What was the meaning and significance of the 'doll study" conducted by Kenneth and Mamie Clark?

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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Kenneth and Mamie Clark were psychologists who performed a series of experiments involving dolls in the 1940s. Hoping to illustrate how segregation affected children's attitudes about race, they gave African-American children attending segregated schools in Washington, DC two dolls each. The dolls were identical except for skin and hair color. One was light skinned with blond hair and the other was dark skinned with black hair. The children were then asked a series of questions in which they were asked to identify which doll they would like to play with in real life, which doll was bad, and which doll looked nicer. The children overwhelmingly gave answers that demonstrated a preference for the white dolls. 

The study took on major historical significance because Kenneth Clark submitted amicus curiae briefs to the Supreme Court in the cases that were decided under the heading Brown v. Board of Education. Their findings were cited as evidence that segregation caused feelings of inferiority among black children, among the major reasons the Warren Court gave for overturning segregation in public schools:

To separate them (black students) from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.


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