Thursday, October 15, 2009

Kenneth and Mamie Clark's Doll Study

Segregation Ruled Unequal, and Therefore Unconstitutional
Kenneth B. Clark & Mamie Phipps Clark

Psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark Ph.d demonstrated that segregation harmed Black children's self-images. Their testimony before the Supreme Court contributed to the landmark Supreme Court case that desegregated American public schools: Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, KS


In their groundbreaking studies, Kenneth and Mamie Clark investigated black children's racial identification and preference. Using drawings and dolls of black and white children, these researchers asked Black preschool and elementary school children to indicate which drawing or doll they preferred and which drawing or doll looked most like them. They also asked children to color line drawings of children with the color that most closely matched their own skin color. The Clarks found that Black children often preferred the white doll and drawing, and frequently colored the line drawing of the child a shade lighter than their own skin. Samples of the children's responses illustrated that they viewed white as good and pretty, but black as bad and ugly.

Clark and Clark concluded that many Black children at the time (1939-1950) "indicate a clear-cut preference for white and some of them evidence emotional conflict when requested to indicate a color preference. It is clear that the Negro child, by the age of five is aware of the fact that to be colored in contemporary American society is a mark of inferior status. A child accepts as early as six, seven or eight the negative stereotypes about his own group."


Until 1954, public schools were racially segregated, meaning that Black and White children could be forced to attend different schools. A Supreme Court ruling from 1892, Plessy v. Ferguson, legitimized these children's "separate, but equal" educations. With the help of Clark and Clark's research findings, that illustrated the effect of prejudice and discrimination on personality development, the plaintiffs in Brown v. Board of Education were able to show that segregated schools were inherently unequal, and therefore unconstitutional.

Clark and Clark's research prompted several future studies about racial identification and preference among minority children.

Practical Application

The impact of their research is evident in the court's unanimous decision, as written by Chief Justice Earl Warren: "Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of law; for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the Negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has the tendency to [retard] the educational and mental development of Negro children and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racial[ly] integrated school system." In short, segregation failed to provide Black and White children equal protection under the law — a protection guaranteed by the 14th amendment. Segregation was therefore deemed unconstitutional. Chief Justice Warren noted Kenneth Clark as one of the "modern authorities" on which the decision was based. This acknowledgment was significant because it was the first time that psychological research was cited in a Supreme Court decision and because social science data was seen as paramount in the Court's decision.

source: American Psychological Association, May 28, 2003, Revised July 2007


  1. These kids are so cute!

  2. I buy dolls that my lil girl can identify with but, i also buy her other race ones to show All races are acceptable in our home.

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  4. Im half black half white raised in a white family till i was 17 years old, I hated my hair wished i was white and always felt my self ugly,because there was no one around like me i associated white with success and black with losing when i was 8 years old. I hated when we talked about africa and they were showing pictures of black children with ripped clothes. I didn't want people to see me the same as the children on the pictures.Everytime those pictures would come up or we would have that subject on school i wanted to disapeare.I was very young and didn't now i was doing that, when i got older and talked to some of my mixed friends i knew i wasn't the only one wishing i was white at that age. it was like everybody in your family and around you said u were ok and good but they never befriended black people, or had more interracial people around them.The only time i connected wit my own color was when we went to cultural stuff like the africa museum, which I hated cause it was nothin like me and came to me across like i was more developed en sophisticated, more intelligent nothing like those people….I wasn't even african i was from south america. So it felt like i was special enough to be around them. When i got older i met someone who hated white, and began talking to me about my grand grand parents raped his grandparents, in times of slavery. I thought he was ignorance and let him finished his story. Slavery was so long ago… why be hating in this time, my mother did nothing to his grandma, forgive.. He told me a three has more roots and if i only knew my white roots i would be falling cause a tree needs his other roots. I've always remembered his words and it took me several years more to see how i was incomplete without my other roots, i searched for my dad and became hole again with my other roots. It helped me so much on loving and accepting my looks and my behavior with was ofently misread by my white relatives. Talking about my temperament and spiritual believes. Came to met my family I've learned that i wasn't weird and i was normal, that gave me so much of a release and self boost. Today i have two black children , my son is a teenager my little girl a toddler, she has a etnic doll from baby born same color as she, i did this on purpose because i don't want her to feel like i did.

  5. I am doing a school project on the Clarks' Doll Test and I am in search of the original footage of the study. I have been looking for it for many months with no success and I would appreciate any help!

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