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Toy choice among boys, girls a matter of monkey business

COLLEGE STATION, December 10, 2002 Sure Santa Claus asks boys and girls what toys they want, but, why they want them is a better question. The answer may have to do with a biological pre-wiring that influences boys' and girls' preferences based on the early roles of males and females, says a Texas A&M University psychologist.

It's commonly believed that boys and girls learn what types of toys they should like based solely on society's expectations, but psychologist Gerianne Alexander's work with vervet monkeys is challenging that notion.

Alexander, whose research focuses on sex differences in behavior and the biological factors that influence them, examined the monkeys as they interacted with toys. She and her collaborator, Melissa Hines of the University of London, found that the monkeys' toy preferences were consistent along gender lines with those of human children. The study was published earlier this year in "Evolution and Human Behavior."

Though the monkeys had no concept of a "boy" toy and a "girl" toy, they still showed the same gender preferences in playing with the toys, Alexander says. That is, compared to female monkeys, male monkeys spent more time with "boy" toys, and the female monkeys, compared to their male counterparts, spent more time with "girl" toys, she notes.

"Masculine toys and feminine toys," Alexander says, "are clearly categories constructed by people. However, our finding that male and female vervet monkeys show similar preferences for these toys as boys and girls do, suggests that what makes a 'boy toy' and a 'girl toy' is more than just what society dictates it suggests that there may be perceptual cues that attract males or females to particular objects such as toys."

In the experiment, Alexander says, male monkeys spent more time playing with traditional male toys such as a car and a ball than did female monkeys. The female monkeys, however, spent more time playing with a doll and pot than d
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Contact: Ryan A. Garcia
rag@univrel.tamu.edu
979-845-4680
Texas A&M University
10-Dec-2002


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