Have you ever stopped and wondered if you're the reason why your little girl likes dolls so much, or why your son is obsessed with trucks? Is it because they simply are drawn to those toys, or is it because they have limited access to other toys that aren't stereotypical toys for their gender? A new study released in the September edition of the publication Sex Roles suggests that parents may have more to do with reinforcing traditional gender roles in the home by the toys they buy their children or the toys they encourage them to play with than they realize.
The study, authored by Josh L. Boe and Rebecca J. Woods suggests that parents are the first people to introduce gender socialization to children at a young age, partially by the toys they buy their children to play with. The authors studied 51 infants and 60 toddlers along with their parents to see how their parents influenced their play time and how gender socialization affects them.
The study found that infants at the age of 5 months had no preference towards dolls or trucks as toys, regardless of their gender. However, at 12 months the boys preferred to play with trucks while the girls showed no preference between the two.
“Right from the time a parent finds out the sex of their infant, they begin treating the child differently depending on the sex," Woods told Psy Post. "Because playing with dolls promotes nurturing behaviors, I wanted to know if females’ preferences for dolls and males’ preference for other toys is driven primarily by biological predispositions or by parents.”
The researchers found that the toys made available to the children affected their preferences over the long term. If a household with young sons doesn't have any dolls for them to play with their, it seems that their preference will be to play with the toys they're used to having in their home. Often time those toys are stereotypically "boy toys" like trucks and cars.
“The toys that they played with in the home (i.e., the toys that they had been exposed to for some time) predicted their preferences. Since parents choose the toys in the home, parents may be able to influence infants’ toy preferences over time through simple exposure to toys,” Woods said.
“There is a good deal of debate about how differences in behavior between men and women come to be. On the one hand, there are physiological differences that can influence behavior and on the other hand, we can be socialized to behave in a particular way,” Woods added.