Clarks’ Black-White Doll Experiment Replicated

Margaret Beale SpencerIn 1947, Kenneth and Mamie Clark published as study in which children were shown two dolls, one black and one white, and asked a number of questions about them: who was good and bad, who was pretty and ugly, who the children themselves most wanted to be like. The results were that both white and even African-American children preferred the white doll on most dimensions. The study, and others like it, were used as evidence in the Brown v. Board Supreme Court case of 1954 that stuck down segregated schooling in the US.

The study was replicated in 2006 by Kiri Davis, a high school student form New York. Davis found essentially the same result as the Clarks, and presented her study in her award-winning video, “A Girl Like Me.”

Now CNN has commissioned a replication by the University of Chicago child psychologist, Margaret Beale Spencer. Her “pilot study” (133 participants were used) found many of the same prejudices among white children, but seemed to show that many African-American children now have a more positive attitude toward children of their own race. You can read about the CNN study and see some video clips of the study here.

Tip o’ the hat to the Society for the History of Psychology Facebook site, which alerted me to this item.

About Christopher Green

Professor of Psychology at York University (Toronto). Former editor of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences. Creator of the "Classics in the History of Psychology" website and of the "This Week in the History of Psychology" podcast series.

2 thoughts on “Clarks’ Black-White Doll Experiment Replicated

  1. UPDATE: I have just seen the whole televised item on CNN. In the original item I wrote: “many African-American children now have a more positive attitude toward children of their own race.” It turns out that the majority of African-American children tested still retain negative attitudes toward children with black and brown skin. However, the size of this majority was not nearly as large as it was for the white children, generally speaking.

    The full write-up for the CNN pilot study is here:

    The original 1947 Clark & Clark study can be found here: (originally published in In T.M. Newcomb & E.L. Hartley (Eds.), Readings in social psychology. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston).

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