study, Barbie independently commissioned a global survey in 22 different countries questioning 15,000 parents which showed 91 percent of parents rank empathy as a key social skill they would like their child to develop, but only 26 percent were aware that doll play could help their child develop these skills.
To gather the data for the study, the children’s play was split into different sections so the Cardiff team could capture the brain activity relating to each other kind of play separately: playing with the dolls on their own; playing with the dolls together with another person (the research assistant); playing with the tablet game on their own and playing with the tablet game along with another person (the research assistant).
The dolls used included a diverse range of Barbie dolls and play sets, with all Barbie dolls and sets returned to starting positions before each child began their test to ensure consistency of experience. Tablet play was carried out using games that allow children to engage with open and creative play (rather than a rule or goal-based games) to provide a similar play experience to doll play.
The findings of the study show that when children played alone with dolls, they showed the same levels of activation of the pSTS as they do when playing with others. Another finding of the study is that when children were left to play tablet games on their own, there was far less activation of the pSTS, even though the games involved a considerable creative element.
“As leaders in the dolls category, we’ve always known that doll play has a positive impact on kids, but up until now, we have not had neuroscientific data that demonstrates these benefits,” saysLisa McKnight, SVP and Global Head of Barbie and Dolls, Mattel. “The findings of this research highlights that playing with dolls, such as Barbie, offers positive benefits in preparing children for the future through nurturing social skills like empathy. As we continue to inspire the limitless potential in every child, we are proud to offer dolls that encourage skills we know are highly valued by parents and are determinants in children’s future emotional, academic, and social success.”