Girls who play with Barbie dolls see fewer career options for themselves than boys, according to an Oregon State University study.
The research was supported by funding from the OSU College of Liberal Arts and School of Psychological Science. It was published in the journal, "Sex Roles."
"Playing with Barbie has an effect on girls' ideas about their place in the world," said Aurora M. Sherman, an associate professor in the School of Psychological Science at OSU. "It creates a limit on the sense of what's possible for their future. While it's not a massive effect, it is a measurable and statistically significant effect."
Sherman said the experiment was designed to examine how Barbie might influence the career aspirations of girls.
Girls ages 4 to 7 years old were randomly assigned to play with one of three dolls: a fashion Barbie with dress and high-heeled shoes, a career Barbie with a doctor's coat and stethoscope or a Mrs. Potato Head with accessories such as purses and shoes.
Mrs. Potato Head was selected as a neutral doll because the toy is similar in color and texture, but doesn't have the sexualized characteristics of Barbie, researchers said.
After a few minutes of play, the girls were asked if they could do any of 10 occupations when they grew up. They were also asked if boys could do those jobs. Half of the careers were traditionally male-dominated and half were female-dominated.
Girls who played with Barbie thought they could do fewer jobs than boys could do. The girls who played with Mrs. Potato Head, however, reported nearly the same number of possible careers for themselves as for boys.
There was no difference in results between girls who played with a Barbie wearing a dress and the career-focused, doctor version of the doll.
Sherman said more research is needed to better understand a fashion doll's effect on girls. She is working on two other studies now, including one about girls' perceptions of weight and body image based on doll size and shape.
"For parents, the most important thing is to look at the child's toy box and make sure there is a wide variety of toys to play with," Sherman said.
The study was also conducted by Eileen Zurbriggen of the University of California, Santa Cruz.
For more information, go to: http://bit.ly/1drygMn
Copyright 2014 KPTV-KPDX Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.