In the 1950’s a psychologist by the name of Allport created waves by showing in his research that, among adults, contact with people towards whom you are prejudiced, can reduce that prejudice.
Since then, numerous studies have shown similar effects. More recently, it has been shown that simply imagining contact is enough for peer relations to improve – and this has also been found true for children.
The current research project makes use of Playmobil (TM) toys to try to understand the best way to promote children’s positive attitudes and behaviour towards peers with disabilities. The ultimate aim of such research is to find out how to reduce prejudice against various vulnerable groups in schools and thereby create a more positive environment for all children.
The project has a cross-sectional design. That means that we collect data from children in different groups. We change the setting that children play with the Playmobil (TM) figures, to see what effect this has on how ready they feel to be friends (imaginatively speaking) with the figures. Children fill out one questionnaire before, and one after playing with the figures.
Children choose a figure from our collection to represent themselves and are given three further figures to play with. One of the figures has a disability. They might be asked to play with the figures on a Playmobil (TM) adventure playground, green park, a school gym, or classroom.
Children are asked how close they feel to their actual friends, and how much they would like to do various activities with the Playmobil (TM) figures, using questions set out like this:
Example: Would you like to play with them?
very much not at all
Disability is defined in an age-appropriate way to the children.
They are then asked how confident and worried they would feel making friends with someone who with a disability (which may be portrayed in the Playmobil as having no right arm, having a broken leg, using a wheelchair, having difficulty speaking with others, or using an assistance dog to help with hearing or seeing).
There are reassured that these questions ask about their opinions, so there are no right or wrong answers.
Afterwards, I work with the class to promote positive attitudes towards people with disabilities. I also encourage them to ask questions about my own physical disability.