Barbie: The Benefits of Doll Play According to Neuroscience

Barbie® and neuroscientists from Cardiff University have collaborated on a multi-year study which for the first time used neuroimaging as evidence to explore the effects of doll play. 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

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.

Key Findings

  • 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.
  • 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.

Learn more from Dr. Sarah Gerson about the context and relevance of the findings.

Why Empathy is Important

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

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.

Learn More

Dr. Sarah Gerson, Neuroscientist
Dr. Michele Borba, Educational Psychologist
Dr. Sarah Gerson, Neuroscientist

Meet our Research Partners

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.

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.