Barbie: The Benefits of Doll Play According to Neuroscience
Cardiff University, in a multi-year research partnership with Barbie, conducted the first neuroimaging study to deliver notable results about the effect of doll play on the brain¹. At Barbie, we've always known there are many benefits of playing with dolls and now there is scientific evidence that supports it.
How Doll Play Stimulates the Brain
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 apply to all children, regardless of gender or ethnicity.
- New for 2022! Barbie explores the importance of what kids say while they play.
Latest findings show that when playing with dolls children use increased language about others’ thoughts and emotions. This allows them to practice social skills they can use when interacting with people in the real world.
- 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.
Why Empathy is Important
When children create imaginary worlds and role play with dolls like Barbie, it prompts them to talk about thoughts about others' emotions and feelings. This can have positive long-lasting effects on children, building social and emotional processing social skills like empathy.
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.
Ten Tips for Developing Empathy
70% of parents are concerned with how social distancing might affect their children’s interactions with others2. 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.Read Tips
Dr. Michele Borba, Educational Psychologist
Dr. Sarah Gerson, Neuroscientist
Meet our Research Partners
Dr. Sarah Gerson
During her 18-year career, she has worked extensively in research and published papers on a wide range of child psychology topics.
Dr. Ross Vanderwert
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 (2020). Study was conducted with 42 children (20 boys and 22 girls) ages from 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 aged from 3-10 years old.