60-Second Science

Young Female Chimps Cradle Stick-Toys like Dolls

Recent research finds that chimps tend to fall into the same gender-specific roles as human children do, even without any gender-specific tools. Karen Hopkin reports

Sticks and stones may break some bones…unless you’re a young female chimp. In that case, you’re more likely to cradle your stick like a dollie. That finding appears in the journal Current Biology.


If you have kids, you’ve no doubt noticed that, generally speaking, girls like to play with dolls while boys gravitate toward swords and trains. Study after study has shown this to be true. But is it instinct? Parental influence? Or the result of some sort of preschool peer-pressure? One way to find out is to look to the animal kingdom, where there are no gender-specific playthings. Earlier studies of monkeys in captivity have shown that, given a choice, females do prefer dolls whereas males will reach for a truck. But what about how the animals play in the wild?


Scientists studying chimps in a national park in Uganda have found that all the youngsters like to play with sticks. They poke them into holes and just carry them around. But the female chimps also seem to act out nurturing them, holding the sticks close and bringing them into their nests at naptime. Males prefer to use the sticks to whack each other. Sound familiar?


—Karen Hopkin


[The above text is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

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