In 2002, researchers Alexander and Hines, found that young male vervet monkeys preferentially preferred to play with a car and a ball while young female vervets preferred to play with a doll and a pot. It is well known that human children show gender differences in toy preferences but many researchers thought this was primarily a function of early socialization. If male and female monkeys show the same preference, however, then we have to give biology another look. What could possibly account for the differences in toy preferences among vervet monkeys?
The difference is likely to be in the “nature” of the toys rather than what they represent in human society. Cars and balls are essentially moving and movable objects. Toy cars have wheels that allow them to be pushed. Balls fit the hand nicely for throwing. From day one, young male humans show a greater preference for moving objects than females do.
On the other hand, dolls represent figures that evoke a connection with other living beings. From day one, young female humans show a preference for faces over moving objects. And young girls show a greater affinity for babies than young boys do. According to this thinking, the doll represents the possibility of “nurturing” behavior to the young vervet females. I have no idea what the “pot” represents in this situation, although perhaps it represents a nest-like “place” to put the doll.
We humans are different from each other in myriad ways. Some of these ways are biologically and genetically based, but that doesn’t mean they are “correct” in any grand scheme of things. Nor does it mean they are “invariable.” The wonderful thing about nature is its diversity, and in humans we see the same kind of variability. It is a thing to be celebrated, not bemoaned. I am fascinated by the opening up of my thoughts after reading about the vervet monkey study. To paraphrase a much wiser fellow, there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, or mine.