The Dolls THAT CHANGED The World

Popular Science|Summer 2020

The Dolls THAT CHANGED The World
WHEN SCIENTISTS BRING dolls into the lab, the toys transcend their role as playthings. They can expose racism and unleash aggression.
ERIN BLAKEMORE
The humanoid forms are easy to identify with, allowing them to serve as scientific stand­ins and therapeutic companions. Their familiar anatomy is also ideal for plotting out technical reference points. From creepy to cute, these five figurines have powered decades of research and innovation.

REVEAL RACISM

AFRICAN AMERICAN PSYCHOLOGISTS

Kenneth and Mamie Phipps Clark used sets of toy babies—some with white skin, some with brown— to understand how black children living under segregation in the 1940s developed their sense of self. Black kids presented with both options preferred the pale doll; some even cried when asked which looked like them. The Clarks took this as evidence that youths internalized the social values of their environment: They saw themselves as inferior because of their skin color. The tests impressed attorneys in the famous Brown v. Board of Education lawsuit, where Kenneth testified that segregation led to self­hatred. The Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling on that case finally integrated schools and spurred a growing movement for civil rights.

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Summer 2020