Spice dolls dumb down girl power

Parents all over the land can relax - the official advice is don't buy your daughter a Spice Girl doll for Christmas.

New research has shown that giving dolls and fluffy toys to little girls will condition them into thinking they are only fit for a stereotypical female role when they grow up.

A study at East Anglia University discovered that some of Britain's most successful women had their careers shaped by the toys they played with as children.

At the age of four Carol Vorderman, the mathematical wizard and presenter on Countdown, had a Spirograph. She said that both the graphic design toy and a chess set she bought for sixpence at a jumble sale had a major influence on her choice of career.

Dr Jacqueline Mitton, of the Royal Astronomical Society, made model buildings with rubber bricks at the age of seven and developed an early passion for reading books on astronomy.

"When I was in my infants school aged about six, toys put out in the afternoons were split into different toys for girls and boys," she said.

"Girls could not play with the construction toys like Meccano and Minibrix, which were given to the boys.

"The sense of jealousy and indignation that fired is one of my strongest recollections of that early time in my life."

Marie-Noelle Barton, manager of Women Into Science and Engineering, part of the Engineering Council, which commissioned the study, said there was nothing inherently wrong with buying dolls for little girls but parents should also consider scientific and constructional toys.

While toys like Spice Girl dolls may be popular, they did nothing to develop intellectual or technical ability, she added.

The research showed girls often suffered from being conditioned at a young age to consider that certain toys - and therefore certain activities - are meant only for girls and others only for boys.