RAZORED ZEN: <a href=http://charlesgramlich.blogspot.com/2012/11/a-strange-experiment.html>A Strange Experiment</a>

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A Strange Experiment


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.
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30 Comments:

At 11:04 AM, Blogger Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I also think it's because we just like to throw things!

 
At 12:10 PM, Blogger Deka Black said...

Same as Alex, being honest

 
At 1:04 PM, Blogger Charles Gramlich said...

Alex, yes, that is true.

Deka, and maybe one reason we men like to throw things is biological!

 
At 3:42 PM, Blogger Merisi said...

A pot is a nice thing to hit someone over the head with.
Just saying.

 
At 3:43 PM, Blogger Deka Black said...

Charles, if is one reason, then i have a wonderful excuse to play basketball with the laundry and the washing machine!

 
At 4:01 PM, Blogger Bernard Lee DeLeo said...

Some things in nature are undeniable. Good post.

 
At 5:39 PM, Blogger ivan said...

Golly!
It must be arrested development.

I am an hysterically young 74, and I still play with dolls.
(Signed "Will Bragg?")

 
At 5:41 PM, Blogger David J. West said...

My daughter used to cuddle toy trucks, but also barbies.

But the boys never cared for the barbies.

 
At 7:45 PM, Blogger Charles Gramlich said...

Merisi, tis true.

Deka, do you really need an excuse? :)

Bernard, thanks, man.

Ivan, yeah but your dolls are breathing.

David J., I loved wheeled things when I was a kid, and my son did too.

 
At 8:29 PM, Blogger Lisa said...

This is great expression of thoughts Charles. I enjoyed reading it, not just for the fascinating points but how you describe them. I wonder what I liked to play with when I was little, yes I liked to play cooking. And we made our own spoons and plates too, from pieces of wood, coconut shells and mussel shells.

 
At 8:35 PM, Blogger Cloudia said...

Brief and mind-opening, Charles.
You should seriously consider teaching. . .

Our commonality with animals will be the story of coming years. . .



Aloha !
Comfort Spiral

~ > < } } ( ° >

> < 3 3 3 ( ' >

 
At 8:43 PM, Blogger The Golden Eagle said...

It's fascinating what can be revealed about human behavior through studies done on other animals.

 
At 9:16 PM, Blogger Charles Gramlich said...

Lisa, as a kid I mostly played war games I will have to admit.

Cloudia, one of these days maybe I will. :)

Golden Eagle, I find the whole field of comparative psychology very fascinating. I developed a class in it.

 
At 8:01 AM, Blogger the walking man said...

I'm good with us turning our cultures into Matriarchal.

 
At 11:55 AM, Blogger Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Charles, could it be that humans developed certain traits from monkeys, such as boys playing with cars and girls with dolls? If humans originated from primates, then I guess we owe some of our behavioural traits to them as well.

 
At 1:13 PM, Blogger Charles Gramlich said...

Mark, as long as I get to be in charge. :)

Prashant, I'm sure that is the case. The trait that was inherited though is, I think, the tendency for males to respond more strongly to movement than females.

 
At 1:21 PM, Blogger jodi said...

Charles-I think male and female roles were established early in apes. It's human adaptability that mixes it up a little.

 
At 1:30 PM, Blogger Ron Scheer said...

It would be interesting to know what these monkeys "play with" in their natural environment. And how would you distinguish between what's "play" and what's not?

As someone who was normally an out-lier in most distribution curves, I'm always suspicious of what people do with the results of research like this. Or, for that matter, the researchers who design the experiments.

 
At 1:30 PM, Blogger Ron Scheer said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 3:44 PM, Blogger laughingwolf said...

never heard of pervert monkeys before... oh, wait.... :P

as for the pot; light it, inhale deep, hold in lungs a beat or three... :O

 
At 8:43 PM, Blogger Travis Cody said...

That's fascinating. Methinks I might need to read more science.

 
At 9:38 AM, Blogger Charles Gramlich said...

Jodi, certain roles, like those involving child rearing fall naturally to females in the mammal kingdom just because of the biology, but as humans have shown men can take on nurturing roles and women can do other things as well. There's a lot of variability across the genders in the animal kingdom too.

Ron, I think generally the researchers look at play behavior being those activities, especially in young animals, that do not directly involve food, sex, protection and other required survival behaviors. I'm not sure what you mean by "do" with the research. the comparative psychologists I know publish their results in journals and try to build on their findings. They don't make political policy. I don't know a single comparative psychologist who would use this kind of data to advocate a return to some kind of mythical "traditional" values, if that is what you are thinking about. In fact all the ones I know, and I myself fall on the edge of this field, are social liberals whose knowledge of animal behavior enhances their understanding of the wide variability in the animal and human behavioral world.

Laughingwolf, they have never heard of you either. :)

Travis Cody, just amazing stuff.

 
At 10:26 AM, Blogger pattinase (abbott) said...

I love this kind of research. Thanks for sharing it. I did a story about a research scientist and how her life reflected her research findings. It was tremendous fun. Actually it was the title story for MONKEY JUSTICE.

 
At 12:19 PM, Blogger laughingwolf said...

lol

 
At 1:08 PM, Blogger Charles Gramlich said...

Patti, I did one for Harmland called "The Grey Within," about a researcher reacting to getting his work stolen.

Laughingwolf, :)

 
At 4:55 PM, Blogger Oscar said...

Before WWII it was trucks/cars and guns. During WWII it was fighting the enemy anyway you could think of.

 
At 11:10 AM, Blogger Charles Gramlich said...

Oscar, I imagine so.

 
At 12:04 PM, Blogger Erik Donald France said...

Excellent. And fascinating.

 
At 12:02 AM, Blogger Ron Scheer said...

Charles, thanks for the long reply to my comment. I was asking about "play," because the word implies some sort of intention, and I'm not sure how you ascribe intention to animal behavior whose purpose is not as obvious as food, sex, and protection. Just curious; I don't have a point there.

The results of research are not just findings but interpretations of those findings. Even among scientists, there's an opportunity for bias in the interpretation, especially when the bias is built into the design of the study itself.

That's a bias of my own I guess, and feel free to talk me down from it.

 
At 4:53 AM, Blogger SaM-GiRL said...

Had a nice read :) thanks! lol @ laughingwolf!

 

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