Childhood is a crucial phase for developing social skills, empathy, and understanding others’ emotions. While many toys contribute to a child’s growth, dolls have emerged as a fascinating subject of research due to their unique impact on fostering empathy and social thinking. In this blog post, inspired by the launch of the Barbie movie, we explore the fascinating discoveries from neuroscientific evidence that shed light on the power of doll play. We will delve into how doll play can encourage children to communicate about others’ thoughts and emotions, fostering the development of crucial social skills and empathy.
Language and Emotional Expression
Research has shown that playing with dolls encourages children to explore the realm of emotions and thoughts in a safe and imaginative environment. Through doll play, children learn to articulate emotions, describe feelings, and engage in conversations about others’ experiences. By verbalizing their thoughts while interacting with dolls, kids enhance their language and communication skills, building a strong foundation for effective expression in real-life situations.
Enhanced Social Engagement
A compelling aspect of doll play is how children address the dolls in the second person, which indicates a deeper level of engagement and connection. By treating the dolls as if they were real companions, children establish an emotional bond that paves the way for richer and more meaningful play experiences. This heightened social engagement allows them to explore various social scenarios, understand different perspectives, and make sense of complex emotions.
Developing Theory of Mind
Theory of mind refers to the ability to understand that others have their own beliefs, desires, intentions, and emotions, which may differ from one’s own. Doll play provides an exceptional platform for children to exercise their theory of mind, as they take on roles and interact with their dolls as if they were independent individuals. This process helps children develop a deeper understanding of other’s inner worlds, leading to greater empathy and compassion in their real-life interactions.
Equal Benefits for All (breaking stereotypes)
A notable finding from the research is that doll play yields significant benefits for both boys and girls. Traditionally, dolls were perceived as toys primarily for girls, but this study demonstrates that the positive impact of doll play on social development knows no gender boundaries. Boys, just like girls, experience enhanced social skills and empathy when engaging in doll play, emphasizing the importance of providing all children with access to a diverse range of toys and play experiences.
As parents, caregivers, and educators, understanding the potential of doll play in nurturing empathy and social skills can greatly influence the toys we select for children. Dolls serve as more than playthings; they become valuable tools in supporting children’s emotional growth and social development. By encouraging doll play, we can foster an environment where children feel comfortable expressing emotions, understanding others’ perspectives, and cultivating compassion for those around them.
So, let’s celebrate the power of dolls in shaping a kinder, more empathetic generation!
Hashmi, S. et al. (2020) Exploring the benefits of doll play through neuroscience, Frontiers. Available at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnhum.2020.560176/full (Accessed: 03 August 2023).
Devlin , H. (2022) Playing with dolls helps children talk about how others feel, says study, The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2022/feb/06/playing-dolls-helps-children-talk-about-how-others-feel-study (Accessed: 03 August 2023).
Hashmi, S. et al. (2021) Doll play prompts social thinking and social talking: Representations of internal state language in the brain, Wiley Online Library. Available at: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/desc.13163 (Accessed: 03 August 2023).