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Mamie Phipps Clark and the Doll Tests


Mamie Phipps Clark’s mother was Mamie Katherine Phipps. He was a pioneer in developmental psychology and the first African-American to get a doctorate in the discipline. Mamie received distinguished alumni awards from Howard and Columbia universities. The American Association of University Women awarded her an honorary doctorate for her research on the psychological effects of racism and segregation and honorary doctorates from Williams College and the Pratt Institute. As a result of her achievements, minorities were able to lead better lives. Specifically, she desired that the question of why segregation exists and has existed throughout history be answered. As a result of her research into the self-concept of minorities, new fields of study in developmental psychology were opened up. Due to Mamie Phipps Clark’s impact on psychology, I decided to explore her biography and her contributions to mental health.

Mamie Phipps Clark’s Life and Education

Well-known psychologist Mamie Phipps Clark focuses on issues of race, self-esteem, and the development of children. Born in April 1917 in Arkansas, Mamie Clark was educated in segregated institutions (Barker & Ukpong, 2020). In addition to being a distinguished physician and resort manager, Harold H. Phipps, Phipps’ father, was born in the West Indies. Her mother, Katy Florence Phipps, frequently assisted her physician husband in his work as a doctor, despite having no medical training. When it came to her elementary and secondary education, Mamie Phipps Clark thought it to be “extremely poor.” Although she went to an all-white school, she later said that her career happiness was formed by the combination of segregation and an extended family (Barker & Ukpong, 2020). She decided to pursue a physics and math major in college because her parents had urged her to do so. After meeting her future husband, Kenneth Clark, at Howard University, she decided to alter her studies from physics and mathematics to psychology. In 1938, she received her magna cum laude degree and went on to work in a law practice, where she witnessed firsthand the consequences of segregation, a legal system that separated blacks and whites.

After graduating from high school, she went on to have two children while attending graduate school (Jepkemboi et al., 2020). For her master’s thesis, she studied the development of race identity and self-esteem. Her discoveries have aided research on the self-perception of people of colour. Columbia University awarded her a PhD in 1943. Apart from her husband, she was the second African-American to get a PhD from Columbia University, making her one of the program’s only Black women. Clark found it difficult to land a job after graduating from college. Aside from that, she encountered other obstacles in her professional life after graduation. She said it was an “unwanted oddity” for a Black woman to work in a field dominated by white men (Jepkemboi et al., 2020). In 1945, she worked as a psychologist at the Riverdale Home for Children, doing psychiatric evaluations on homeless African-American girls.

After working with children from an all-black nursery school, Mamie was inspired to write her master’s thesis, “The Development of Consciousness of Self in Negro Preschool Children.” It wasn’t long before she met her future husband, Kenneth Clark, and they cooperated on her thesis work on the self-identification of African-American youngsters (Jepkemboi et al., 2020). This investigation was the basis for the well-known doll studies, which found that segregation hurt African-American children’s internalized racism. As a testing psychologist at a shelter for homeless black women, Clark became aware of the shortage of mental health services for minorities. In her experiment, she revealed Black children two identical dolls but for the fact that one was white and the other was black. A series of questions were then posed to the youngsters, including which doll they preferred to play with and which was evil and which was good. According to the study, approximately 33% of children chose the white doll as their most resembling counterpart when asked to select a “bad” doll (Jepkemboi et al., 2020).

Her persistence during the Great Depression led her to change her psychology major to avoid racial segregation. There were fewer possibilities for furthering her education after dealing with racial stereotypes in high school (Núñez & Meráz, 2017). During the Great Depression, Clark was raised in a segregated neighbourhood. In comparison to white kids, she had relatively few options. The fact that she wanted to learn more about the identities of African American children may have been motivated by her own experiences growing up in an environment where racism was rampant. However, despite Mamie being a black student who was being discriminated against, she was given scholarships to three prestigious universities (Núñez & Meráz, 2017). Clark grew raised in a split household, which only served to feed her will to succeed. During the Great Depression, a black woman persevered and achieved great success as a psychologist, breaking new ground in the field in the process. Even though Mamie Phipps Clark’s father was a successful doctor, segregation was still prevalent in the everyday lives of people of color. The persecution Mamie Clark had to confront, not just in her neighbourhood but also at her school, forced her to persevere once more. A significant feature of racial segregation at the time is discussed in the comments about the school dictating where she could and could not go. She had to deal with racial segregation as a child, but she seemed to have overcome it. This is a perfect example of Mamie Phipps Clark’s tenacity. Despite the socially enforced racial biases that ethnic minorities were subjected to, she persisted (Núñez & Meráz, 2017). Her tenacity motivated her to reject racial stereotypes and fight for racial equality. It is safe to say that Mamie Phipps Clark overcame and even attempted to eradicate racial discrimination during her formative years.

The Clark Doll Test and Impact on Mental Health

A series of research known as “the doll tests” was designed and carried out by psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark in the 1940s to study the impact of segregation on African-American children. Check out how Black children’s self-esteem grows throughout time. The dolls were identical save for their color, used to assess children’s racial impressions. They were asked to identify both the dolls’ parents’ races and their own (Jepkemboi et al., 2020). White dolls were found to be preferred by black children in a study. To fill in a human form, the children often chose a lighter color than they usually would when instructed to do so. Aside from “pleasant” and “beautiful,” the children also described the color white as “clean.” according to Camp (2015) instead of being connected with good, the color “black” represented evil and the unattractive. A whopping 44% of those polled thought the white doll looked like them. Many youngsters have refused to choose a doll or started screaming and running away in earlier trials. Segregation and discrimination led to a generation of black youngsters who had internalized racism due to being stigmatized and discriminated against. Besides, according to Adair and Colegrove (2021), while white people are considered beautiful, black people are considered nasty. According to these tests, it is clear that enforced segregation infected African American children with a lifelong attitude of inferiority. Because of their treatment as “second-class citizens,” black children felt “a sense of inferiority as to their place in the community,” according to Chief Justice Earl Warren, who penned the Court’s opinion.

Furthermore, this work by Clark prompted more research into the self-concept of minorities and opened up new paths of investigation in developmental psychology. Moreover, Moodiness and lack of interest in activities are common symptoms of depression in adolescents. It affects how a teen thinks, act and feels, leading to emotional, physical and functional concerns. According to Weatherford (2017), one in five teenagers will suffer from depression during adolescence. Many depressed teenagers do not seek treatment despite it being relatively easy to recover from the illness. Adolescent depression isn’t only about being moody. Teens’ lives are profoundly affected by this serious public health concern. It is, however, curable, and parents can provide a hand in the healing process. With love, wisdom, and support, an individual can help a child recover from depression and take back control of their life (McAfee, 2018). Besides, the study reveals that a Georgia State University psychology professor found that African Americans are more likely to suffer from the early onset of serious health issues and a shorter life expectancy because of racial prejudice. Therefore, the doll test is critical to diagnosing and treating depression created by racism and discrimination. Racism stress can be viewed as a long-term stressor that wears down biological systems. Discrimination can cause mental health illnesses to worsen or prevent an individual from seeking help. Social isolation is also associated with an increased risk of mental disease. Stigma and discrimination, as a result, can trap people in a never-ending cycle of illness. Therefore, the ability to test these illnesses and their root cause can be very critical. According to a spate of scientific studies, segregation can exacerbate stress (Edwards & Few-Demo, 2016). Since segregation has psychological effects on African-American children, the Mamie Clark study is critical in shedding light on this issue.

The Cultural Worldviews and Systematic Theoretical Biases

Psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark came up with the “doll test,” and indicated that most children felt white dolls were “good” and black dolls were “bad”. A black child’s rejecting a black doll reflect internalized racism and also reveal a rejection of the profoundly discriminatory play activities orchestrated through black dolls for over a century (Núñez & Meráz García, 2017). Thus, the Clarks’ kids are no longer portrayed as passive racists but agents who fought back against their ancestors’ racist play habits. According to their research, segregation directly impacts Black children’s negative self-perceptions. In the twenty-first century, it also affects Black pupils in integrated schools. At the time, these emotions of low self-worth were blamed for the poor academic performance of Black youngsters.

On the other hand, the test has received a lot of criticism because of its inherent biases. The Clarks ran into various theoretical and practical challenges while figuring out how segregation affected people’s self-esteem. First and foremost, there was no control group for this study (Weatherford, 2017). There is no evidence to support Clarks’ argument that racial segregation has an adverse effect on self-esteem from the results of segregated schools. It’s impossible to tell unless they compare it to non-segregated schools. According to Lani Guinier, black students in non-segregated schools had significantly more contact with apparently prejudiced Whites (Weatherford, 2017). What if this is true? Why are Black children in schools with no White students less confident in themselves? A lack of a control group and a small sample size makes it impossible to generalize from this study. The Clarks also fall prey to the composition fallacy in their investigation’s theoretical framework. They argue that self-esteem is linked to ethnic identification, and separated schools impair ethnic identity, harming self-esteem. Standard self-esteem ratings are no more reliable than the doll tests are. The situation might be far worse. In the 1980s, a new set of doll test reports appeared, indicating inequalities in self-esteem between Northern and Southern schools. According to these data, more white dolls were preferred by North American blacks than by South American blacks (Weatherford, 2017). Either integration has affected Black self-esteem, or doll tests are ineffectual. For example, people in rural southern states were more likely than those in the north to view themselves as capable of learning. According to previous research, Black children had higher self-esteem than White children, although this disparity was narrowest in schools that had been integrated.

Large, long-term investigations have recently shown that doll testing was wrong. Researchers Ruth Erol and Ulrich Orth studied self-esteem discrepancies between 14 and 16-year-olds (Young et al., 2021). The research involved around 7,000 persons. Blacks of all ages had higher self-esteem than whites of all ages. Self-esteem among whites had grown a little, moderated, and then somewhat decreased by the time they were 30. In the end, there was a significant disparity favouring Blacks between Blacks and Whites. Self-esteem would rise and fall with age throughout the entire group. As a result, the results of the doll tests will be unreliable because self-esteem is not a consistent trait throughout childhood. Psychologists still regularly reference the doll tests nowadays. As we can see, the initial study did not even compare separated and integrated schools (Young et al., 2021). It is impossible to determine whether segregation affected African American self-esteem without this information. Segregation does not harm Black self-esteem more than integration, which has never been shown. Based on the existing information, we can conclude that either the doll tests are wrong or that integration negatively influenced Black self-esteem. Psychiatrists and instructors should focus less on doll assessments in general (Young et al., 2021). Moreover, despite the Supreme Court’s ruling that the iconic doll tests were invalid and of no relevance, they have returned, putting students at risk of being misled by a false narrative.

Ethical Issues Relevant To Doll Test

In a recent survey, most Black children opted to play with white dolls when given the opportunity. Positive attributes were assigned to the white dolls, whereas negative traits were assigned to the black dolls. A few of the children reported feeling “emotionally upset” by the prospect of having to identify with the doll they had previously rejected. Due to a lack of theoretical framework and variable control, the study has been criticized on ethical grounds (McAfee, 2018). Because an African American couple conducted the trials, critics claim that the goal of proving negative stereotypes about African Americans may have caused some bias or preconceptions, which may have affected the results.

However, the results were skewed because the measures used were not always indicative of a negative attitude toward one’s race. Society had to choose between adored and bullied toys when it came to toys (Weatherford, 2017). Although these studies proved that youngsters could see color, the results were far from flawless. The doll exams were somewhat unusual since they were weird and stressful. Rather than choosing between one doll and another, what if youngsters could make their own decisions? How about a greater variety of races and ethnicities to choose from? It was found that for one semester, children in a varied preschool class played with four different ethnically diverse dolls (white, Latina, black with a lighter complexion, and black with medium skin tone). It would be unethical if the study’s data were biased to show a specific conclusion, which would be a problem.

To make their findings of the effect of segregation on self-esteem, the Clarks had to grapple with various theoretical and practical issues. Firstly, there was no control group in this study. According to the Clarks, segregated schools had a negative impact on students’ self-esteem because of the terrible results they obtained from those schools (Weatherford, 2017). It’s impossible to tell unless they compare it to non-segregated schools. According to Lani Guinier, black pupils in non-segregated schools had much more contact with apparently prejudiced whites. Why is Black children’s self-esteem lower at schools with no White students if this is true? They did not have a control group in their study, and the sample size was so small that no generalizations could be made (Weatherford, 2017). In addition, there are legitimate doubts about the importance of these findings. But the most crucial result from this research was that discrimination has an impact even at a young age. Seeing how it could affect people from all walks of life is simple. Sixty years after the case was overturned, we still live in a highly divided society.

How the Test Applies and Can Be Used In My Practice

As a Clinical Psychologist, I am incredibly interested in mental health, behaviours, and psychiatry. Besides, I hope to open an Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Clinic and venture into counselling. In psychology, I believe understanding the root cause of the problem is critical. Besides, as suggested, racial segregation can cause depression and mental health. Therefore, I will utilize this doll test to effectively predict and diagnose the source of depression, especially among young people. According to Cheng et al. (2022), an estimated 20 per cent of all teenagers suffer from depression at some point before they turn 18. About 10 to 15 per cent of people have symptoms regularly. Depression is only being treated for 30 per cent of depressed adolescents in the United States today. Therefore, the doll test would be critical in estimating the impact of racism on an individual, thus essential for my counselling therapist goal.

Moreover, Preschoolers are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of discrimination since they are still developing a sense of self and belonging to society. Adults who show disdain for their looks, language, or cultural values can instil negative self-perceptions in children. Therefore the knowledge gained from the doll test would be critical in promoting African American development and what they internalize. from the trial, black children did not like the black doll. Therefore, it is evident that some beliefs impact these child thinking. From the study, some of the children would cry and run out of the experiment room after being asked to identify which doll looked like them. This means that more children suffer from anxiety and beliefs created in their minds once they see some images. Therefore, as a psychologist, I am interested in helping this population and changing their thinking.

Moreover, Mamie Clark is a well-known female psychologist famous for her work on race, self-esteem and child development. One of their most famous research, the Dolls Test, employed four identical dolls with the exception of hair and skin tone to assess the racial preferences of children aged three to seven in segregated schools. Therefore, as a psychologist, this theorist is particularly interesting to me because she ventures into the racial aspect that causes depression and mental health concerns. Similarly, I discovered that racial aspects create various mental illnesses, thus requiring similar studies. At the same time, from the research, she inspired me to research to solve multiple issues in the community. Also, from this assignment, I learned the significance of the ethical problems that might limit a study’s applicability.


Being an ethnic minority in the United States, Mamie Phipps Clark had to do crucial psychological research. Mamie Phipps Clark, a renowned American psychologist, has made numerous groundbreaking discoveries about the development of African American children’s sense of self-worth and identity. Her interest in psychology was piqued after she decided to rule out racism and other forms of racial discrimination. Subsequently, she carried out research into the pernicious effects of racism. A hero must be able to persevere and be brilliant to accomplish their aims and uphold their values. Mamie Phipps Clark was a hero because of her tenacity and intelligence. When it came to establishing that separate but equal did not apply in Brown v. the Board of Education in Topeka, Kansas, Clark was most recognized for their “doll studies” and for applying their results regarding the effects of racism on black children’s psychological identities. As a clinical psychologist, this is one of the most helpful research since it explores the link between segregation and depression.


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Young, J. L., Butler, B., King, N., & Wandix-White, D. (2021). The Time is Now:(Re) visioning,(Re) assessing, and (Re) storing the State of Educational Research for African American Women and Girls. Journal of African American women and girls in education.

Weatherford, C. B. (2017). Hearts and Minds: How the Doll Test Opened Schoolhouse Doors. The Southern Quarterly54(3), 164-168.


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