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The Use and Abuse of Doll Tests
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Kenneth Clark supervising a doll test

A 5-year-old girl in Georgia is being asked a series of questions in her school library. The girl, who is white, is looking at pictures of five cartoons of girls, all identical except for skin color ranging from light to dark.

When asked who the smart child is, she points to a light-skinned doll. When asked who the mean child is she points to a dark-skinned doll. She says a white child is good because “I think she looks like me”, and says the black child is ugly because “she’s a lot darker.”

As she answers her mother watches, and gently weeps. (CNN,
2010)

Light- and dark-colored dolls have long been used to study how children acquire negative attitudes to dark skin. This area of research began in the 1940s through the work of three American psychologists: Mary Ellen Goodman and the couple Kenneth and Mamie Clark. It grew out of the idea that color prejudice is a product of American culture and is passed on very early in life through ‘cultural conditioning’. Just as Ivan Pavlov’s dogs learned to associate food with the tinkling of a bell, American children learn to associate light skin with good qualities and dark skin with bad ones. Eventually, their reaction to skin color becomes as reflexive as the dog’s salivation on hearing a bell.

A doll test typically involves asking a child to choose between a lighter-colored doll and a darker-colored one. In general, the lighter doll is preferred by both white and black children. This preference varies with age, however, as the Clarks found in their studies:

3 years of age – lighter and darker dolls almost equally preferred
4 years of age – lighter doll preferred by 76% of the children
5 to 7 years of age – lighter-doll preference levels off and then declines

The results were similar when the children had to choose “the doll that you like to play with,” “the doll that is a nice doll,” “the doll that is a nice color” and, inversely, “the doll that looks bad” (Clark & Clark, 1947).

Age also seems to interact with gender. Boys and girls make on average the same choices if younger than 6 years of age. But when Asher and Allen (1969) asked children 3 to 8 years old to choose a white-faced puppet or a brown-faced one, the girls were likelier than the boys to choose the brown one, this being true for both white and black American children.

The first doll studies are well known today, even among non-academics. Less is known about later efforts to prove two inferences:

1) light-skin preference is learned, either from the child’s parents or from society in general

2) light-skin preference results from an ethnic division between a dominant light-skinned group and a subordinate dark-skinned group, as in the United States

The first inference has never been proven. No correlation exists between the children’s preference for light skin and their parents’ attitudes to dark-skinned people (Bird et al., 1952; Radke-Yarrow et al., 1952). This is acknowledged in the article on the latest doll study (mentioned in the opening quote):

A 2007 study in the Journal of Marriage and Family found that 75 percent of white families with kindergartners never, or almost never, talk about race. For black parents the number is reversed with 75 percent addressing race with their children.

Po Bronson, author of NurtureShock and an award-winning writer on parenting issues says white parents “want to give their kids this sort of post-racial future when they’re very young and they’re under the wrong conclusion that their kids are colorblind. … It’s in the absence of messages of tolerance that they will naturally … develop these skin preferences.” (CNN, 2010)

It is doubtful, in fact, whether any kind of learning is responsible. Smarter children learn more quickly, yet child IQ doesn’t correlate with acquisition of light-skin preference (Williams & Rousseau, 1971; Williams et al., 1975). Learning tends to be accumulative, yet doll studies typically show a sudden rise in light-skin preference at the age of 4 followed by a leveling off and then decline (Clark & Clark, 1947; Williams & Morland, 1979).

The second inference is even more doubtful. Light-skin preference has been documented in children from a wide range of societies, including mono-ethnic ones like Japan (Best et al., 1975; Best et al., 1976; Iwawaki et al., 1978; Munitz et al., 1987). It is not limited to the U.S. and its pattern of race relations. There is nonetheless some variation among human societies, with the level of light-skin preference being higher in white American and light-skinned Israeli children than in black American, Falasha Israeli, Japanese, German, French, and Italian children. Iwawaki et al. (1978) suggest that light-skin preference contains a primary component that is universal to all humans and a secondary component that the local culture may generate. I myself examined light-skin preference in French-Canadian children, using two dolls that differed slightly in complexion (both would have been considered ethnically “white”). The children were more or less evenly split between the two dolls at 3 years of age. At 4 and 5 years of age, the lighter-colored doll was strongly preferred (Frost, 1989).

Faulty understanding of a real phenomenon?

Many wish to believe that light-skin preference is a conditioned reflex. From this standpoint, we can eliminate color prejudice by stopping the “conditioners”, i.e., parents or, more generally, American society. Once this prejudice can no longer propagate, it will wither away and eventually disappear.

Well, perhaps, but don’t point to doll tests as proof. Light-skin preference does not seem to be primarily learned, at least not the kind we see in young children. Nor is it specific to American society. In fact, it seems to be a universal human trait.

My own research led me to conclude that we all have a mental algorithm that responds specifically to differences in human skin color. This algorithm did not come into being to evaluate color differences between different racial or ethnic groups. It arose to evaluate the much smaller difference in complexion between the sexes. Women are the ‘fair sex’. Their skin has visibly less melanin and hemoglobin than does male skin even when both sexes receive the same amount of sunlight (Edwards & Duntley, 1939; Frost, 1988; van den Berghe & Frost, 1986). Complexion is thus one of several visual cues, like face shape and voice pitch, that the human mind uses for sex recognition. This visual cue seems to be hardwired: people can distinguish a man’s face from a woman’s by complexion alone, even when the image is blurred and offers no other details (Russell, 2003; Russell, 2009; Russell & Sinha, 2007; Russell et al., 2006; Tarr, 2002).

But why would this algorithm operate in sexually immature toddlers? This was the question behind my own doll studies. Unlike the Clarks, I tested 2 year-olds. Most of them preferred the darker doll. There was thus a sharp swing in preference from dark skin to light skin between 2 and 4 years of age. Interestingly, this change in orientation was associated with the child’s loss of baby fat. In each age group, in fact, the children who chose the darker doll were significantly fatter, in terms of body mass index and triceps skinfold, than those who chose the lighter doll (Frost, 1989). This may indicate a hormonal influence, since fatty tissue is the body’s main source of estrogen before puberty.

I tested this hormonal hypothesis by examining skin-color preference in women over the menstrual cycle. Female subjects were presented with pairs of male faces or pairs of female faces, with one face being made to look slightly darker than the other. When male faces were presented, the darker one was likelier to be chosen by subjects in the estrogen-dominant phase of their menstrual cycle (first two-thirds) than by those in the progesterone-dominant phase (last third). This cyclical effect was absent if the subjects were on oral contraceptives or viewing female faces (Frost 1994). My results were later confirmed by a research team at St. Andrews University (Jones et al., 2005). The lead author was unaware of my study and was testing a completely different hypothesis (apparent health of faces).

There thus seems to be a mental algorithm that orients women toward darker complexions and men toward lighter complexions, the guiding mechanism being the ratio of estrogens to androgens in the body. This ratio falls sharply in late infancy with the loss of baby fat, thus giving these children a ‘male orientation’ to sex recognition.

In sum, light-skin preference does exist in children from late infancy onward. It is a real phenomenon. But it doesn’t mean what some researchers want it to mean.

Conclusion

One can ignore my own research. After all, it was done by just one person. But it’s harder to ignore the doll studies from societies whose history and social relations are quite different from those of the U.S. That research was done by teams of professional psychologists and published in leading journals of child psychology.

Yet those studies too are now ignored and, in fact, largely forgotten. The doll test has become a headless horseman that just rides on and on.

One might object that the latest studies examine not only children’s preferences but also their views on intelligence and behavior. The subjects are asked to identify the “smarter” doll and the “meaner” doll. Yet concepts like smartness and meanness have a less precise meaning to a toddler than to an adult. In my own studies, the children readily understood they had to choose one of the dolls, but the choice itself seemed to be made unconsciously. I would ask them afterwards why they chose one doll over the other. They typically answered: “ I don’t know” or “Because I love her!” The Clarks likewise found that phrasing the question differently had little effect on doll choice.

But perhaps it all doesn’t matter. Perhaps finding the truth is no longer the goal. In reading about the latest doll study (see opening quote), I couldn’t help but notice one detail: the child’s mother was present. Yes, there is an ethical obligation to tell the parents the results, but normally this is done after all the data have been collected and analyzed. There is also an ethical obligation to explain the limitations of the data: what may be reasonably inferred and what may not be.

In the latest doll test, however, the parents were made to observe in real time how their children chose. Is this what some people call “a teaching moment”?

References:

Asher, S.R. and V.L. Allen. (1969). Racial preference and social comparison processes, Journal of Social Issues, 25, 157-166.

Best, D.L., J.T. Field, and J.E. Williams. (1976). Color bias in a sample of young German children, Psychological Reports, 38, 1145-1146.

Best, D.L., C.E. Naylor, and J.E. Williams. (1975). Extension of color bias research to young French and Italian children, Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 6, 390-405.

Bird, C., E.D. Monachesi, and H. Burdick. (1952). Infiltration and the attitudes of white and Negro parents and children, Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 47, 688-699.

Clark, K.B. and M.P. Clark. (1947). Racial identification and preference in Negro children, in T.M. Newcomb and E.L. Hartley (ed.) Readings in Social Psychology, pp. 169-178, New York: Henry Holt.

CNN (2010). Kids’ test answers on race brings mother to tears, CNN.com, May 18, 2010.
http://ac360.blogs.cnn.com/2010/05/18/kids-test-answers-on-race-brings-mother-to-tears/

Edwards, E.A. and S.Q. Duntley. (1939). The pigments and color of living human skin, American Journal of Anatomy, 65, 1-33.

Frost, P. (1994). Preference for darker faces in photographs at different phases of the menstrual cycle: Preliminary assessment of evidence for a hormonal relationship, Perceptual and Motor Skills, 79, 507-514.

Frost, P. (1989). Human skin color: the sexual differentiation of its social perception, Mankind Quarterly, 30, 3-16.

Frost, P. (1988). Human skin color: a possible relationship between its sexual dimorphism and its social perception, Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 32, 38-58.

Goodman, M.E. (1946). Evidence concerning the genesis of interracial attitudes, American Anthropologist, 48, 624-630.

Iwawaki, S., K. Sonoo, J.E. Williams, and D.L. Best. (1978). Color bias among young Japanese children, Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 9, 61-73.

Jones, B.C., Perrett, D.I., Little, A.C., et al. (2005). Menstrual cycle, pregnancy and oral contraceptive use alter attraction to apparent health in faces, Proc. R. Soc. B, 272, 347-354.

Munitz, S., B. Priel, and A. Henik. (1987). Color, skin color preferences and self color identification among Ethiopian and Israeli born children, in M. Ashkenazi and A. Weingrod (eds.), Ethiopian Jews and Israel. (pp. 74-84). New Brunswick (U.S.A.): Transaction Books.

Radke-Yarrow, M., H. Trager, and J. Miller. (1952). The role of parents in the development of children’s ethnic attitudes, Child Development, 23, 13-53.

Russell, R.( 2009). A sex difference in facial contrast and its exaggeration by cosmetics, Perception, 38, 1211-1219

Russell, R. (2003). Sex, beauty, and the relative luminance of facial features, Perception, 32, 1093-1107.

Russell, R. and P. Sinha. (2007). Real-world face recognition: The importance of surface reflectance properties, Perception, 36, 1368-1374.

Russell, R., P. Sinha, I. Biederman, and M. Nederhouser. (2006). Is pigmentation important for face recognition? Evidence from contrast negation, Perception, 35, 749-759.

Tarr, M.J., D. Kersten, Y. Cheng, and B. Rossion. (2002). It’s Pat! Sexing faces using only red and green, Journal of Vision, 1(3), 337a, http://journalofvision.org/1/3/337

van den Berghe, P. L. and P. Frost. (1986). Skin color preference, sexual dimorphism, and sexual selection: A case of gene-culture co-evolution?, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 9, 87-113.

Williams, J.E. and J.K. Morland. (1979). Comment on Bank’s White preference in Blacks: A paradigm in search of a phenomenon, Psychological Bulletin, 86, 28-32.

Williams, J.E., D.A. Boswell, and D.L. Best. (1975). Evaluative responses of preschool children to the colors white and black, Child Development, 46, 501-508.

Williams, J.E., D.L. Best, D.A. Boswell, L.A. Mattson, and D.J.Graves. (1975). Preschool racial attitude measure II, Educational and Psychological Measurement, 35, 3-18.

Williams, J.E. and C.A. Rousseau. (1971). Evaluation and identification responses of Negro preschoolers to the colors black and white, Perceptual and Motor Skills, 33, 587-599.

(Republished from Evo and Proud by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Science • Tags: Doll Tests, Light Skin Preference 
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  1. Anonymous • Disclaimer says: • Website

    I find this very interesting. Having a mental algorithm as you describe makes sense. I'm also a little surprised the required the parent to be present.

  2. Ben10 says:

    You mean, white babies under two choose black dolls?
    Why is that, just because of the contrast, black babies are easyer to see ?

  3. Ben10 says:

    It's off topic here, about the chin and Neanderthal again.
    It's really one of the most recent trend in homo evolution. After all, the trend to encephalisation appeared with abilis or even before, but only h. sapiens has chin. Neanderthal had a big brain, but no chin. The link of the suty provided by Todd doesn't explain enough to me. It's a study that just said that the chin is involved in sexual dimorphism.
    I am not sure of the embryological origin of the chin. The bones of the face are a mix of mesodermic bone (normal or hardwired ancestral bone) and neural crest derived bones. Neural crest is much more flexible and adaptable than mesoderm, so I would guess that the chin appearance is piloted by an initial movment of neural crest cells in the lower jaw, like other ncc movements in ornmentaly pigmented features like colored crest in birds.
    So I have two questions:
    1)if it's a sexual dimorphic ornament, why is the chin associated with masculinisation ?
    2) Were chinless Neanderthal regarded as more feminine by modern human males ?

  4. Joseph,

    I can't help feeling that the parents are the real subjects of the latest tests.

    Ben10,

    It's probably because children under two have much more baby fat, i.e., a large proportion of their body mass is fatty tissue.

    Fatty tissue contains an enzyme that converts an androgen (androstenedione) to an estrogen (estrone). So excess fat can have a feminizing effect. Fat men often show signs of feminization (higher-pitched voice, breast development) and fat women have fewer problems with menopause (because they still have production of estrogen from fatty tissue).

    The sex hormones seem to interact with a mental algorithm that is used for sex recognition. One of the visual cues that feed into this algorithm is darkness and lightness of skin color (as well as the contrast between facial color and lip/eye color). If a person has a high ratio of estrogens to androgens, the algorithm will respond more positively to darker skin. Inversely, if the ratio of estrogens to androgens is low, the response to darker skin will be more negative.

    I'm greatly simplifying things here because the output of this algorithm is not simply 'negative response' or 'positive response'. This output probably feeds into other algorithms that determine social distancing and thresholds for aggression, caring behavior, etc.

  5. Tod says:

    And when the white girl grows up –

    Race Bias Tracks Conception
    Risk Across the Menstrual Cycle

    "A 60 Minutes report in the 1970s noted that [Kenneth] Clark, who supported integration and desegregation busing, had moved out of New York City in 1950 to Westchester County because of his concern about failing public schools in the city. Clark said: 'My children have only one life and I could not risk that.'"

  6. ItsTheWooo says: • Website

    I do believe there is some merit to your research, I do see it as valid and logical that skin color is a biologically driven sexual dimorphic trait, and an indicator of reproductive fitness and such. However I think you are really ALL wrong about the loss of baby fat – leading – to- hormone -activation hypothesis.

    WHat you are failing to see is that a socially driven preference for white skin exists in almost ALL cultures. Japan is extremely socially biased toward pale skin, probably much more openly and powerfully than american societies. They actually sell skin bleaching kits in drugstores there. Sure there is probably sexual dimorphic/patriarchial driving force behind this social preference, but the fact is that there IS a whole lot of white skin preference that is socially conditioned in almost all societies.

    Regarding your observation that the loss of baby fat must be triggering a change in hormones, I would argue there is zero logic why this would occur well before puberty. I mean, 4 yrs old is so remotely far away from puberty… but what IS operative at 4 years old are major brain changes and social learning. The loss of babyfat and the begining of the young chidhood years are much more likely to mark an orientation toward social identification and group mentality… indeed children this age begin to identify with groups and form clubs (i.e. after preschool, before junior high).

    Another argument against this theory is the fact it seems to occur equally in male and female children. The effect is somewhat stronger in the male children, and that part may be accounted for by testosterone, but the TOTAL effect itself is very unlikely to be hormonally driven at such a young age.

    If you really want to test this theory, reproduce the study except this time you should measure concentration of free testosterone and estrogens in the children. If you are correct, there will be strong associations between hormonal balance and skin color preferences at 4 years old.

  7. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    "5 to 7 years of age – lighter-doll preference levels off and then declines"

    Are you saying that the preference peaks and then declines around this time? How does this go in line with an intrinsic preference? Shouldn't it be constant?

  8. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    ItsTheWoo:

    The change in preference could also be related to behavioral changes due to testosterone and the like that lead to being more suceptible to socialization for that.

    I find it very hard to believe that in almost every study involving these dolls, the boys with a preference for dark dolls have so much more body fat.

  9. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Quick other note- your first explanation said something similar, I just realized, but the hormonal difference could also be a cause for this behavioral change.

  10. Anon and ItstheWoo,

    The sex hormones have three sources in the human body:

    1. Gonads (testicles in men and ovaries in women)

    2. Adrenal glands – production of both male and female hormones

    3. Fatty tissue – production of estrone (a female hormone) only.

    Before puberty, estrogen is produced mainly by fatty tissue. This hormonal production is the same in boys and girls.

    Yes, in traditional societies, there is a strong cross-cultural trend to associate light skin with femininity. This trend was documented by me and Pierre van den Berghe in our 1986 article:

    Van den Berghe, P. L. and P. Frost. 1986. Skin color preference, sexual dimorphism, and sexual selection: A case of gene-culture co-evolution?, Ethnic and Racial Studies 9:87-113.

    In modern Western cultures, this idealization of light female skin has all but disappeared. It still shows up in word-association tests and the like, but it is no longer part of our mainstream culture. During my tests with French-Canadian children, I noticed that their mothers often showed signs of deliberate suntanning. So I don't see how the kids were getting it from their mothers.

    Sorry, but you can't blame everything on mom.

    Anon,

    My theory is that skin-color preference is influenced by the ratio of female hormones to male hormones in the body. This ratio falls with the loss of baby fat between 2 and 4 years of age. It then slowly rises as the ratio of fat to other body tissue partly swings back (as a result of body growth).

  11. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    "My theory is that skin-color preference is influenced by the ratio of female hormones to male hormones in the body. This ratio falls with the loss of baby fat between 2 and 4 years of age. It then slowly rises as the ratio of fat to other body tissue partly swings back (as a result of body growth)."

    So you're basically saying that it peaks, then declines, then rises again?

    I find it hard to follow, since your post seems somewhat incosistent, atleast to me. For example, you first say it's absent, then it finally shows up, then it drops significantly:

    "3 years of age – lighter and darker dolls almost equally preferred
    4 years of age – lighter doll preferred by 76% of the children
    5 to 7 years of age – lighter-doll preference levels off and then declines"

    But then you say there's no difference prior to 6 years of age:

    "Age also seems to interact with gender. Boys and girls make on average the same choices if younger than 6 years of age."

    However, your previous comment said it shows up at 4 then declines at 5. Also, when you say it declines, are you saying the preference switches to dark skin at that age?

    Then you say:

    "But when Asher and Allen (1969) asked children 3 to 8 years old to choose a white-faced puppet or a brown-faced one, the girls were likelier than the boys to choose the brown one, this being true for both white and black American children."

    This age range is even larger than what you mentioned before. So what is the exact dynamic?

    I don't mean to be harsh, but this seems confusing to me.

    Also, why should IQ differences be mentioned in favor of this? Developing aestethic preferences in relation to societal norms should have astonishingly little, if anything, to do with IQ, so I don't think it should be used in favor.

  12. Anon,

    You're confusing three different age trends.

    Light-skin preference – sudden rise between 2 and 4 years of age, followed by a slow decrease.

    Body fat as a percentage of total body mass – sudden fall between 2 and 4 years of age, followed by a slow increase.

    Sex difference in light-skin preference – absent below 6 years of age and then increasingly significant.

    The first and second age trends are mirror images of each other (less body fat = more light-skin preference). I suspect this is the source of most of your confusion.

    Asher and Allen did not break down their results by age. They simply provided an average of doll choices by all subjects (who were 3to 8 years of age).

  13. "why should IQ differences be mentioned in favor of this? Developing aestethic preferences in relation to societal norms should have astonishingly little, if anything, to do with IQ"

    References please. If a preference is learned, it should correlate with IQ. This is all the more so if the preference is learned through a cumulative process, i.e., a succession of learning experiences.

  14. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Still a tad confused.

    "Light-skin preference – sudden rise between 2 and 4 years of age, followed by a slow decrease."

    Rise in what sense? Does the male preference develop moreso during this period? What does it decrease to?

    "Sex difference in light-skin preference – absent below 6 years of age and then increasingly significant."

    If there's no sex difference prior to 6 years of age- IE, it's equal between both- how does the 2-4 year range factor in?

    "References please. If a preference is learned, it should correlate with IQ. This is all the more so if the preference is learned through a cumulative process, i.e., a succession of learning experiences."

    No references, but I'm simply wondering why development of aestethic preferences should be thought of at all in relation to IQ. This is the development of a preference, it's not some complex intellectual exercise.

  15. Ben10 says:

    Maybe the corelation for color preference is just coincident with body fat reduction. The amount of oestrogen hormone to explain skin preference seems believable, for adults, but for babies it seems far fetched to me.
    What about simple visual clues ?
    The white of the eyes is more contrasted in a black face than in a white face and I would guess easier to identify for babies under two with poor vision, therefore explaining why they choose dark skin doll under this age.

    Another interesting question is the racial preferences among women. Peter, you already mentioned long ago the sexual preference of men for whiter skinned women. But for women, alot of indications in modern culture tend to support the view that white women are 'color' blind. Is it supported by data ? Are women hardwired to ignore the race and color of a male partner ?
    Many women would argue that it's not true, but I think race-sensitivity in women is more a mimetism of their husband/group behavior than innate behavior.

  16. Anon,

    "Rise in what sense? Does the male preference develop moreso during this period? What does it decrease to?"

    Between 2 and 4 years of age, there is an increase in the proportion of children who prefer the lighter doll.

    "If there's no sex difference prior to 6 years of age- IE, it's equal between both- how does the 2-4 year range factor in?"

    Between 2 and 4 years of age, boys and girls alike show an increase in preference for the lighter doll. There is no sex difference.

    "I'm simply wondering why development of aestethic preferences should be thought of at all in relation to IQ."

    If the aesthetic preference is innate (hardwired), there would be no relation to IQ. If it's learned, there should be a relation.

    IQ is, to a large degree, a measure of the ability to process new information.

    Ben10,

    The dolls' eyes were covered with a mop of hair. I did a preliminary test where the doll eyes were uncovered and I found that the darker and lighter dolls became equally preferred. Children naturally focus on eyes, often to the exclusion of everything else.

  17. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Ben10,

    Having read Frost's book, it was claimed the study he himself conducted consisted technically of both "white" dolls, but the darker dolls were modestly darker, nowhere near as dark as what's used in racial tests. The dolls Frost tested probably had tanned caucasian type skin.

    "Between 2 and 4 years of age, boys and girls alike show an increase in preference for the lighter doll. There is no sex difference."

    I see- reading your work, there's a consistent result of females being more ambivalent in regards to color preferences than males, whether it be in aestethic values in society or preferences for doll colors.

    So what I'm getting is this- prior to 3 years of age, children of both sexes have no consistent preference for doll color. Then at age 4, both sexes show a stronger preference for light dolls. Is this correct?

    Also, what happens beyond age 5 exactly?

  18. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    I think that a brainwashing can also affect the choice.
    I'll give you an example of one song which I've learned by heart as a 3-years old girl during 70's in polish kindergarten:

    "A little Black boy has both shiny eyes.
    His hair, curly locks sticking up.
    His face is all black, like a chocolate.
    A little Black boy talks an African language.

    Come to me little Black boy, and give me your two hands.
    We'll make a little circle, and we'll have a fun.
    Come on, come on. Let's play a little circle!
    After that we'll drink our milk."

    A 2-years old sings it:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gl34rSeXCBc&feature=related

    Writing in ESL, sorry for mistakes.

  19. "So what I'm getting is this- prior to 3 years of age, children of both sexes have no consistent preference for doll color. Then at age 4, both sexes show a stronger preference for light dolls. Is this correct?"

    No. Below 3 years of age, there is a general preference for the darker doll by boys and girls alike. There is no sex difference.

    From 3 to 5 years of age, there is a general preference for the lighter doll. There is still no sex difference.

    Above 6 years of age, the lighter doll is still preferred by both sexes, but the preference is not as strong. Also, this preference is weaker in girls than in boys.

    Polish anon,

    I don't think there's any brainwashing going on. In North America, we used to have the same kind of children's rhymes (e.g., eeny meeny miney mo, catch a nigger by the toe, if he yells let him go, eeny meeny miney mo). There used to be black rag dolls and that sort of thing. There was also a strange doll with African hair called the "gollywog."

    Now, they've all been banished. Very few people younger than 30 know what a gollywog is. Yet the results of the doll tests are still the same.

  20. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Now I'm more confused- I thought you were saying there's no sex difference prior to 3 years of age, IE they prefer both dolls about equally? When you talk about these differences, are you reffering to just your study or all of them?

  21. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    I'm basically asking about these studies in general. I know your study found a greater preference for the darker doll, but it was a much smaller difference compared to these racial ones. So what's the general consensus in these?

  22. ItsTheWooo says: • Website

    It isn't hard to understand people.

    <3 years = children prefer dark dolls. Boys and girls like dark dolls equally.

    3-5 years = suddenly kids prefer the light doll. There is no sex difference(i.e. boys and girls both like the light doll equally). This is the peak preference for the light doll.

    6 years and older = children still prefer the light doll, although less strongly over all. Boys show a trend to like the light doll more than girls do.

    Now, that's not hard to understand.

    However, it is clear to me that these changes in doll preference much more closely relate to cognitive development than it does any sexual development.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erikson%27s_stages_of_psychosocial_development

    <3 years …. children do not have the cognitive ability to really form ideas about good/bad or hold real values about things. In other words, below 3 years old, children are INCAPABLE, cognitively speaking, of even understanding the social value of skin color. Children are INCAPABLE of
    really separating self from nonself, thus via extension they are incapable of judging others (i.e. "the white doll is like me, so I like the white doll")

    At 4-6 years old, children are HYPER aware of social roles and whether or not they are "good or bad" and conform to these roles. This is, in other words, the peak years where children are acutely sensitive to markers of group identity such as skin color. Their reasoning is very immature and they think in a binary way (i.e. I am either bad or I am good).

    It is no surprising this is when the peak preference is for the white doll.

    At >6 years old, children's cognition develops to a point where they can think in a less absolute way, so the preference for the white doll is expected to fall off at this time (although it remains favored – children still think white skin is good, they just don't think that way with the crude absolute and robotic way a preschool child would).

    I would point out at this time that preference for light skin in a non-sexual doll seems an odd target for any behavior controlled by a sexual steroid.

    A baby doll is a good vehicle to test generalized social/identity issues, but a very poor one to test any sexual psychology.

    Preferring pale skin in a mate is probably not going to manifest as a preference for pale skin in a plastic baby doll, just an FYI.

  23. ItsTheWooo says: • Website

    Let me clarify…

    preschool children (i.e. the peak light doll preference group) are very into forming judgments. Children younger than this lack the ability to do this, to identify something as separate and to evaluate it.

    The peak interest in social roles / groups actually occurs during the school years. The preschool years are the beginning of this, however.

    I would argue that the overall drop in doll preference that occurs during the school years may reflect the overall drop in doll preference among children of this age. Preschool kids like dolls, school age kids don't.

    A better test vehicle would be famous celebrities, or people in the media, as those hold interest for school aged children.

  24. "I know your study found a greater preference for the darker doll, but it was a much smaller difference compared to these racial ones. So what's the general consensus in these?"

    The general consensus is what I outlined, except for the <3 year-olds. I seem to have been the only one who has studied that group (although I can't help wondering why most doll tests start at the very age when light-doll and dark-doll preferences are equally balanced).

    When I looked at the raw data, light-doll preference became almost uniform below a narrow threshold of adiposity. Above that threshold, the darker doll was generally preferred, but the choices were more heterogeneous.

    "At 4-6 years old, children are HYPER aware of social roles and whether or not they are "good or bad" and conform to these roles. This is, in other words, the peak years where children are acutely sensitive to markers of group identity such as skin color."

    In my study, the difference in skin color between the two dolls was slight. It was the sort of difference one normally sees among French Canadians. Also, when I talked with the children afterwards, none of them mentioned the difference in color. I can't help wondering whether they consciously noticed it.

    "I would argue that the overall drop in doll preference that occurs during the school years may reflect the overall drop in doll preference among children of this age. Preschool kids like dolls, school age kids don't."

    In that case, preference for the lighter doll should decline more sharply among boys than among girls (since dolls are less 'cool' for boys). The opposite is what we actually see.

    And why would this factor (dolls = uncool) cause children to lose more interest in the lighter doll than in the darker doll? I don't follow your reasoning here.

  25. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Frost, thanks for the clarification- what set me off was how you didn't seem to fully differentiate between your study that looked at <3 year olds compared to virtually no other studies doing so. I was asking whether this trend has been noted in all doll studies.

    That's all I needed to know now, thanks for your time.

  26. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Another thing, though- you noted in your study how the children who chose the dark dolls had significantly more body fat than those who didn't, and attributed this to testosterone differences. Would you say this difference holds true for all children in these studies? IE, hormonal differences playing a significant roll? That's a possibility, but then it leaves open the question as to whether the hormonal difference is merely disposing them towards social structures that make them more attracted to the dark doll.

    But then it also leaves the peculiar idea of the bulk of children at all ages who choose the dark doll having testosterone differences compared to the ones who chose the light one, this laying with differences in body fat and the like. Yet in virtually every study of these things, there's still a good deal of children who choose the dark doll/figure. Is a fat-mediated testosterone difference accounting for so much of this discrepancy? To such a consistent degree?

  27. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Also, I don't mean to leave too many comments at once, but I thought you might find this interesting: http://www.nytimes.com/1987/08/31/us/black-child-s-self-view-is-still-low-study-finds.html

    A doll test conducted in Trinidad finds similar results to the Clark study, albeit finds a greater preference for the dark doll among dark skinned black children as compared to light skinned black children.

    It should be noted that Trinidad and Tobago, particularly in Trinidad, which is the most populated island, has a majority indian population- and indians have one of the most extreme skin color preferences on the planet.

    I remember you once posted a study on skin bleaching use in Suriname that found indians used it at a far greater frequency and far out of proportion to their population.

  28. ItsTheWooo says: • Website

    Peter –
    When a person is interested in something, they are more aware of subtleties that elude detection by those who are not interested.

    I am very interested in makeup and color. I am very aware of slight differences in my various eyeshadows. I have strong preferences for one eyeshadow over another, but someone who is NOT interested in makeup wouldn't much prefer any shade to another shade. I am a nurse by profession and a patient with schizophrenia said to me "you were wearing green makeup yesterday" when this isn't even remotely close to the colors I was wearing yesterday.

    For example, a subject I do not give a crap about is cars. Many other people like cars and have strong preferences for one type over another. Me, personally, if you lined up a bunch of cars and asked me which one I liked the best, I would *barely* prefer a high end top model car over a honda civic. But a car enthusiast would have much stronger preferences in their choices.

    If you ask a group of children who are too old and don't care about dolls, to point out the doll they prefer, there is going to be apathy all around and much of their "preferences" may simply be random selection. No choice will stand out as exceptional to the others.

    If you talk to a group of children who are a few years younger, at a peak age for playing with dolls, you are going to see strong preferences for one doll over another doll simply because these children are sensitive to subtleties in the dolls.

    If the dolls you used were "tanned caucasian skin", I would argue that perhaps some of the reason the children liked those dolls less than the lighter ones is because the children subconsciously felt the lighter dolls were cleaner and newer.

    It would be helpful if you had questioned the children extensively about their thinking patterns behind their selections.

  29. ItsTheWooo says: • Website

    As for why boys prefer the light doll more than girls do, even though all school age children show a decreased interest in preference… I would argue that this could easily be explained by the differing psychology of boys and girls… boys tend to be more focused/into objects and systemizing/organzing. Boys, on average, have more extreme opinions for this reason – boys, males, are inclined toward a systemizing/organizing way of thinking and are more likely to say x is better/greater than/more useful than y.

    Evidence for this re: testosterone and its effects on the brain (toward focusing/systemizing), autism "hypermasculine brain" hypotheses and so on… or the common observation that guys are generally good at math and computers and hard sciences and building/fixing things, and anything requiring understanding a system and making evaluations about its components.
    This is not to say women and females are incapable of this line of thinking, only that ON AVERAGE it expresses itself more strongly in males, and research suggests it is related to testosterone and its effect on brain development.

    This is one of many possible reasons the light skin preference for the dolls does not fall as sharply in boys as it does in girls.

    Observe a group of (teenage male) nerds arguing over videogames or sports or whatever. You don't see girls doing that quite as much, and when they do, there is a tendency to avoid expressing extreme views even if they are held. Many girls are inclined to say they like things equally well, toward diplomacy and passivity, due to biological and social conditioning.

    Again, I would point out, a baby doll is quite an odd target for testing any psychology controlled by sex steroids/mate selecting algorithms. Preferring lightness in a plastic baby doll may not have anything to do with preference in the skin color of your mate.

  30. "you noted in your study how the children who chose the dark dolls had significantly more body fat than those who didn't, and attributed this to testosterone differences. Would you say this difference holds true for all children in these studies?"

    First, it's not so much testosterone differences as the ratio of androgens to estrogens.

    Second, there clearly is a cultural component in doll choice, since light-doll preference was higher among white American and light-skinned Israeli children than among European and Japanese children. But this cultural component is smaller than the other component, which seems to be universal and unlearned.

    "As for why boys prefer the light doll more than girls do, … this could easily be explained by the differing psychology of boys and girls… boys tend to be more focused/into objects and systemizing/organzing."

    Uh huh. And if interest in doll choice had declined more rapidly among the boys than among the girls, that too could easily be explained.

    "Again, I would point out, a baby doll is quite an odd target for testing any psychology controlled by sex steroids/mate selecting algorithms."

    The dolls in my study did not look like babies. They looked like long-haired young girls in dresses. I agree that most men in our culture don't collect girl dolls. But that is simply a cultural taboo. I knew a Japanese man who collected all kinds of girl dolls, and he assured me that this was quite normal in his country.

  31. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    "First, it's not so much testosterone differences as the ratio of androgens to estrogens.

    Second, there clearly is a cultural component in doll choice, since light-doll preference was higher among white American and light-skinned Israeli children than among European and Japanese children. But this cultural component is smaller than the other component, which seems to be universal and unlearned."

    I understand what you're saying, but it stands that in virtually all of these studies, there's a significant component of participants who prefer the darker doll/figure. Are hormonal differences supposed to account for such a significant portion of this all the time?

  32. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Honestly, throughout much of your work, you give the impression of there being some intrinsic preference for white or quite light skin among females among humans. I find it astoundingly unlikely for humans to select so heavily on a trait to the exclusion of the bulk of the rest of the variation among most of our species. What your work seems to mainly imply is that there's a preference for the roughly lighter tones within race, not as if there's a preference for some of the lightest possible among humans.

    You could bring up dimorphic differences, but the problem here is that it seems like the sex difference is quite small. For example: http://individual.utoronto.ca/sbaumann/Poetics2008.pdf

    "A body of research in physical anthropology is concerned with understanding the evolutionary
    mechanisms that have created the wide range of skin tones found between human populations.
    Within this literature, empirical evidence on skin pigmentation, as measured through machines
    that detect light reflectance, has been collected for populations from around the globe. One
    interesting finding is that most of the studies that included a record of the sex of subjects find that
    females do tend to have lighter skin than males from the same populations (Jablonski and
    Chaplin, 2000; Madrigal and Kelly, 2006). These studies were generally carried out over the
    course of the last four decades.
    An implication of this body of research, then, is that the observed skin tone gender differences
    in advertisements reflect simple biological gender differences. There are reasons to be wary of
    this interpretation, however. One reason for caution is that other, more recent research has found
    no significant sex differences in the lightness of skin (Shriver et al., 2003; Wagner et al., 2002).
    These authors note that while most prior studies have found significant sex differences, it is
    difficult to assess whether prior studies controlled for differing activity patterns and clothing
    customs between the sexes, and they suggest that this could explain the pattern found in prior
    studies as men in many societies have typically spent more time outdoors.
    A second reason to doubt that the different complexions of women and men in advertising
    reflect only a biological difference is that the size of the difference found in advertising is much
    larger than the difference reported in the physical anthropological studies. Tegner (1992) notes
    that the studies of skin pigmentation generally report that females’ skin is 2–3% lighter than
    males’. In contrast, in the sample of advertisements in this study, the skin of white females is
    15.2% lighter than the skin of white males, and the skin of black females is 11.1% lighter than the
    skin of black males (from Table 1). The magnitude of these differences cannot be explained by
    biological differences."

    I've never once noticed women having lighter skin than men, regardless of race, and no matter how hard I try.

  33. ItsTheWooo says: • Website

    Peter Frost –
    I never said my explanations were correct. I should have been more clear, but I was trying to say that there are easily other explanations. Many of them. In this discussion I have offered at least a couple. The only person trying to insist their idea is the only explanation is yourself with your hormonal idea. You have observed things correlating with each other (that boys tend to prefer the lighter doll as they mature, that preference for light skin seems to correlate with a loss of body fat) … but this doesn't prove your idea , or even begin to offer evidence for your idea. It is, at best, a begining for you to test your idea, which you have yet to do.

    I would be interested in seeing a picture of one of the dolls ;).

    Question, why were all the dolls females? This offers yet another explanation as to why the boys remained with a light skin preference – if the dolls looked like reproductive aged females it is only reasonable they (boys approaching puberty) would be more interesting to them, whereas girls approaching puberty would become increasingly less interested in such dolls, and so would be less emphatic in preference for one shade over another.

    I remain that the only valid way to test this would be to use real pictures of attractive real humans, not some plastic doll, regardless of what it looks like.

  34. Anon,

    "Are hormonal differences supposed to account for such a significant portion of this all the time?"

    No, of course not. There clearly is a cultural component, please see my previous comments.

    "Honestly, throughout much of your work, you give the impression of there being some intrinsic preference for white or quite light skin among females among humans. I find it astoundingly unlikely for humans to select so heavily on a trait to the exclusion of the bulk of the rest of the variation among most of our species."

    My argument is that skin tone is one of many visual cues that the human mind uses for gender recognition (i.e., voice pitch, face shape, etc.). Also, this mental algorithm uses not only relative lightness/darkness of skin tone, but also the visual contrast between face pigmentation and eye/lip pigmentation.

    The output of this algorithm is not simply "preference". It also seems to feed into other responses: emotional distancing, social dominance, caring behavior, etc.

    "You could bring up dimorphic differences, but the problem here is that it seems like the sex difference is quite small"

    First, if we measure skin reflectance at the upper inner arm, we generally come up with a sex difference of 2 to 3 percentage points. That is not the same as a 2 to 3% difference.

    For example, if 10% of the population votes for Party A and 15% vote for Party B, there is a difference of 5 percentage points. Yet Party A has received 50% more votes than Party B.

    In any case, there is strong reason to believe that the sex difference in skin pigmentation is much smaller at the upper inner arm than elsewhere, even when one controls for tanning. Women's lighter skin color seems to be due to estrogen production in fatty tissue. Since women have more subcutaneous fat, they tend to be whiter overall than men. But this effect is stronger on the breasts and buttocks, where fat deposition is greater. Since almost all spectrophotometric studies measure skin reflectance at the upper inner arm, the sex difference is systematically underestimated.

    In my book, I review this literature, including the cases where no sex difference was found. Invariably, the reason was because the age of the subjects was poorly controlled. Since this sex difference varies with age (being nonexistent before puberty and strongest during late adolescence and early adulthood), it is necessary to control for this factor. There is also a tendence for this sex difference to be weaker in very white-skinned populations (Dutch, Belgians, Irish). There is a 'ceiling effect' that prevents this sexual dimorphism from fully expressing itself.

    "You have observed things correlating with each other (that boys tend to prefer the lighter doll as they mature, that preference for light skin seems to correlate with a loss of body fat) … but this doesn't prove your idea , or even begin to offer evidence for your idea. It is, at best, a begining for you to test your idea, which you have yet to do."

    You seem to be unaware of my subsequent research (which is nonetheless referenced in my post). The same variation in skin-tone preference is observable in adult female subjects over the menstrual cycle. And that finding was replicated by a Scottish research team.

    I don't mind condescension. I do mind it when it's unwarranted.

    I will scan and post a picture of the two dolls in a later post (when I get enough time). They're made of ceramic and have realistic-looking head hair. I thought of using photos, but the child psychologist I consulted assured me that preschool children relate more readily to dolls.

  35. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    "No, of course not. There clearly is a cultural component, please see my previous comments."

    You give the impression of this cultural component being small, though. For example, you argue the preference for tanning in much of the west is due to freer and less inhibited sexuality, pointing out how "stable, fecund relationships" were the norm until recently. Yet this seems strikingly simplistic, and has two big confounds- the preference for tanning arose in the early 20th century, prior to the sexual revolution of the mid century, and you present evidence for lighter skin tones being preferred in much of SS africa in spite of the frequency of polygamy and greater promiscuity.

    "First, if we measure skin reflectance at the upper inner arm, we generally come up with a sex difference of 2 to 3 percentage points. That is not the same as a 2 to 3% difference.

    For example, if 10% of the population votes for Party A and 15% vote for Party B, there is a difference of 5 percentage points. Yet Party A has received 50% more votes than Party B."

    So what would this actual difference look like, and how do you know if the author of the paper wasn't reffering to the latter? You refer to this sex difference alot, but you never really show what it really looks like. Things would be alot clearer if you did this.

    "Since almost all spectrophotometric studies measure skin reflectance at the upper inner arm, the sex difference is systematically underestimated."

    How do you know this? Why would they control for tanning if all they're really looking at is an area that's almost never really exposed to sun?

    "Invariably, the reason was because the age of the subjects was poorly controlled."

    What if many of these older studies poorly controlled for tanning differences?

  36. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Also- I'm not sure if the poetics study was reffering to the 2-3% difference in relation to the newer studies that have found tanning to be poorly controlled for, or ones that merely summarize previous findings.

    It also begs asking why the studies finding poor tanning controls to even mention this if previous studies focused so heavily on the under arm. If that's true- so many previous studies focusing on the underarm- maybe these studies went further and actually looked at other parts of the body?

  37. Anon,
    "you argue the preference for tanning in much of the west is due to freer and less inhibited sexuality, pointing out how "stable, fecund relationships" were the norm until recently. Yet this seems strikingly simplistic"

    Yes, that is simplistic. And it's not my argument. Suntanning became popular from the 1920s onward because of very strong promotion from the medical community. It was seen as a way to fight tuberculosis and rickets.

    This health fad was facilitated by another trend: increased acceptance by women of a more androgynous appearance, e.g., bobbed hair, large shoulders, less subcutaneous fat, etc.

    I have discussed all of this at length in various publications, including my book, which you claim to have read.

    "You refer to this sex difference alot, but you never really show what it really looks like."

    Try this previous post:

    http://evoandproud.blogspot.com/2009/10/facial-skin-color-and-sex-recognition.html

    "Why would they control for tanning if all they're really looking at is an area that's almost never really exposed to sun?"

    Because the stated reason was to control for tanning. Some studies have measured skin reflectance at other sites, and these other sites often show a much larger sex difference (buttocks, breasts). So many people assumed that the reason was differences in sun exposure. I strongly suspect that these sites are whiter in women because the layer of subcutaneous fat is thicker. A significant correlation between adiposity and skin lightness has in fact been pointed out in the literature, e.g., Mazess, R.B. (1967). Skin color in Bahamian Negroes, Human Biology 39:145-154.

  38. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    "I have discussed all of this at length in various publications, including my book, which you claim to have read."

    Maybe I just don't remember it well.

    "http://evoandproud.blogspot.com/2009/10/facial-skin-color-and-sex-recognition.html&quot;

    I've seen that post. I imagine that's what the sex difference looks like, but it's not easily percievable. It's also hard to say whether this composite controlled for tanning too. Even then, it's hard to believe humans would select so strongly for a trait that shows so little dimorphism.

    "Because the stated reason was to control for tanning."

    I don't follow. What I'm asking is why recent studies would re-examine previous literature if, as you claim, most of them only looked at sex differences in the inner upper arm. If that's true, how would it even be possible to know if they wern't controlling for tanning?

    "Some studies have measured skin reflectance at other sites, and these other sites often show a much larger sex difference (buttocks, breasts)."

    Your claim of fat differences is plausible, but this could also be explained by the fact that those areas are seldom exposed to the sun nowadays.

    "I strongly suspect that these sites are whiter in women because the layer of subcutaneous fat is thicker. A significant correlation between adiposity and skin lightness has in fact been pointed out in the literature, e.g., Mazess, R.B. (1967). Skin color in Bahamian Negroes, Human Biology 39:145-154."

    When you say adposity, are you reffering to general body weight?

    Also, do men tan more easily and deeply than women? It seems to be so, and that might also strongly accentuate these studies of sex differences in skin color. I don't deny the difference, though.

  39. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Also, that study doesn't seem to be on google scholar- could you post it?

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