Barbie Boosts Social Skills

While “Barbie” may have snagged just one prestigious gold statuette at the Oscars this year, its impact as a cultural phenomenon extends far beyond the glitz of Hollywood. Debuting officially on March 9, 1959, the iconic plastic doll has inspired everything from extravagant Hollywood productions starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling to sparking developmental benefits for children that might surprise you.

Researchers at Cardiff University’s Neuroscience department have made a significant discovery that playing with dolls could help a child’s social development and may hold unique particular benefits for children with diverse social communication styles, including individuals who exhibit traits commonly associated with autism and other forms of neurodivergence.

What we find fascinating is that, regardless of the traits children have, their brain activity suggests that doll play is associated with thinking about other people.

New research conducted at Cardiff University sheds light on the fascinating link between autism traits and brain activity in children. The study revealed that children demonstrating heightened autism traits exhibit notable increases in brain activity within a crucial region responsible for social processing. Specifically, this heightened activity was observed during interactive doll play sessions, suggesting a unique insight into how these children engage socially.

The research unveiled an intriguing revelation: children with neurodevelopmental differences may experience social development differently during doll play compared to their neurotypical peers. Unlike neurotypical children, who often delve into the dolls’ inner thoughts and feelings, these findings suggest that broader social engagement with peers while engaging in doll play could be a distinct pathway to social growth for these children. Despite this contrast, researchers emphasize that both groups can harness the power of doll play to improve social skills like empathy and navigate various social scenarios effectively. This sheds light on the potential of doll play as a versatile tool for fostering social development across diverse child populations.

The latest report unveils fresh insights derived from an ongoing, multi-year investigation conducted by the Centre for Human Developmental Science within the School of Psychology at the university.

Previous phases of this extensive study looked at the social and developmental advantages experienced by neurotypical children through doll play, demonstrating its broad-reaching impacts.

Now entering its third year, the research team has expanded its scope, encompassing a more diverse cohort of participants. This includes children aged between four and eight, spanning across varying levels of traits associated with autism spectrum conditions.

The results of the study highlight the profound impact of doll play on nurturing social cognition in children, regardless of their individual neurodevelopmental characteristics.

Lead researcher Dr Sarah Gerson said: 

Our study shows that doll play can encourage social processing in children, regardless of their neurodevelopmental profile. The findings show that all children, even those who display neurodivergent traits commonly associated with autism, may use doll play as a tool for practicing social scenarios and developing social skills, such as empathy.

To learn more about how I AM can provide assistance for you and your child, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us via email at or by phone at 0161 866 8483. We’re here to help!

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