Exploring the Roots of Gendered Toy Preferences

A fascinating study that bridges the worlds of human psychology and animal behaviour was conducted by Janice M. Hassett, Erin R. Siebert, and Kim Wallen. This is also a new core study on the 2024 CAIE A Level Psychology specification. Hassett et al. (2008) investigated the toy preferences of rhesus monkeys. This research offers an intriguing perspective on the age-old debate about the origins of gendered toy preferences. Is it all about socialisation, or is there something more innate at play?

Study’s Genesis

The study emerges against the backdrop of a common belief that socialization processes, like parents or peers encouraging play with gender-specific toys, are the primary forces shaping sex differences in toy preference. The researchers, however, considered an alternative view: could these preferences be biologically determined, reflecting innate preferences for activities facilitated by specific toys?


The researchers observed 34 rhesus monkeys within a large troop at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center. The monkeys were presented with two types of toys: wheeled toys (reminiscent of vehicles) and plush toys (soft, stuffed objects). The interactions of the monkeys with these toys were meticulously recorded and analyzed.

Key Findings

  1. Strong Male Preference for Wheeled Toys – Mirroring human boys, male rhesus monkeys exhibited a consistent and strong preference for wheeled toys.
  2. Female Variability in Preferences – Like human girls, female monkeys showed more variability in their preferences, without a clear inclination towards wheeled or plush toys.
  3. Impact of Social Rank – Interestingly, for female monkeys, social rank influenced interactions with toys, but this factor was unrelated to toy interactions in males.

Interpreting the Results

These findings challenge the notion that gendered toy preferences are solely a product of socialisation. The similarity in preferences between male rhesus monkeys and human boys suggests a biological component to these preferences. Perhaps these toys cater to inherent behavioural tendencies – active and explorative play in males and more varied, possibly nurturing play in females.

Broader Implications

The study extends beyond the realm of toy preferences, touching on broader issues of gendered behaviour and social influences. It raises compelling questions about how much of our behaviour is dictated by biology and how much is shaped by the society we grow up in.

Concluding Thoughts

This study opens doors to a more nuanced understanding of gendered behaviours and preferences. It suggests that while socialization is undoubtedly influential, our biological makeup also plays a crucial role in shaping our preferences and behaviours.

So, next time you ponder why certain toys appealed to you as a child, consider the complex interplay of biology and socialisation.

A more detailed outline of Hassett et al.´s study can be found here.

Hassett, J M, Siebert, E R and Wallen, K (2008), Sex differences in rhesus monkey toy preferences parallel those of children. Hormones and Behaviour, 54(3): 359–64

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