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Study: Playing with dolls can indicate a couple's parenting style

A new study suggests that a couple's parenting compatibility could be determined by asking them to play with dolls.

Just five minutes of play could be a significant indicator of the couple's parenting styles, according to new research at the Ohio State University. The study, published in the Journal of Family Psychology, looked at 200 two-income couples, asking them to play with a doll representative of their upcoming children. After the couple's child was born, the study's researchers compared the couple's interaction with the human baby to how they had treated the dolls.

The dolls were a surprisingly accurate indicator of the couple's child treatment, the study found. Spouses who were encouraging of each other's treatment of the dolls acted similarly toward their real children, while those critical of each other's doll treatment were also critical of their spouses' behavior toward their children. Lausanne Trilogue Play, the name of the doll experiment, was originally developed in Switzerland, but it has not been studied extensively in American co-parenting habits.

"Even though I believe that the co-parenting relationship begins to develop prior to a child's birth, I had to see it for myself to be convinced," Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, one of the study authors and a professor of human sciences at the Ohio State University, told Time. "It still amazes me that five minutes of play with a doll can predict co-parenting behavior with the real infant one year later."

The couples with less compatible parenting styles weren't doomed, though — when asked about their marital satisfaction, couples who were less compatible co-parents still reported happy marriages. "The co-parenting and couple relationships are not the same," Schoppe-Sullivan told Time.