Infants’ Preferences for Toys, Colors, and Shapes: Sex Differences and Similarities
Girls and boys differ in their preferences for toys such as dolls and trucks. These sex differences are present in infants, are seen in non-human primates, and relate, in part, to prenatal androgen exposure. This evidence of inborn influences on sex-typed toy preferences has led to suggestions that object features, such as the color or the shape of toys, may be of intrinsically different interest to males and females. We used a preferential looking task to examine preferences for different toys, colors, and shapes in 120 infants, ages 12, 18, or 24 months. Girls looked at dolls significantly more than boys did and boys looked at cars significantly more than girls did, irrespective of color, particularly when brightness was controlled. These outcomes did not vary with age. There were no significant sex differences in infants’ preferences for different colors or shapes. Instead, both girls and boys preferred reddish colors over blue and rounded over angular shapes. These findings augment prior evidence of sex-typed toy preferences in infants, but suggest that color and shape do not determine these sex differences. In fact, the direction of influence could be the opposite. Girls may learn to prefer pink, for instance, because the toys that they enjoy playing with are often colored pink. Regarding within sex differences, as opposed to differences between boys and girls, both boys and girls preferred dolls to cars at age 12-months. The preference of young boys for dolls over cars suggests that older boys’ avoidance of dolls may be acquired. Similarly, the sex similarities in infants’ preferences for colors and shapes suggest that any subsequent sex differences in these preferences may arise from socialization or cognitive gender development rather than inborn factors.