Author Archives: kellyliu

Barbie dolls: the real message they send through

Figure 1. Study showed that girls who played with Barbie dolls saw fewer career options. (Courtesy Flickr)

Even though the new marketing slogan for Barbie dolls is “Be Anything. Do Anything,” the real message Barbie dolls send through is shown to have the opposite effect. A study from Oregon State University found that playing Barbie dolls could limit girls’ perceptions about future career options and affect their positions in the world.

Researchers Aurora Sherman and Eileen Zurbriggen studied thirty-seven girls ages between four to seven from U.S. Pacific Northwest. Three types of dolls were randomly distributed to the girls: a Barbie doll wearing a dress and high-heeled shoes, a Barbie doll wearing a doctor’s coat and stethoscope, and Mrs. Potato Head with purse and shoes. Mrs. Potato Head was the controlled variable in the study because it did not have apparent sexual characters. After the girls played with her toy for five minutes, they were shown photographs of ten different occupations; five of the careers were traditionally male-dominated, and the other five were traditionally female-dominated. The girls were then asked how many of the occupations they themselves or the boys could do in the future.

Figure 2. Mrs. Potato Head (left) is considered to be neutral, without sexual characters. (Courtesy Flickr)

The result showed that girls who played with Barbie dolls, regardless of whether the doll was wearing a dress or a doctor’s coat, saw themselves being capable of doing fewer occupations than boys. In contrast, girls that played with Mrs. Potato Head reported that they themselves could do the same number of occupations as the boys.  Researchers believed that the emphasis on clothes and appearance for Barbie dolls communicated sexualization and objectification to girls. “[It] is not a massive effect, but [it] is measurable and [is] statistically significant,” said Sherman. The study also agreed with objectification theory. Even though the effect was subtle, Barbie dolls were considered to be harmful to girls due to their sexually matured bodies. This image may give girls impressions that females should be attractive, and this has become an alarming problem in many adult women.

The exact mechanism of why this was observed is still under investigation. So far researchers could only confirm that early exposure to sexualized images may impose limitations on future career options to girls. Currently, the suggested solution to minimize this problem is for children, particularly girls, to have a variety of toys to play with. By playing with toys that are “gender neutral,” it is believed that girls would be more confident and have equal chance in competing for jobs in fields that are traditionally dominated by males.

By Kelly Liu

Next time you drink too much, maybe you can blame your genes.

Figure 1. Drinking too much can cause alcohol dependence. (Courtesy Wikipedia commons)

Do you know that an average of 2.5 million people die from harmful use of alcohol every year?[1]  Alcohol dependence is a serious problem that can place burden on individuals and families, and even on the society. If you think that only ignorant people would allow themselves to drink excessively, you may want to think again.[2] Researchers are now suggesting that the trigger to alcohol dependence is likely due to genetic mutation.

Study led by Professor H. Thomas from Imperial College London compared two groups of mice – one group were normal, and the other group had two single base-pair point mutation in Gabrb1 gene. When the mice were given a choice between water and 10% ethanol, the latter group showed strong preference of alcohol by consuming it 85% of the time. This is equivalent to drinking one glass of wine a day! Alcohol dependence in these mice were so strong that many of them would drink sufficient alcohol to become intoxicated in an hour, and would continue to do so even after they were observed to be tipsy and had trouble moving.

Figure 2. Different types of point mutation. (Courtesy Wikipedia commons)

So why does this happen? Well, study showed that point mutation altered a series of mechanisms in the brain. To begin, Gabrb1 codes for beta1 subunit, which is an important component of GABAA receptor. Normally, GABAA receptor is activated only when GABA, a chemical messenger, is present. However, mutation to Gabrb1 causes GABAA receptor to be activated spontaneously, even when GABA is not present. These changes occur in nucleus accumbens, the brain region that controls pleasurable emotion and reward. Therefore, as more signals were sent out by GABAA receptor, mice would have increased craving for alcohol because their brains told them that alcohol consumption gave them pleasurable feelings. The study also showed not only did the mice enjoyed this feeling, they also wanted the feeling to last longer, and they did so by putting out extra physical effort, such as pushing lever for longer periods of time, in order to obtain more alcohol.

Figure 3. Location of nucleus accumbens in human brain. (Courtesy Wikipedia commons)

Professor Thomas’ study allowed researchers to gain better understanding of the mechanisms that monitor alcohol dependence in mice. Researchers believe similar mechanisms operate for humans, and are currently attempting to modify the mechanisms to human brain. GABA system is of particular interest because it controls human alcohol intake.  If similar processes are found to operate in humans, this would allow doctors to screen individuals that are likely to be at risk, and ensure that early treatment can be administered.

By Kelly Liu