By Tharuni Jayaraman
In a recent study that has created some buzz (The Guardian, The Boston Globe, and The Atlantic), researchers Aurora Sherman and Eileen Zurbriggen investigated whether playing with a Barbie doll for just five minutes could affect a girl’s belief in the type of career she could pursue.
To test their hypothesis, they recruited a pool of 37 girls between the ages of four and seven. 59% of the girls studied had at least one Barbie doll at home and 57% reported having two or more, while 41% of them had never played with a Barbie doll before. (A 1999 study found that 99% of girls between the ages of three and ten owned at least one Barbie doll — perhaps times really have changed.)
Each girl was randomly assigned to play with one of three toys: Mrs. Potato Head (the control condition), Doctor Barbie, and Fashion Barbie. The researchers selected Mrs. Potato Head as the control condition because:
Mrs. Potato Head is lacking in sexualization cues, thereby allowing us to vary sexualization while holding other elements constant. Mrs. Potato Head is similar to Barbie in the color and texture of plastic that makes up the doll, is a feminine doll with a well-known female persona, and is marketed with clothing and accessories similar to Barbie.
The Doctor Barbie was dressed in “tight fitting blue jeans embedded with pink glitter strands, a scrubs style V-neck shirt printed with rubber ducks, a white lab boast imprinted with Barbie in pink, and pink low-heeled shoes.” The Fashion Barbie was dressed in “a knee-length, form-fitting, low V-cut, short-sleeved pink dress with black overlay and accessories.” Mrs. Potato Head “was presented to participants with one set of eyes, ears, and mouth attached, with other eyes, ears, and accessories available for play.”