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New Study Shows That Playing With Dolls Allows Children to Develop Empathy and Social Processing Skills

Barbie® and neuroscientists from Cardiff University have collaborated on a new study which for the first time uses neuroimaging as evidence to explore the effects of doll play

  • Evidence shows that doll play activates brain regions which are associated with social information processing and empathy, indicating that doll play enables children to rehearse, use and perform these skills even when playing on their own

  • To understand the relevancy of the study, Barbie independently commissioned a global survey in 22 different countries questioning 15,000 parents which showed 91 percent of parents rank empathy as a key social skill they would like their child to develop, but only 26 percent were aware that doll play could help their child develop these skills

  • Today Barbie launches an online hub featuring resources for parents, caregivers, and children, to support them in their social processing skills which has been developed alongside leading empathy expert, writer, and educational psychologist, Dr. Michele Borba

(NASDAQ: MAT): Today, Barbie®, and a team of neuroscientists from Cardiff University, announces findings of a new study conducted using neuroscience for the first time to explore the positive impact doll play has on children, bringing to light new evidence that doll play activates brain regions that allow children to develop empathy and social information processing skills, even when playing by themselves.

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NEW STUDY SHOWS THAT PLAYING WITH DOLLS ALLOWS CHILDREN TO DEVELOP EMPATHY AND SOCIAL PROCESSING SKILLS (Photo: Business Wire)

Over the past 18 months, senior lecturer Dr. Sarah Gerson and colleagues at Cardiff University’s Centre for Human Developmental Science have used neuroimaging technology to provide the first indications of the benefits of doll play at a brain level. Through monitoring the brain activity of 33 children* between the ages of 4 and 8, as they played with a range of Barbie dolls, the team found that the posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS), a region of the brain associated with social information processing such as empathy, was activated even when the child was playing on their own. These benefits of solo doll play were shown to be equal for both boys and girls.

Dr. Gerson explains: “This is a completely new finding. We use this area of the brain when we think about other people, especially when we think about another person’s thoughts or feelings. Dolls encourage them to create their own little imaginary worlds, as opposed to say, problem-solving or building games. They encourage children to think about other people and how they might interact with each other. The fact that we saw the pSTS to be active in our study shows that playing with dolls is helping them rehearse some of the social skills they will need in later life. Because this brain region has been shown to play a similar role in supporting empathy and social processing across six continents, these findings are likely to be country agnostic“.

To gather the data for the study,