By Jim Barlow Using anatomically correct dolls with young children, especially youngsters 3 years old and under, does not help them describe how they were touched by an adult, according to a recent psychological study. The researchers concluded that 2 1/2-year-old children, even after giving relatively accurate verbal accounts, "were quite unsuccessful when asked simply to map between their own body and a doll, and neither the 2 1/2- nor the 3-year-olds were very good at using a doll to demonstrate" where they had been touched by an adult in a series of games played in a laboratory setting. The findings - detailed in a paper to be published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology - could have repercussions for child-protection professionals, who often use anatomically correct dolls with the belief that the dolls help children tell how they were sexually abused. "I think there are several good reasons for not using anatomically correct dolls in questioning very young children," said Judy S. DeLoache, a psychology professor at the UI who worked with graduate student Donald P. Marzolf in the study. "The dolls may be helpful with older children, but even that issue is not really clear." The researchers say young children have trouble seeing the dolls as symbols of themselves. Their ability to think abstractly is not as developed as many people assume, said DeLoache, who has shown that young children often fail to detect symbolic relationships that older children and adults think are obvious. Children were divided by age - 2 1/2, 3 and 4 years old - into three groups of 24 to play games with a male experimenter, who touched them as he placed stickers on their forearms, knees, feet or cheeks, and as they played a touch-oriented version of Simon Says. The children then were interviewed about what had happened to them, using dolls that matched the gender and race of each child. Following the sticker game, 4-year-olds correctly placed 92 percent of the stickers on the dolls to show where they had been touched; the 3-year-olds were 71 percent accurate; and the 2 1/2-year-olds correctly placed only 41 percent. Many of the older children checked where stickers had been placed on their own bodies before placing them on a doll. For the Simon Says activity, the children were asked questions, some leading and others misleading, about where they had been touched. None of the children spontaneously used the dolls in their responses. Instead, they verbally reported or demonstrated on their own bodies where they had been touched. When asked to use the dolls to show where they had been touched, the accuracy of all three age groups dropped dramatically. Overall, "fewer of the touches that the children had actually experienced were demonstrated on the doll than were reported verbally or nonverbally on themselves," the authors wrote. "The children provided more correct information in response to the interviewer's direct questions."