What is it about?

Much research has shown that children's toys are highly stereotyped and they prefer stereotyped toys, but far less is known about how they make decisions about new toys they've never seen before (novel toys). Using such toys, this study explored whether nursery-aged children still 'use gender' to make predictions about each other as a form of 'stereotype construction', and what might influence such predictions. Nursery-attending 2- to 4-year-olds were shown photos of novel toys and asked if they and other children would like the toys. Very stereotyped familiar toys (like dolls and trucks) were also shown to measure the degree of their existing 'gender-typing'. Separately, sorting tasks (shapes/colours/patterns, people-drawings and photos) were used to measure their 'categorisation skills' (how accurately they used categories). Children's parents completed questionnaires on 'gender language' use (gender labels or names) and behavioural expectations (how differently they expected boys and girls to behave). Analysis showed that 'gender-centric reasoning' (what children like, they expect peers of their own gender but not peers of the other gender to also like) could be seen from around age 3 years, and boys were more likely to reason in this way. Children's age measured as number of months, categorization skills and their parents' gender behavioural expectations each directly contributed to how much children tended to use gender-centric reasoning. These findings are discussed with considerations of children's general social cognitive development, how parents socialise children about gender, how new stereotypes may start, and potential practical use of such research.

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Why is it important?

The research shows that: 1. From as early as the age of 3, children are capable of creating new gender stereotypes using toys they have never seen. 2. Boys are more likely to show this tendency to create new stereotypes. 3. Children's general skills and their parents' expectations about boys and girls' behaviour directly contribute to how much children show this kind of stereotype creation, which means opportunities for interventions based on factors that can be altered and controlled by families and other social institutions.


This study is reminiscent of the beginning, 20 years ago (Lam & Leman, 2003), of my research journey in this area of gender development, when I adapted a similar method to try with school-aged children. Such research reminds us how useful toys or play objects are for working with children, in this case even very young children.

Dr Virginia L Lam
University of Roehampton

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Gender‐based reasoning about novel toys: The role of child and parental factors, Infant and Child Development, April 2023, Wiley,
DOI: 10.1002/icd.2423.
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