Barbie Plugs New Neuroscience About the Importance of Doll Play

We could use more empaths, right?

Alongside BBH L.A., Barbie is launching a new campaign, "A Doll Can Help Change the World." It is based on neuroscientific research that demonstrates how doll-play can positively impact future relationships.

The charming film below gets the point across with the dignity of all intact. There's no emotional tugging, and it feels true. We are reminded that play is practice for the human dynamics upon which we all rely. Consider a child's tea party—that roleplay of stiff, attentive etiquette, the care the host takes of every stuffed, plastic and porcelain guest's particularities.

Barbie – A Doll Can Help Change the World

"A Doll Can Help Change The World" extends from the brand's "You Can Be Anything" platform, and is informed by the findings of a neuroscience study conducted by researchers at Cardiff University.

The peer-reviewed work, published late last year, used neuroimaging to show that playing with dolls facilitates the development of empathy and social processing in children—which later prove critical for emotional, academic and social success. Even when the child is alone (apart from the dolls), their posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS), a part of the brain associated with social information processing, is activated.

"This is a completely new finding," says Dr. Sarah Gerson, lead researcher at Cardiff University. "We use this area of the brain when we think about other people, especially when we think about another person's thoughts or feelings. Dolls encourage them to create their own little imaginary worlds, as opposed to say, problem-solving or building games. They encourage children to think about other people and how they might interact with each other. The fact that we saw the pSTS to be active in our study shows that playing with dolls is helping them rehearse some of the social skills they will need in later life."

The hero film will be reinforced by activations that position Barbie as an empathy thought leader, including an editorial partnership with the Washington Post, as well as social and retail partnerships. (Barbie's been busy changing the world. We last saw her in the U.K., working with the Milk Honey Bees association and broadcaster Clara Amfo, empowering young Black girls.)

"As the No. 1 toy property in the world, with a 62-year legacy, Barbie's brand purpose has always been to inspire the limitless potential in the next generation of leaders," says Lisa McKnight, SVP and global head of Barbie and dolls at Mattel. 

"The research by a team from Cardiff University suggests that when kids tap into their endless imaginations through doll play, they are able to build empathy, which we know has a lasting impact on how they approach the world around them. By showing real storylines kids play out at home in the brand's latest campaign, we hope to remind parents and caregivers that the simple act of playing with dolls has developmental benefits."

The ad ends, "If a doll can help a child develop empathy, a doll can help change the world." Apart from fresh water and vaccine equity, we're hard pressed to think of an ask more pressing than that right now.



Senior Vice President and Global Head of Barbie & Dolls, Mattel: Lisa McKnight
Vice President of Brand Marketing, Barbie & Dolls, Mattel: Nathan Baynard
Senior Director of Marketing Communications, Barbie & Dolls, Mattel: Liz Maglione
Creative Director of Marketing Communications, Barbie & Dolls, Mattel: Danielle Viale
Brand Marketing Manager, Barbie, Mattel: Rebecca Hilton
Global Brand Communications Manager, Barbie & Dolls, Mattel: Devin Tucker

Chief Creative Officer: Ned McNeilage
Creative Directors: Yohan Daver and Sapna Ahluwalia
Senior Producer: Danny Nouri
Business Director: Amy Hinsley
Account Director: Trina Sethi
Account Executive: Aubrey Woolverton
Head of Strategy: Katie Acosta
Senior Strategist: Maggie Bonner
Director of Tech and Innovation: Dillah Zakbah
Art Director: Erica Barringer
Copywriter: Conner Schrock
Senior Copywriter: Kevin Tosi

Director: Amanda Blue
DP: Bonnie Elloitt
Photographer: Bec Lorrimer
Production Designer: Nicki Gardiner
Line Producer: Kim Kirby
Executive Producer: Matt Factor


Angela Natividad
Angela Natividad is the European markets editor at Muse by Clio. She also writes about gaming and fashion, and whatever else she's interested in, really. She's based in Paris and North Italy, so if you're local, say hi. She might eat all your food.

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