Mothers Shown to Be More Concerned When Boys Play With Girls’ Toys Than When Girls Play With Boys’ Toys

A new study led by Joyce J. Endendijk, an assistant professor of social and behavioral sciences at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, examines mothers’ neural responses when viewing children playing with toys

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, the researchers measured brain activity of mothers who were viewing children ages 2 to 6 playing with their favorite toys. They found that brain regions involved in mentalizing or storage of social knowledge, understanding goal-directed behavior, behavioral control, and conflict monitoring were activated when viewing child targets that violated gender expectations. This was particularly true when mothers viewed boys playing with toys traditionally thought of as toys for girls.

Dr. Endendijk told PsyPost, a website reporting on research in psychology and neuroscience, that “parents expect boys to be more athletic and interested in sports than girls. They also expect girls to do less well in mathematics than boys. Further, they expect boys to be interested in masculine-typed toys and activities such as cars, tools, and football, and girls to be interested in feminine-typed toys and activities such as dolls, toy kitchens, and playing hopscotch. As a consequence of these expectations, people respond negatively to boys and girls violating these expectations.”

The full study, “Boys’ Toys, Girls’ Toys: An fMRI Study of Mothers’ Neural Responses to Children Violating Gender Expectations,” was published in the journal Biological Psychology. It may be accessed here.

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