Researchers claim to have identified differences between the sexes among very young children in their perception of where bedroom monsters, ghosts and other nasties live. Girls are likely to fear things from down below, principally 'under the bed', whereas boys tend to be afraid of the other nooks and crannies.
Richard Coss, professor of pyschology at the University of California at Davis, claims in New Scientist that the difference harks back to our evolutionary past when female hominids were supposedly more likely to sleep in trees and fear attack from predators below.
'Girls climb much more than boys in the playground and are injured far less, suggesting they are more agile,' he said yesterday. Adult women today can spread and point their toes more than men, indicating a historical affinity with climbing trees, Professor Coss suggested.
The fear of danger from below in young girls can even be seen later in life, he said. When adults watch a scary film women are more likely to pull their legs up off the ground.
Professor Coss found the childhood differences following interviews with about 200 children aged three and four. In a study of identical twins, he has identified a genetic basis of the differences.
Other scientists, however, expressed scepticism. Chris Stringer, an anthropologist at the Natural History Museum in London, said that although female hominids may have spent more time in trees, the theory 'seems rather far fetched'.