Emory Report
April 21, 2008
Volume 60, Number 28


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April 21, 2008
Monkeys ape humans in toy choice

By emily rios

Researchers at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center have found rhesus monkeys’ gender-specific toy preferences directly parallel the preferences human children have, suggesting preferences can develop without socialization factors, such as encouragement to play with gender-specific toys. The study proposes these sex differences reflect hormonally influenced behavioral and cognitive biases.

“Sex differences in human toy preferences are often thought to occur primarily through socialization influences, such as parents encouraging sons to play with cars and trucks and daughters to play with dolls and stuffed animals,” says Yerkes lead researcher Janice Hassett. “If, however, preferences for gender specific toys exist in other species, then nonsocial factors also may play a role in preference.”

Researchers compared the interactions of male and female rhesus macaques with human wheeled toys (masculine) and plush toys (feminine). Like young boys, male monkeys strongly preferred wheeled toys, while female monkeys, similar to young girls, played more equally with both types of toys. Young girls and female monkeys show a broader range of play patterns.

“This suggests that rather than specific socialization determining toy preferences, it’s more likely biases in preferences that exist at birth” says Hassett.

These results may be applied to other sex differences. “Traditional thinking is sex differences, such as career choice, are a result of socialization — labeling professions as masculine or feminine,” Hassett says. “While this almost certainly occurs, it is possible our early preferences shape our environment such that later in life men and women seek different activities and ways of spending time and resources.”