Playing with dolls can help develop children’s emotional intelligence, study finds

Research has found that children tend to talk about other people’s thoughts and feelings when playing with dolls – as if the toys have feelings.

Children talk to their dolls as if they have thoughts and feelings

According to research, playing with dolls can help develop children’s emotional intelligence.

A team of neuroscientists from Cardiff University have released the latest results from a study exploring the short- and long-term impacts of doll play on development.

In the second year of the study, researchers investigated the importance of what children said while playing and found that children used increased language about other people’s thoughts and feelings when they played alone with dolls.

This is a concept known as Internal State Language (SIL) – and in doing so, children practice social skills they can use when interacting with people in the real world, and which can also be potentially beneficial for the overall emotional development of children.

The study, conducted in partnership with Barbie, also found increased activity in the posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS) region of the child’s brain when he spoke, as if his dolls had thoughts and feelings.

This region [pSTS] is heavily involved in the development of social and emotional processing skills – further supporting findings from Grade One that even when children play alone with dolls, it can help develop vital social skills like empathy.

Playing with dolls is beneficial for the development of both girls and boys



Researcher Dr Sarah Gerson said: “When children create imaginary worlds and role-play with dolls, they first communicate aloud and then internalize the message about the thoughts, emotions and feelings of the dolls. others.

“It can have long-term positive effects for children, such as higher rates of social and emotional processing and the development of social skills like empathy that can be internalized to build and form life habits.

“Internal state language can indicate that a child is thinking about other people’s thoughts and feelings when playing with dolls.

“These skills are really important for interacting with other people, learning from others, and navigating a variety of social situations.

“It becomes important for making and maintaining friendships, and how they learn from their teachers and parents.”

The study used state-of-the-art functional near-infrared spectroscopy equipment to explore brain activation while children played with Barbie dolls, alone or with another person.

The research, from Cardiff University, suggests that doll play can offer children the opportunity to imitate scenes and interactions from their daily lives – as children imitate what they see their children say and do. parents, teachers or peers.

As a result, dolls can give them an outlet to recreate what they’ve seen and heard, to rehearse skills they can use in real-life social situations.

Children tend to imitate what they see or hear their parents or teachers doing



The research also suggests that these findings are independent of gender – revealing the overall critical importance of doll play in practicing social skills.

According to a global survey, out of 15,000 moms and dads of children aged three to ten, 91% ranked empathy as a key social skill they wish their children had.

Yet only a quarter (26%) knew that doll play can help their child develop these crucial attributes.

Six in ten, however, said their toddler’s social-emotional development had been negatively affected by the pandemic.

Lisa McKnight, Senior Vice President and Global Head of Barbie and Dolls at Mattel, who commissioned the Cardiff study, said: “We are proud that when children play out stories with Barbie and express their thoughts and emotions , they can build crucial social networks. skills, like empathy, that give them the tools to be confident and inclusive adults.

“As leaders in the doll category, we look forward to discovering even more neuroscience-based benefits of doll play through our long-term partnership with Cardiff University.”

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