The Impact of the Doll Test

By: Anna Grace Cole

April 3, 2023

Last semester, as part of a final project for UT Law’s Race & The Supreme Court course, I conducted a Doll Test of my own—I wanted to see if self-identification had improved in young children since the original Clark Doll Test. With the help of Professor Brooklyn Sawyers-Belk and the University of Tennessee Early Learning Center, I pulled together a collection of dolls. Two dolls were very similar to the original test in that one was white, and one was Black, but otherwise, they were identical. I also wanted to take advantage of the dolls we have access to today—many feature different body sizes, a wide range of skin tones, hair color, hair texture, and visible disabilities. In an effort to widen the scope of the test, I included a pair of dolls in a wheelchair (one white, one Black), an able-bodied pair of dolls (again, one white and one Black), and a pairing of a Black Panther doll and a Captain America doll (there is an extremely limited number of action figures that represent Black characters, while white superhero dolls are abundant). For each test, the child was asked a set of questions about each pair of dolls:

Which doll is your favorite?

Which doll is not your favorite?

Which doll do you want to play with?

Which doll do you not want to play with?

Why do you want to play with [the doll the child selected] the most?

Which doll looks like you?

We ran the test with about a dozen children, so the test was more qualitative than quantitative. There were a few issues with the children’s ages and, understandably, a little hesitation with the situation. Across the board, however, the children indicated their preference for the doll whose skin color was the most similar to the color of their skin. This finding is a complete reversal from the conclusion of the Clark Doll Test—all of the children could identify the doll that looked like them, and they liked that doll. It is impossible to say that the result of our small test is solely due to the integration of schools. Still, there is no doubt that these children, who are in a preschool classroom with children of many different identities, are benefiting greatly from learning that differences are a good thing and ought to be celebrated.






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