I recently found myself watching the “Doll test” An experiment where children, black and white are shown two different dolls at the same time and asked questions such as which one is pretty, nice, bad and ugly. Most of the children, black and white alike point to white doll when it comes to the positive attributes and the black doll when it comes to the negative attributes.
I’ve watched experiments several times before – they’re probably just as old as me! This time though, having recently been interviewed a few times on the subjects of “Skin Tone Memory Bias” and “Unconscious Bias” I found myself reflecting deeper. Is the experiment perhaps flawed in it’s design and by virtue of the questions asked? Do the questions actually lead the child to make unnecessary and indeed unhealthy choices?
As a starting point, I found myself wondering, what was in the hearts and minds of those children when they walked into the room that morning and how would they have responded if they were presented with a different set of questions.
What would the children have said if they had been asked what was nice about each doll instead of being asked which doll was nice and which was bad? Having been asked what was nice about each doll, they could have then been asked the follow up question as to whether there was anything bad about the dolls.
On the other hand asking them which was nice and which was bad sends a message to the child that one was better than the other and they had to choose which one – regardless of their mind-set when they walked into the room..
Alternatively, what if the children were just simply shown a black doll or a white doll and asked what they thought of it. They could then have been shown a doll of the other colour. I suspect that there responses may not have been so stark and they would have probably focused on other features rather than just colour.
I believe that a key problem with the research is that its approach stems from and feeds into our adult prejudices and conditioning. I’m not saying that children are unaware but I don’t believe it is the starting point with their thinking until we condition them. Just as I said I wonder what was in the hearts and minds of the children when they entered the room, I wonder what was in their hearts and minds as they left as if they were not making distinction on the basis of colour when they entered the room, the seed was planted by the time they left. The problem is I believe in our day to day interacts we often teach children to think in terms of colour and in line with our other biases which may be conscious or subconscious.
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