Thursday, September 27, 2012

More Teaching Dolls and Test

In 2009 I special ordered a SOMSO-Plast baby which is designed for use as a teaching aid usually in a medical setting.  The version I ordered is designed to teach infant care.  It is anatomically correct, has ball joints for each of its extremities, an open anus, synthetic brown eyes, hand-painted hair, is the height and weight of a 6-week-old infant, and described by the German manufacturer as "a perfect combination doll for bathing, dressing practice and nursing exercises."

These  baby models are sold through medical equipment companies here in the US and when not in stock usually take three to six months to receive.  They are each handmade by the German manufacturer upon special order request.  

SOMSO-Plast Babies for teaching infant care

I wanted a certain dark-skinned model that was not in stock with any US medical equipment company I contacted.  With one company whose price was the lowest, I placed a prepaid order and waited patiently 90-some-odd days for the baby to be made and shipped from Germany.  Instead of receiving the dark-skinned version, I received the white model.  I contacted the US company, who placed a second special order for the correct version.  The second baby arrived in the summer of 2010.  As things worked out, I was able to keep both female baby models.

Even though both are females anatomically, I purchased coordinated girl-boy outfits.

Babies dressed in coordinated outfits (aren't they adorable)?
 After the dolls had been here a while, my daughter noticed them in the doll room in a basket with other life-size baby dolls.  Since they were identical except for complexion, she decided we should conduct an updated version of Dr. Kenneth and Mamie Clarks' Dolls Test, which was first conducted with African American children in northern and southern US states during the late-1940s.  

The Clarks initially used four dolls dressed only in a diaper.  The dolls were identical with the exception of their complexion and hair color.  Two were white; two were black.  With a series of requests of the children, the Clarks discovered that, while 66% identified themselves with the black doll and 33% identified with the white doll when requested, "Give me the doll that looks like you," most children chose the white doll and rejected the black doll when requested, "Give me the doll you like to play with the best." 

My grandson was 4 at the time he took the test, which I video taped, but for privacy reasons, have chosen not to share here. 

A transcript of the questions my Grandson answered can be read below.  These were modeled after the Clarks' Dolls Test requests, but spontaneously updated and amended by my daughter as they were asked.  (To all, with the exception of the ones where an answer is provided, Grandson chose the black doll.)

Which doll would you want to play with?

Which one looks nice?

Which one looks bad?

Which one can dance?

Which one has a nice color?  White doll

Which one looks like you?

Which one can sing?

Which one plays basketball?

Which one plays hockey?  White doll

See more educational SOMSO-Plast babies (models) here.
See Dr. Clark's original Dolls Test data here


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  1. I like the "so loved" onesie. What a great message to receive so early in life!

    1. Hi Limbe Dolls,

      I like the color theme of the So Loved onesie as well. There is always a better selection in infant girls clothing and girls clothing in general over boys.


  2. I say this in jest.... I take exception that the white "male" doll is wearing a t-shirt that that says "I Rule". Were you subconsciously influenced by your surroundings?

    I appreciate the German company was able to make a doll of color, but what is up with those eyes? Do they see us as scary people and in turn made the doll appear scary? Or is it just me? Thanks for the link to the article. I read it a long time ago, but it's great to have a refresher. Do you have pictures of the 4 dolls that were used? I guess I could look it up. In the past, which is why I started making my own dolls twenty years ago, companies would tend to make dolls of color the way they saw us, not the way we really are. If I were given these two dolls and asked to pick the one that looks like me, I wouldn't pick either. Parts of those original questions are just disturbing. The bad doll. The nice doll. They have supplanted in the child's mind that there is a right/wrong answer to these questions. If the ridiculous question is going to be asked at all, why not give the child a way to select none of the dolls or more than one doll. You have an authoritative figure asking a child a leading question. Was the same test given to a group of white kids to see what the results were? I'm thinking it wasn't. In the above picture the white doll looks innocent and nicer because of the facial expression and sculpt. The doll of color looks a little scary because of the eyes. The fallacy of the test(in my humble opinion) is the people conducting the test were only focused on skin color. Were our kids looking not only at skin color, but at a doll's expression, or the vibe a doll gives off. Even today we connect with our dolls for various reasons. It's a vibe. It's a feeling. It's not just about color.

    1. Hi Vanessa,

      I actually chose the pink and brown outfit for the black doll because I had already determined she would remain female prior to shopping for the clothes.

      Except for complexion and hair color, the German dolls are identical. So if one doll’s eyes appear scary, it stands to reason (to me) they both should appear scary to you. Maybe the white doll’s complexion makes him appear "nicer" to you. (I am saying this in jest.) In reality, the dolls’ eyes are the same.

      The Clarks' test was conducted to determine self-awareness in young AA children as well as to determine how they see themselves compared to non-AAs. Was the same test conducted on white children? Of course not and especially not by an AA psychologist during the 1940s and 1950s. It wouldn't have been allowed. Self-awareness and low self-esteem were not considered issues for white children during that time period.

      Yes, the Dolls Test questions were very leading, but they were asked in a manner where the child could choose between the two sets of dolls. "Show me the doll..." as opposed to, "Which doll is..." By asking the child to, "Show me the doll," he/she could choose to answer, "Neither." I'm sure none of them did, however.

      No, I do not have a clear picture of the original four dolls used. Eventually, instead of using four dolls (two white and two black) the Clarks used only two dolls (one black and one white). There is a picture circulating on the Internet, taken by the late Gordon Parks, of a young AA male child modeling as a Dolls Test subject where you can vaguely see the two dolls used. In the image, for the partiular question the child is illustrating, he chooses the white doll but looks at the black one.

      I refer to this child as a model because the same child appears in a 1947 issue of Ebony magazine that I own in an article promoting Dr. Clark's Harlem clinic where so-called "problem children" were treated for issues such as "color complex" among other cited issues. The Dolls Test child (model) was photographed in a series of scenarios for this copy of Ebony (the Doll Tests being one of them) to illustrate the various psychological problems Dr. Clark treated in his Northside Center for Child Development.

      For doll collecting, doll loving, doll play, it truly is and should be about a vibe, a feeling, and not just about color. I just so happen to unapologetically vibe more with dolls that look like me – it's a feeling.


    2. The eye color on both dolls may be the same, but it appears that the doll of color has a eye that is one size smaller, which makes the eye placement different. The eye at the top and the bottom are not hitting in the same places, according to the picture. That minor difference changes the look of the doll.

      Will a 3 or 4 year old really say neither when asked, "Show Me the Doll." Probably not. Has a 3 or 4 year old really developed a poor self esteem based on color? Maybe.

      They did the best they could at the time. And their intentions were good.

    3. Hi again Vanessa,

      The camera's flash may be causing the eye distortion you are seeing. When looking at them in person, the dolls' eyes are the same. For the amount of money and time spent waiting for the desired doll, I would not have kept her had her eyes been flawed.

      You asked and answered: Has a 3 or 4-year-old really developed a poor self-esteem based on color? Maybe.

      The children ranged in age from 3 to 7 in Clark’s Dolls Test and other psychological studies. Dolls were not the only tools used to determine the children’s awareness of self and what I failed to mention, the psychological effects of living in a 1940s-1950s segregated society.

      Quoting you, "They did the best they could at the time and their intentions were good."

      Clark’s findings were used in Brown v. The Board of Education which argued against segregated schools. The Brown decision (with the aid of Clark’s findings, which the Supreme Court cited) eventually led to desegregation of schools in the US or making this practice unconstitutional.

      Even though it took some 20 years for all US schools to comply, Clark’s test and other findings served a purpose to aid in the decision. So I agree, his intentions were extremely good and well worth the effort.

      More can be read about Clark’s studies, papers, the Dolls Test, and Brown v Board here.


  3. Hello from Spain: I already see that these dolls are like real babies. I had not seen before. Your blog is an encyclopedia on the world of dolls. You make some very interesting entries. . Keep in touch

    1. Thanks, Marta! Your comments are always a pleasure to read.


  4. More interesting dolls...thanks for daughter is in nursing school...I think I will ask her if she ever worked with such dolls...makes me curious to know :) Blessings

    1. You're welcome, Shelley. I'd like to know if your daughter has worked with any dolls in nursing school.

      I tried to locate link to a nursing doll that was used in the 1940s or 1950s to share with you but was unsuccessful. I believe it was also a Red Cross teaching doll made for the nursing industry for emergency medical treatment practice. It was housed in a wooden case. Black and white versions were made.


  5. I almost typed, "Does the manufacturer made 1:6 doll clothes that awesome?," but now I realize those are real kids clothing.

    Featurely, the dolls look the same to me. They only seem different because the whites of the black doll's eyes appear more prominent due to the surrounding skin tone.

    While I understand the nature of the original test, did you follow-up by asking your Grandson, "Why does that doll look bad, nice, etc?"

    1. The outfits are really cute. I had to have them when I saw them at Wal-Mart.

      Your followup question is excellent, Muff, and is one that we should have asked, but no we did not. He's 6 now and I'm not sure he would be a willing test subject.

      Kiri Davis in her updated Doll Test from a few years back, did ask the children why they preferred one doll over the other or why one was considered bad.



Thank you! Your comments are appreciated!