A recent academic study published in the journal of Infant and Child Development found biological and developmental differences in the way boys and girls responded to objects in their environment.
The research, called “Preferences for ‘Gender-typed’ Toys in Boys and Girls Aged 9 to 32 Months,” was conducted at City University London and UCL. It found 9-month-old infants preferred to play with toys specific to their own gender and demonstrated significant sex differences in a familiar nursery setting.
The authors of the study, Brenda K. Tood, John A. Barry, and Sara A. O. Thommessen, report having observed 101 boys and girls in UK nurseries between the ages of 9 to 32 months and introducing them to a variety of gender-specific toys without their parents around. The children were categorized in three groups: “9 to 17 months, when infants can first demonstrate toy preferences in independent play (N = 40); 18 to 23 months, when critical advances in gender knowledge occur (N = 29); and 24 to 32 months, when knowledge becomes further established (N = 32).”
The toys used in the study included a doll, a pink teddy bear, and a cooking pot for girls; and a car, a blue teddy bear, a shovel and a ball for boys.
Child participants as young as 9 months old, long before having reached the age of gender knowledge, already demonstrated sex-specific toy preferences. Interestingly, both boys and girls demonstrated increasing preference for toys stereotyped for boys as they got older and became more advanced in gender knowledge.
The authors concluded:
We found evidence of strongly gender-stereotyped free preferences for objects, in both boys and girls aged between 9 and 32 months, when observed in independent play in a familiar play setting amongst familiar and unfamiliar adults and peers but in the absence of a parent. Therefore, the study adds to the literature in that the toy preferences of younger infants were tested independently of parents and in the presence of, but not interaction with, peers. The finding of sex differences in toy choice prior to the age at which a gendered identity is usually demonstrated is consistent with biological explanations of toy preference and with many results of highly controlled visual preference and habituation experiments.
Todd, currently a senior lecturer in psychology at City University London, said she had conducted the study to clear certain “uncertainties” about the biological differences between boys and girls. Boys, she said, have a biological “aptitude for mental rotation and more interest in ability in spatial processing, while girls are more interested in looking at faces and better at fine motor skills and manipulating objects.”
"The finding of sex differences in toy choice prior to the age at which a gendered identity is usually demonstrated is consistent with biological explanations of toy preference..."
Brenda K. Tood, John A. Barry, and Sara A. O. Thommessen
Todd said the results were most consistent when the children were placed in a familiar nursery setting with their parents absent. She noticed that the favorite toy choice for the youngest boys was the ball and the favorite toy choice for the youngest girls was the cooking pot.
“Although there was variability between individual children, we found that, in general, boys played with male-typed toys more than female-typed toys and girls played with female-typed toys more than male-typed toys,” she said.
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