Wednesday, 14 May 2014

The Clark Doll Test

"To separate them 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 to ever be undone". (via

Kenneth Bancroft Clark (1914-2005, first African American to earn a doctorate in psychology at Columbia, to hold a permanent professorship at City College of NY and to become president of APA via) and Mamie Phipps Clark (1917-1983, first African American woman with psychology doctorate) were educational psychologists and active in the Civil Rights Movements. This combination made them conduct the landmark "Clark Doll Tests" starting in 1939 which "challenged the notion of differences in the mental abilities of black and white children" (via) and contributed to the U.S. Supreme Court's decision that racial segregation in public education was unconstitutional (via).

In their "Doll Study", the Clarks measured young children's ethnical preferences (questions 1-4), awareness (questions 5-7) and self-identification (question 8). Black children were shown a White and a Black doll and asked to give the Clarks the doll that 1) they liked to play with or liked best, 2) was the nice doll, 3) looked bad, 4) was a nice colour, 5) looked like a White child, 6) looked like a coloured child, 7) looked like a "Negro" child, 8) looked like the child himself/herself. 67% of the children preferred to play with the White doll, 59% found the White doll nicer, 60% chose the White doll to be the one with the nicer colour, 59% chose the Black doll as the one that looked bad, and 58% of the Black children chose the Black doll as the one that "looks like you".

Self-identification with the Black doll was linked to the children's skin tone and age. But the main findings were that Black children judged White dolls as superior to Black dolls. The studies have often been replicated since the 1940s. The replication studies supported the findings and revealed that White children showed a clear tendency to identify with their skin tone while Black children tended to reject their own ethnic group (Jordan & Herndandez-Reif, 2009). At a very young age, the children had already internalised racism.


- Jordan, P. & Hernandez-Reif, M. (2009) Reexamination of Young Children's Racial Attitudes and Skin Tone Preferences. Journal of Black Psychology, 35, 388-403
- photos by Gordon Parks via and via and via and via