Research Watch: Dolls No Substitute for Babies

Diana Zuckerman
April 1, 2000

Judith Krawewski, R.N., M.S.N., and Catherine Stevens-Simon, M.D.

Pediatrics, Vol. 105, No. 3, March 2000, p. e30

Free from, or from Judith Krawewski at 630 Redwood Ave, Corte Madera, CA 94925

Adults assume that teenagers would be less likely to get pregnant if they knew how hard it is to care for a baby. That was the theory behind the development of Baby Think it Over (BTIO), a computerized infant simulator doll. Unfortunately, a new study suggests the doll doesn’t work, at least not with girls who are already aware that babies are a lot of work.

The study evaluated 6th and 8th grade girls, ages 10-15, attending an urban middle school in a primarily lower socio-economic Hispanic neighborhood. The girls, who had never been pregnant, were asked to care for the “baby” for three days and two nights. Then they were asked about their experiences with the doll.

Less than one of every three girls thought that taking care of a real infant would be similar to caring for the computerized baby. The eighth graders were especially unlikely to think it would be similar, with 37 percent saying that a real baby would be easier. The girls who found it more difficult to care for the doll were most likely to think a real baby would be easier.

On average, the 6th graders thought that taking care of the doll was about as difficult as expected, and most 8th graders thought it was easier than expected. It is therefore not surprising that the doll did not have the intended impact on the girls’ desire to become teen parents: Of the 109 girls in the study, 13 (12 percent) wanted to be teen parents before they had cared for the doll, and 16 (15 percent) wanted to be teen parents after they cared for the doll.

The researchers concluded that the doll was not effective for these girls, partly because the girls were already aware that babies are a lot of work. Perhaps more importantly, they note that kids this age tend to see themselves as immune to potential dangers. The authors refer to this as the “personal fable of omnipotence,” which enables them to “overlook the negative aspects of any parenting experience they have.”

Zuckerman, Diana. "Dolls No Substitute for Babies." Research Watch review of "Does Mothering a Doll Change Teens’ Thoughts about Pregnancy?" Youth Today, April 2000, p. 23.

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