The Gender Divide

Genes may play a role in why boys like trucks and girls prefer pink.

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For years, experts believed the reason boys choose stereotypically male toys (think cars and construction equipment) while girls reach for traditionally feminine playthings (like dolls and anything pink) was that parents, peers and the media sent subtle, but clear, messages about which items each was expected to pick. But a new study suggests toy preferences may be rooted in biology far more than previously thought.

When British researchers offered babies as young as 9 months a choice of seven different toys, boys went for the car, dirt digger and soccer ball while totally ignoring two teddy bears, a doll and a cooking set. Girls, on the other hand, paid passing attention to the cooking set and teddy bears, and instead focused on the doll. As if that’s not enough evidence to suggest that nature trumps nurture, consider this: One study found that even among day-old babies, female infants gazed longer at videos of faces, while male newborns found videos of moving, mechanical parts more eye-catching.

What’s an equal opportunity parent to do? “Parents’ job when it comes to play is to follow and support children’s interests and passions,” says W. George Scarlett, Ph.D., an assistant professor of child development at Tufts University in Medford, Mass. Don’t worry about giving your daughter a dump truck, or your son a doll, if they aren’t interested. “Doing so can put a damper on play,” Scarlett says. No matter what toy a child chooses, by “feeding” a doll or “driving” a fire engine, he or she is gaining a better understanding of reality through play, an important developmental milestone.

Toys! Baby tested picks for playtime fun. Visit