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NDSU researchers examine dolls/trucks choices by babies

Photo of Rebecca Woods

Rebecca Woods

A new NDSU study shows that dolls or trucks available in the home predict infants’ gender-typed toy preferences, but parental encouragement to play with a toy type does not alter their preferences.

The research, conducted by Rebecca Woods, associate professor of human development and family science, and couple and family therapy graduate student Josh Boe was published in Sex Roles: A Journal of Research. The advance online publication was made available in December.

“The role of socialization versus biology in the development of gender is a big question and one that has a huge impact on our lives,” Woods said of the five-year study with Boe. “We were both interested in what influences the emergence of boys’ preferences for trucks and girls’ preferences for dolls. Is it nature or nurture? And how much of each? We designed the study to help answer those questions.”

Young babies came to the Infant Cognitive Development Lab and their preferences were measured by having them look at two toys and identifying which they looked at most. Older babies were given the option of a truck or doll and researchers observed which one they picked.

In addition, parents were asked to interact with their child during a short play session, where they encouraged the child to play with one type of toy and discouraged them from playing with the other type of toy. The child’s preferences were measured again.

“We found that parents’ short-term encouragement had no effect on their child’s preferences. The child preferred the same toy in both pre-test and post-test,” Woods said.

The researchers also used a toy inventory questionnaire to find out what types of toys were in the home and how much the babies played with the trucks or dolls. They found the amount of time babies played with toys in the home predicted their preferences in the lab.

“There were no differences in preferences at four months, but by 12 months there were. At 12 months, female babies had no preference between dolls and trucks, but male babies preferred trucks. These preferences were correlated with the types of toys in the home,” Woods said. “Given that parents select their child’s toys, it is possible that parents influence their babies’ toy preferences through exposure to toys more so than overt encouragement to play with the toys.”

Boe, who is from Fargo, is now working on his doctorate at the University of Georgia.

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