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Strongly gender-typed toys appear to be less supportive of optimal development than neutral or moderately gender-typed toys

Judith Elaine Blakemore is professor of psychology and associate dean of Arts and Sciences for Faculty Development at Indiana University−Purdue University in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Her primary research interest is the development of gender roles. We also spoke to Jeffrey Trawick-Smith, professor at Eastern Connecticut State University in Willimantic, Connecticut, about the impact of specific toys on play.

Professor Blakemore: We identified more than 100 toys and classified them to indicate how much each toy was associated with boys, girls, or neither.

In general the toys most associated with boys were related to fighting or aggression (wrestlers, soldiers, guns, etc.), and the toys most associated with girls were related to appearance (Barbie dolls and accessories, ballerina costumes, makeup, jewelry, etc.).

We then divided the toys into six categories, based on these ratings: (1) strongly feminine, (2) moderately feminine, (3) neutral, (5) moderately masculine, and (6) strongly masculine. Toys were then rated according to their characteristics, such as able to be manipulated, exciting, educational, aggressive, musical, etc.

We found that girls’ toys were associated with physical attractiveness, nurturing, and domestic skill, whereas boys’ toys were rated as violent, competitive, exciting, and somewhat dangerous. The toys rated as most likely to be educational and to develop children’s physical, cognitive, artistic, and other skills were typically categorized as neutral or moderately masculine. We concluded that strongly gender-typed toys appear to be less supportive of optimal development than neutral or moderately gender-typed toys.

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