Chimpanzee girls--oblivious to gender stereotypes--play with dolls, study finds

The crappiest dolls you've ever seen

Mothers, don’t blame yourself if your daughter likes girly toys. That’s the gist of a new study from Current Biology by Sonya M. Kahlenberg and Richard W. Wrangham. The researchers charted stick use in chimps for 14 years in the Kanyawara chimpanzee community in Kibale National Park, Uganda.

Young chimps, mostly girls, carried sticks around like babies, sometimes for four hours at a time. One boy chimp even made a separate nest for his stick doll. When they have real offspring, they stop playing with the stick dolls. So how do the young learn–if not from their mothers? From other youngsters.

They conclude: “differences in stick-carrying are related to a greater female interest in infant care, with stick-carrying being a form of play-mothering (i.e. carrying sticks like mother chimpanzees carrying infants). …Unlike other types of stick use, carried sticks were regularly taken into day-nests (on at least 25 occasions; six females, two males) where individuals rested and were sometimes seen to play casually with the stick in a manner that evoked maternal play.”

Not that chimps everywhere want twig dolls. Because “regular stick-carrying has not been reported outside Kanyawara, a social learning component appears important.”

Yet another study was previously done on potential primate toy preference by gender. Janice M. Hassett, Erin R. Siebert, and Kim Wallen found in 2008 that if you give chimps gender stereotypical toys, they’ll play right along. They gave 34 rhesus monkeys old-fashioned, gender-biased toys. The females like the plush toys; the males went for the trucks. So relax, Mom, you’re probably not messing up your kids with your toy selection.

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