Special Assignment: The Doll Test

By: Domonique Benn
By: Domonique Benn

November 14, 2006

50 years ago, Dr. Kenneth Clark, a civil rights advocate and psychologist, created the Doll Test. That's where children pick what they perceive as "good" and "bad" from dolls of different colors.

When he performed the test, overwhelmingly, more children favored the white doll.

In a News 12 Special Assignment, News 12's Domonique Benn re-created the Doll Test.

News 12 bought two exact dolls. The only difference between them was race.

It is disturbing and alarming why some children picked one doll over the other.

Two local daycares participated in our story. We used black and white four-year-old pre-K students.

Just as in Clark's study, the children were asked a series of questions, like which doll was good, which doll was bad, and why.

And which doll looks like you.

At the first daycare, we asked teacher Anne Iverson to ask her students the questions.

Here's one exchange:

Iverson: "Which doll is the good doll?"

Child: (points to white one)

Iverson: "Why is that the good doll?"

Child: "Cause she's white."

Iverson: "Which doll is the bad doll?"

Child: (points to brown doll)

Iverson: "Why?"

Child: "Cause it's brown."

And here's another:

Iverson: "What did the doll do that was bad?"

Child: "Hit somebody."

Iverson has taught for 28 years and has a master's degree with specialization in early childhood education. She told News 12, "I thought the results were really interesting, which confirms what you were talking about from 50 years ago of how times have changed...but yet in some instances it hasn't."

At the next daycare, we asked Pre-K Coordinator Leslie Lewis to ask the children the questions.

Lewis: "Which one do you think is the good doll?"

Child: (picks white)

Lewis: "Why?"

Child: "Because it has white."

Lewis: "Which is the bad doll?"

Child: (picks white)

Lewis: "Why?"

Child: "Cause it has brown."

Lewis: "Which would you like to play with?"

Child: (picks white)

Lewis says she was surprised at some of the answers, which she says came despite efforts to buy African American dolls for the kids at this daycare.

"Just knowing their personalities, I expected that they were not going to say that, and when they did I was completely taken aback."

Out of the 20 kids, 18 picked the white doll as the good doll.

One little girl said she liked the white doll better because of the hat...but the dolls were dressed the same.

One little girl hesitated when asked which doll she wants to play with, then chose the white one.

Lewis: "Which is the good doll?"

Child: (picks white)

Lewis: "Why?"

Child: "Because."

Lewis: "Because what?"

Child: "She is pretty."

"Particularly in the black race, we often hear amongst ourselves people emphasizing characteristics that are more white as being better characteristics," Lewis said.

Anne Iverson believes media and stereotypes are also responsible for the way children see themselves.

"I think TV plays a large part," she said. "I think communication plays a large part in the way people are either portrayed or stereotyped."

And now, more than 50 years later, the color of love sometimes depends on the skin.

"Although we've talked about how times have changed, some of the responses are the same. Whether they are the same for the same reasons I don't know, but we've got a long way to go," Iverson said.

The results from the original study were submitted in 1952 by the NAACP as part of the evidence in the Supreme Court ruling for school integration.

One of the daycares we talked with said they plan to start teaching more about race and the positive attributes in both races.

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