The Dolls Project

Interviewers sometimes use non-anatomical dolls when questioning children about alleged maltreatment, to help them communicate about what happened. One way they might be used is to ask children to use dolls to represent themselves and another person and show how their bodies were positioned. Although some research has looked at using dolls to help children remember and talk about what happened, none has examined whether they can use them to accurately demonstrate body positioning.

Here’s what we did.

We recruited 49 children (6 – 8 years old) who took part in a game at school with a partner where they had to form different shapes with their bodies or stand in different positions. Shortly after, they were interviewed with or without dolls and asked to describe what had happened in their own words, and then answer some specific questions about things that did or did not happen during the game.

Unfortunately this study had to stop because of the lockdown that occurred to manage the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of this we did not have as many children in the study as we had planned and so these results are just a preliminary indication and should be considered with caution.

Here’s what we found.

We found no difference in the amount of information reported nor the accuracy of children’s reporting between the children that were interviewed with or without the dolls. Overall, this research provides some preliminary evidence that non-AD dolls may not provide much value when children are interviewed in a best-practice manner, but are unlikely to undermine children’s accuracy, at least when children are interviewed immediately after an event. Of course, in real life, interviews would occur after a delay of days, weeks or even months and so future research is needed to examine the usefulness of non-AD dolls’ under more realistic conditions.

Learn more.

This research was undertaken by Christiana Hartley, alongside the Applied Developmental Psychology Lab team, as part of her Master’s in Psychology. If you’re interested to read a more in-depth description and analysis of this study, you can find Christiana’s Master’s thesis here.

Our thanks for your support.

We would like to thank everyone who was involved in making this research possible, especially the schools, parents, caregivers, and children who took part.

Ngā Mihi,

The Applied Developmental Psychology Lab Team

Applied Developmental Psychology Lab
School of Psychology
Victoria University of Wellington