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Going Ape Over Their Toys

Evolution may influence kids' toy choices

MONDAY, Dec. 23, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- When your sons and daughters choose their favorite toys this Christmas, they may be "aping" their ancestors.

A study suggests that boys' and girls' toy preferences may be based on evolutionary influences pre-wired into their brains. It's an idea that challenges the common belief that boys and girls select toys based on societal expectations.

The study was done by Gerianne Alexander of Texas A&M University and Melissa Hines of the University of London. It appeared earlier this year in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior.

The researchers studied male and female velvet monkeys as they interacted with toys. The researchers found that the gender differences in the monkeys' toy preferences matched those found in human children.

Male monkeys spent more time playing with traditional male toys such as a car and a ball while female monkeys played more often with a doll and a pot. Both male and female monkeys spent about the same amount of time with so-called gender neutral items such as a picture book and a stuffed dog.

The researchers conclude that it isn't just human society or stereotypes that determine boys' and girls' toy preferences. The study findings suggest that certain aspects of toys appeal to either males or females and those aspects may be related to traditional male and female functions from early in our evolutionary history.

For example, the ball and the car are toys that can be used actively and be propelled through space. The motion ability of those toys may appeal to navigating abilities used for hunting, finding food, or seeking a mate--day-to-day activities of early human males.

On the other hand, females may have evolved preferences for certain colors, linked to their role as nurturers. The doll and the pot in this study were red and pink. It's been suggested those colors encourage female behaviors towards infants - such as contact - that improve the chances of infant survival.

More Information

You can learn more about humor, play and evolution.

SOURCE: Texas A&M University, news release, December 2002
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