Hunter-Nurturer Fixations


A tendency for male children to be interested in hunting-related objects and activities and female children to be interested in nurturing-related objects and activities.

There are a number of innate cognitive-behavioral differences between males and females, one of which is early childhood play preferences. Male children tend to engage in play activities that emulate hunting-related behaviors, whereas female children tend to engage in play activities that emulate nurturing-related behaviors. Although such preferences were long thought to be primarily a function of social and environmental factors, research increasingly favors a more biologically based explanation. For example, that male children tend to prefer stereotypically male toys (e.g., cars) and females tend to prefer stereotypically female toys (e.g., dolls) has long been established. However, in studies where male and female vervet monkeys are presented with the same human toys, the male vervets prefer to play with the male toys and the female vervets prefer to play with the female toys. This suggests a deeply rooted, biologically based gender bias for certain play behaviors. id="footnote122a"> class="nounder totri-footnote" href="">1

Like play behaviors in other animals, these early childhood fixations likely had adaptive significance in preparing our hunter-gatherer ancestors for survival: male children for hunting and female children for child rearing. Though these fixations are essentially vestigial in modern society, they continue to influence our preferences and behaviors from early childhood through adolescence.

Hunter fixation is characterized by activities involving:

• Object movement and location

• Weapons and tools

• Hunting and fighting

• Predators

• Physical play

Nurturer fixation is characterized by activities involving:

• Form and colors

• Facial expressions and interpersonal skills

• Nurturing and caretaking

• Babies

• Verbal play

Consider hunter-nurturer fixations in the design of objects and environments for children. When targeting male children incorporate elements that involve object movement and tracking, angular forms, predators, and physical play. When targeting female children incorporate elements that involve aesthetics and color, round forms, babies, and tasks requiring interpersonal interaction.

See also Archetypes, Baby-Face Bias, Contour Bias, and Threat Detection.

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When vervets are presented with human toys, female vervets prefer stereotypically female toys and male vervets prefer stereotypically male toys. This suggests a biological basis for gender-based play preferences in primates — including humans.

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The Pleo moves slowly and lacks the predatory or angular features that appeal to male children — better to have made it a velociraptor. Its baby face will appeal to female children, but its reptilian semblance, rubber skin, and rigid innards do not invite nurturing — better to have made it a soft, furry mammal. Despite its technical sophistication, Pleo lacked the basic elements necessary to trigger hunter or nurturer fixations in children, a likely factor to the demise of its manufacturer, Ugobe.