How long should girls play with dolls?

Girls prefer to play with dolls - but why?

College Station (USA) - In the second year of life, boys begin to prefer to play with cars, while girls are more likely to choose dolls. So far, one possible explanation for this was that boys prefer more physically active games and therefore choose a suitable toy. New results from a study with one and a half year old children now contradict this theory. Children of both sexes showed the same amount of movement when playing with typical girls 'or boys' toys. The testosterone level in earlier development phases does not explain the different preferences either: Male sex hormones to which a child is exposed in the womb have an influence on the later urge to move around while playing, but not on the choice of toys, report the American researchers in the journal "Hormones and Behavior ".

"Factors other than physical activity must be responsible for developing a sex-dependent preference for toys early on," write Gerianne Alexander and Janet Saenz of Texas A&M University in College Station. The psychologists observed the play behavior of 47 boys and 37 girls at the age of 19 months. A motion sensor attached to the ankle - similar to a wristwatch - was used to measure the physical activity of a child during an eight-minute game phase. To do this, it was placed in a circle of different toys that were freely available: blocks, cars and tools as typical boys' toys, baby dolls, combs, plates and cups as typical toys for girls, as well as gender-neutral books, puzzles and stuffed animals.

In order to investigate the possible influence of hormones on gaming behavior, the testosterone level in the saliva of every child was measured at the age of 3-4 months. In addition, the researchers determined the length ratio of the index and ring fingers. This value provides information about the level of male sex hormones to which a child was exposed during pregnancy: the smaller the ratio, the higher the prenatal hormone level.

The girls chose toys that were typical for girls with a strong preference, while the boys' preference for toys that were typical for boys was less pronounced. The hormone levels in the saliva samples were not related to gaming behavior. But a small value for the ratio of the finger lengths - that is, a high testosterone level in the womb - was associated with more physical activity when playing. Overall, however, the extent of movement was just as great when playing with cars or tools as when playing with dolls. These results therefore contradict the simple connection that a high testosterone level leads to an increased urge to move, which then leads to the choice of boys' toys. According to the authors, new studies would have to clarify whether the findings can be transferred to children of other age groups or not. The question of a biological cause for the sex-dependent choice of toys remains unanswered for the time being.

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