Friday, October 12, 2012

The Clark Doll Experiment: "Show me the nice doll..."

As a Psychology major, I have come across several studies that baffled me. A few weeks ago, in African American History class, we briefly discussed one of those studies: the Clark Doll experiment. In the 1940s, Psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark used black and white dolls to study children’s attitudes about race. In the experiment, children (ages six thru nine years old) were presented with two dolls (one white and one black) and then asked a series of questions about the dolls. Some of the questions asked were “which one is the doll they would play with?”, “which one is the nice doll?”, “which one looks bad?” and “which one has the nicer color?” The results of the experiment showed that the children preferred the white doll over the black doll.

It is now 2012 and obviously we are no longer segregated. Surely things have changed and the results of this test would be different now. Well, at least that is what I thought. Unfortunately, I was wrong.  In 2005, a young filmmaker and student name Kiri Davis conducted the same experiment as the Clarks. She asked the same questions the Clarks asked in their doll experiment and she got the same results: the white doll was more popular. I cannot help but wonder why and how 65 years later, the results of this experiment have not changed. I also cannot decide who is to blame for the perpetuation of children thinking white is better than black. Should the parents be blamed because they are not instilling in their children the notion that black people are just as good as white people? Should the media be blamed because they constantly portray whites and blacks in stereotypical roles? Should society be blamed because between 1940 and 2005, we have done absolutely nothing to change the results of this doll test? When the doll test is recreated 65 years from now, how can we ensure that the results will not be the same?

Here’s a clip of a recent Black and White dolls test done by Kiri Davis in 2005:


  1. You raise great questions that should be analyzed so we as a society can aim at countering this disappointing reality. I first and foremost feel that parents are ultimately the source of much of their children's thought processes, ideas, and morals--they are the first people children come into contact with and the first to make impressions and instill values. Parents are also the influence around when children come home from school, work, and play with those impresssionable members of society. Parents have a tremendous role in ensuring that their children know the fundamentals of history and that slavery should in no way make them feel that they are of lesser value, brilliance, etc as their white counterparts. Parents have an upperhand in nurturing their children and should utilize it to breed self-esteem and racial pride. Society and media will always be avenues to point fingers to (in this case and others); but the dealings associated with this doll test, in my opinion, can be traced to the home.

  2. I think media can be traced to this problem more than parents. Children today learn a great deal from the media. What the media portrays is predominately that white is better. Even in African American roles, blacks are light skinned and long hair. Rarely can African American children find people who look like them in the media. Of course, the parent can teach the children that "black is beautiful," but the child will still foster and develop their own beliefs of what is beautiful. If we want to change this, we must change what are children are exposed to from the media.

  3. I think that society is to blame for this issue because we think that the problem of racism has been long taken care of. But in reality the issue has not fully been resolved. We have combated part of the issue by eliminating blatant public segregation, but the underlying notions of racism (stereotypes) have not been properly addressed. The Doll test is a representation of the harsh realities of racial stereotyping in modern day America, and this illustrates the fact that there are racial misconceptions that are still prevalent. The results of the study display that black children experience internalized racism at early ages, and if not addressed early on this can stigmatize their later advancement in society. And this is where the role of the parents and media come into play. It is the parent’s job to instill a sense of pride, and establish a high self-esteem within black children. Equally, it is the job of parents to instill notions of racial tolerance and social and political equality within white children. The media also needs to be more mindful of the images that young children are viewing. Unfortunately, beauty in today’s society is largely based off of the images we see in the media, and if it has an influence in shaping the minds of adults, it plays an even more important role in shaping self-perception and perception of others in children.