When toys are marketed to kids and babies, people will typically think cars and trucks are for boys and dolls are for girls.
Josh Boe, graduate student, and Rebecca Woods, associate professor, both of North Dakota State, wanted to dig deeper into this connection society seems to have made.
The experiment was designed to research the toy preferences of babies under the age of 18 months. After that, there’s data that children do have a preference of toys.
The study looked at whether the toys parents pushed on the babies really made an impact in their preference of toys — the age-old nature versus nurture debate. The researchers asked themselves, do they gain preferences from socialization, or do they have an ingrained preference?
First, a base test was conducted that measured normal preferences. Since some of the infant participants were too young to physically reach for a toy, this was monitored by observing which toy the baby looked at. For the infants old enough to reach for things, it was simply reaching for one toy of the other.
Next, the research team looked at the parental influences over the toys. They allowed the parents to play with their children for a few minutes, encouraging some toys, either dolls or trucks, and discouraging the other type of toy in the study.
The parents didn’t seem to change the child’s mind, no matter how much they discouraged their child from choosing one type of toy over the other.
To monitor the infants’ preference, they also conducted a toy inventory before conducting the test. This means a parent would fill out a sheet saying how many of a type of toy a child had at home and an estimation of how long the child played with a type of toy throughout the week. They used this data to see if they could predict a result.
Boe and Woods found that parents can influence the infant’s toy preference but not overtly. They can’t verbally discourage a toy, but by buying more of one type of toy, or perhaps simply a more engaging doll than truck, a child can develop a preference over time.
Something they didn’t expect to find was that female babies seemed to have just as many trucks at home as they did dolls, however, the male babies tended to have markably less dolls than trucks.
For the next phase of this research, Boe and Woods wish to increase the play time allotted within the experiment setting, move play time from a table to the floor, allow parents to take a certain type of toy home for a week and observe long term impact and add in non-gendered toys.