« Images of my brain | Gene Expression Front Page | Today's assignment: »
December 28, 2004

Monkeys Conform to Gender Toy Preference Stereotypes Too

Little boys like to play with toy cars and girls with dolls. These sexually dimorphic toy preferences extend to non-human primates.

Alexander & Hines (2002) gave 44 vervet monkeys of each sex six toys to play with; two male-typical (a toy car and ball), two female-typical (a doll and pot) and two sex-neutral (a book and stuffed animal). Male ververts were more likely than females to engage the car and ball while females were more likely to play with the doll and pot. No difference was found in the neutral toys.

These findings make gender socialization theories of play behaviors increasingly untenable. Even though pre- and neonatal androgen exposure has been linked to play preferences in rats, rhesus monkeys, and human females with Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia, blank slaters like Fausto-Sterling remain unimpressed. Phenotypic masculinization, they suggest, could be altering socialization by parents and peers. Gender self-identification could be weakened by sex hormones and not affecting the neural processes of play as such. But vervets are neither subject to the human socialization process or (so far as we know) capable of gender self-identification.

Why then to girls and boys prefer the toys they do? One possibility is what the authors refer to as object categorization, whereby a stimulus possesses "a sufficient cue or number of cues from some larger set of characteristics that define a class." In the case of females, for example, their toys "have been described as objects that afford opportunities for nurturance (Campbell; Eisenberg and Miller), and selection pressures may favor responsiveness to object cues (e.g., an animate-like form) that signal maternal behavior because these cues enhance infant survival." Male-typical toys, on the other hand, "have been characterized as objects with an ability to be used actively (O'Brien & Huston, 1985) or objects that can be propelled in space (Benenson, Liroff, Pascal, & Cioppa, 1997). Preferences for such objects may exist because they afford greater opportunities for engaging in rough or active play."

Posted by God Fearing Atheist at 10:46 PM