My friend Stephen sends me this by email, saying:

‘… it turns out that Psychology CAN sometimes be interesting – who would have thought it?

Searching for inspiration about toys that are “gender neutral” for use in Theory of Mind stories today, I came across the abstract below. It seems that some researchers got a grant to give toys to a bunch of monkeys and see which ones the boy monkeys liked and which ones the girl monkeys liked. It turned out that the boy monkeys preferred the stereotypical boy-toys (a car and ball) and the girl monkeys preferred the stereotypical girl-toys (a doll and a pot), which is one in the eye for theories that say boys and girls are only different because we socialise them that way.

P.S. Is it just me, or is anything that involves monkeys (even when it’s
psychology) inherently brilliant.’

And the paper is:

Title: Sex differences in response to children’s toys in nonhuman primates (Cercopithecus aethiops sabaeus)
Author(s): Alexander GM, Hines M
Source: EVOLUTION AND HUMAN BEHAVIOR 23 (6): 467-479 NOV 2002
Abstract: Sex differences in children’s toy preferences are thought by many to arise from gender socialization. However, evidence from patients with endocrine disorders suggests that biological factors during early development (e.g., levels of androgens) are influential. In this study, we found that vervet monkeys (Cercopithecus aethiops sabaeus) show sex differences in toy preferences similar to those documented previously in children. The percent of contact time with toys typically preferred by boys (a car and a ball) was greater in male vervets (n=33) than in female vervets (n=30) (P<.05), whereas the percent of contact time with toys typically preferred by girls (a doll and a pot) was greater in female vervets than in male vervets (P<.01). In contrast, contact time with toys preferred equally by boys and girls (a picture book and a stuffed dog) was comparable in male and female vervets. The results suggest that sexually differentiated object preferences arose early in human evolution, prior to the emergence of a distinct hominid lineage. This implies that sexually dimorphic preferences for features (e.g., color, shape, movement) may have evolved from differential selection pressures based on the different behavioral roles of males and females, and that evolved object feature preferences may contribute to present day sexually dimorphic toy preferences in children.

I emailed him about blogging it and he said

‘After all, just because there might be something about stereotypical boy-toys that inclines boys towards them (and the same for girls with girl-toys) doesn’t mean we ought to encourage and reinforce gender differences through socialisation – I don’t want to promote some kind of wicked is-to-ought fallacy here!’