Landmark Study Shows Doll Play Nurtures Empathy
- Commissioned by Mattel’s Barbie Team and led by senior researchers at Cardiff University, Exploring the Benefits of Doll Play through Neuroscience is the first scientific study using neuroscience to explore the positive impact doll play has on children.
- This research found that even when playing by oneself, doll play activates brain regions that allow children to develop empathy and social information processing skills. These skills are highly valued by parents and are significant determinants in children’s future emotional, academic, and social success.
- The research concludes that playing with dolls, such as Barbie, offers major benefits in preparing children for the future through nurturing social skills like empathy.
At Mattel, we’ve long believed that play has the power to change the world. As the world’s leading toy company, we feel a profound responsibility to continuously learn how to show the world the value of play to kids and families across all genders, races, abilities, and cultures.
I’m not surprised that more and more parents are telling us that they want their kids to learn the skills that will help them succeed in our ever more complicated world. In fact, nine out of ten parents worldwide now say that empathy is the social skill they most want their kids to develop.
If you’ve ever watched a child play with dolls or experienced the fun of playing along, you see the joy and creativity happening in the moment. All sorts of situations and human interactions are being tried on, played out and worked through - and important skills are being learned.
How kids interact with dolls has been researched for a long time. I’m particularly inspired by one landmark study using dolls that helped demonstrate the negative effects of segregation on black children in the US, leading the Supreme Court to declare segregation in public schools unconstitutional. The powerful legacy of this and other early research into the importance of doll play on child development led Mattel to field an innovative and ongoing new study in partnership with Cardiff University, a leading academic institution. This study employs neuroscience for the first time to examine how today’s kids learn from doll play, developing skills with lifetime value.
This month, we’re sharing the first important findings from this groundbreaking global research. Particularly exciting is that empathy, so meaningful to parents everywhere, is developed through play with dolls like Barbie – and that this holds true across genders, races, and cultures worldwide. You can read more about this study on the benefits of doll play and its findings here.
As an advocate for purposeful play, we believe that play should always be both fun in the moment and valuable for a lifetime. And that skills best learned in childhood today offer enormous potential for global good tomorrow – empathy being just one example. It makes me so proud to work in an industry that not only brings so much joy to the world but is helping improve it through play.
So, amidst all the disruption and day-to-day challenges we’re all experiencing, I encourage you to keep playing. Now more than ever, Mattel wants to remind you to play together as a family, rediscover your inner child and share some fun. You won’t simply be relieving some of the stress of these extraordinary times – you’ll be helping to shape the skills of the future generation from your living room.
Visit Barbie.com/Benefits for ideas on how to make play more purposeful for your family.