Vanessa LoBue of Rutgers, State University of New Jersey, and colleagues at the University of Virginia conducted a series of experiments with children ages 11 months to 3 years, involving live animals and toys, the Daily Telegraph reported.
The children were presented with a live hamster in a cage and a fish in a tank, along with 14 small toys including a police car, a doll and blocks. They were observed with their parent in the room.
The children were later given four of the most popular toys -- the doll, airplane, fire engine and ball -- alongside four animals, the hamster and fish with a Tarantula and a California Mountain King snake. The animals were all enclosed so the children could not touch them.
The findings, published in the Journal of Developmental Psychology, found children prefer snakes and spiders to a group of highly attractive toys.
"However, the snake and spider were in cages, creating a safe environment for the child, and the parent to interact," LoBue said in a statement. "If they were presented with a snake or spider in their back yards, they may not have reacted with such interest."
The fact that children find animals so appealing suggested children might benefit from having a pet in their lives, the researchers concluded.
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