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Toy selection or toy preferences, the choosing of toys to play with reflects childhood play development

The relationship with gender[]

File:Tank toy radio.JPG

A toy tank with a remote control. Such toys are generally thought of as boys' toys.

Certain toys, such as Barbie dolls and toy soldiers, are often perceived as being more acceptable for one gender than the other. It has been noted by researchers that, "Children as young as 18 months display sex-stereotyped toy choices".[1]

However, when eye movement is tracked in young infants, infant girls even show a visual preference for a doll over a toy truck. Interestingly, the opposite is true for infant boys.[2] This shows that even before any self-awareness of gender identity has emerged, children already prefer sex-typical toys. These clear differences in toy choice are well established within the child by the age of three.[3]

Parents, siblings, peers, and even teachers have been shown to react more positively to children engaging in sex-typical behavior and playing with sex-typical toys.[4] Additionally, sons are more likely to be reinforced for sex-typical play and discouraged from atypical play.[4] However, it is generally not as looked down upon for females to play with toys designed "for boys", an activity which has also become more common in recent years.[5] Fathers are also more likely to reinforce typical play and discourage atypical play than mothers are.[6]

The relationship with disability[]

The effects of media advertising[]

Influences of androgens[]

Fetuses are exposed to prenatal androgens as early as 8 weeks into development. Male fetuses are exposed to much higher levels of androgens than female fetuses. It’s been found that toy preferences, as well as choice of play-mates, and play-styles vary with the child’s exposure to androgens. Regardless of the biological sex of the child, increased androgen exposure is associated with more masculine-type behaviours, while decreased androgen exposure is associated with more feminine-type behaviours.

Toy preference studies[]

File:Young Rhesus Macaque.jpg

Studies with young Rhesus Macaque suggests that some gender preferences are not due to human socialization processes

Toys for girls tend to be round and pink, while toys for boy tend to be angular and blue. The subtle characteristics of toys may differentially appeal to the developing brains of female and male children.[7] In a study of toy preferences of twelve- to 24-month-old infants, males spent more time looking at cars than females and females spent more time looking at dolls than males. No preference for color was found.[8][9] Animal studies have lent further support for biologically determined gendered toy preferences. In a study of juvenile rhesus monkeys, when given the option between plush or wheeled toys, female monkeys gravitated toward plush toys, while male monkeys preferred toys with wheels. These findings suggest that gendered preferences for toys can occur without the socialization processes that we find in humans.[10] Female rhesus monkeys also tend to engage in more nurturing play activities, while males tend to engage in more rough-and-tumble play.

Girls with congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) have atypically high blood concentrations of testosterone. In studies of toy preference, these girls show increased interest in male-typical toys, like trucks and balls. Overall, their play habits and preferences more closely resembled male-typical play than female-typical play. Even with children exposed a normal range of prenatal androgens, increased testosterone was associated with increased preference for male-typical toys, and decreased prenatal testosterone was associated with greater interest in female-typical toys.

Overall, the degree of androgen exposure during prenatal and postnatal development may bias males and females toward specific cognitive processes, which are further reinforced through processes of socialization. The male interest in balls and wheeled toys may relate to the androgenised brains preference for objects that move through space. The higher levels of androgens in the developing male brain could elicit greater attraction to cars and balls, while lower levels of androgens elicit a preference for dolls and nurturing activities in the female brain.[9]

Toy selection in animals[]

There is some evidence that animals can display similar sex based toy selection as humans.

See also[]


  1. Caldera, Yvonne M., Aletha C. Huston, Marion O'Brien (February 1989). Social Interactions and Play Patterns of Parents and Toddlers with Feminine, Masculine, and Neutral Toys. Child Development 60 (1): 70–76.
  2. Alexander, G. M., Wilcox, T., & Woods, R. (2009). Sex differences in infants' visual interest in toys. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 38, 427-433. doi: 10.1007/s10508-008-9430-1
  3. Alexander, G. M., & Saenz, J. (2012). Early androgens, activity levels and toy choices of children in the second year of life. Hormones and Behavior, 62, 500-504.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Servin, A., Bohlin, G., & Berlin, L. (1999). Sex differences in 1-, 3-, and 5-year olds' toy-choice in a structured play-session. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 40, 43-48.
  5. Toys for Girls and Boys - The Canadian Toy Testing Council accessed 27 May 2007 Template:Wayback
  6. Berenbaum, S. A., Martin, C. L., Hanish, L. D., Briggs, P. T., & Fabes, R. A. (2008). Sex differences in children’s play. In J. Becker, K. Berkley, N. Geary, E. Hampson , J.Herman, & Young, E.A. (Eds.), Sex Differences in the Brain from Genes to Behavior (1ed., pp. 275-290).New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  7. Jadva, V., et al. (2010). Infants' preferences for toys, colors and shapes. Arch. Sex. Behav. 39 (6): 1261–73.
  8. Alexander, G.M. (2003). An evolutionary perspective of sex-typed toy preferences: pink, blue, and the brain. Arch. Sex. Behav. 32 (1): 7–14.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Hines, M. (2010). Sex-related variation in human behavior and the brain. Trends in Neurosciences 14 (10): 448.
  10. Hassett, Janice M., Siebert, Erin R., Wallen, Kim. (2008). Differences in Rhesus Monkey Toy Preferences Parallel those of Children. Hormones and Behavior 54 (3): 359–64.

Further reading[]

Key texts[]


  • Goldstein, J. H. (1992). Sex differences in aggressive play and toy preference. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
  • Hartmann, W., & Brougere, G. (2004). Toy Culture in Preschool Education and Children's Toy Preferences. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.
  • Lederman, E. (1986). Developmental toys and equipment: A practical guide to selection and utilization. Springfield, IL, England: Charles C Thomas, Publisher.


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Additional material[]


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  • Roberts, G. C., & Black, K. N. (1973). The effect of naming and object permanence on toy preferences. Oxford, England: Alfred A Knopf.


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