This latest study included 83 children aged 9 months to 3 years who were observed playing for three minutes. The time they spent touching or playing with each object was noted.
Researchers chose the toys by surveying 300 adults about the first toy that came to mind when they thought of a boy or a girl. About 90 percent said "car" for boy and "doll" for girls, with the remainder mentioning the other toys.
Children were also offered both a pink teddy bear and a blue teddy bear. "We were quite interested to see if boys had a color preference, but boys didn't show any interest in the teddy bears at all," Thommessen said.
Gender-specific preferences became even more pronounced as the children got older. By about age 27 months to 36 months, girls spent about 50 percent of their time playing with the doll, and were no longer much interested in the teddy bear, which had interested them when they were younger, or any of the other objects. The boys spent 87 percent of their time with the car and digger, ignoring even the ball.
The finding raises the possibility of a biological basis for toy choices. A study from 2001 found even 1-day-old boys spent longer looking at moving, mechanical options than 1-day-old girls, who spent more time looking at faces.
Yet the impact of socialization should never be underestimated, Gilliam said. Studies have shown parents and others interact differently with female and male babies from almost the instant they're born, Gilliam said.
Even when they're infants, fathers tend to encourage more active play with boy babies, by playfully tickling or poking them, while they tend to hold girl babies closer. Parents have also been observed spending more time talking to girls than to boys
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