Stuffed animals have been around for centuries, and have served as toys for children since the moment humankind learned how to make them. Traditionally, they are viewed as a comfort zone for younger people, though they have developed a respectably large cult following among older generations as well.
What purpose do stuffed animals serve, however? Why do parents buy plushies for their children? And what is the basis for the child’s attraction toward stuffed companions? The answers are deeper and more scientific than most people think.
First of all, babies associate a number of traits with safety: the embrace of a parent, the softness of another human being’s skin, and the face of someone protecting them among others. These stimuli have been proven to raise levels of oxytocin in the brain. This hormone, often referred to as the love drug, is responsible for feelings of intimacy, trust, and attachment. Research suggests that hugging an animal – even a plush toy – also raises levels of oxytocin in the brain, possibly because the act of hugging a stuffed animal is shares several similarities with hugging a parent. Most stuffed animals have a face. Most are soft. The most basic interaction a baby can do with a stuffed animal is hugging it. These are often viewed as reasons children develop attachments toward stuffed animals, and are used to explain the sense of security they have around their plush toys. By feeling more secure around something other than the parent, the child is better taught how to handle separation anxiety.
Second, because babies are not as capable as the rest of the world in communicating their wants, needs, and thoughts with adults, they play with a stuffed animal to help deal with the frustration. When a baby grows old enough to understand, but not reply with adequate clarity, he/she experiences frustration with the difficulty of communication. Stuffed animals however, do not argue back at the child. They do not say no, or give orders the child doesn’t want. To a child, stuffed animals are always agreeable company. In addition to that fact, social interaction with stuffed animals gradually develops the child’s ability to communicate with others faster than would be possible without it.
Stuffed animals are also linked to the child’s creativity. When children role-play with their toys, their brains creates a simulation of the environment in which activity takes place. This exercises the child’s ability to think outside the box, and reinforces his/her ability to come up with ideas, problems, and solutions; a rabbit protecting a playhouse from dinosaurs? Why not?
The interaction between children and stuffed animals has in fact, become so deep, many companies keep such concepts as those mentioned above in mind when making new models of stuffed toys for children. Some modern versions of stuffed animals are designed and made specifically to amplify such positive traits babies find in plush companions; some light up or grow warmer when hugged. Some play music. Some are even programmed to have limited vocal interaction.
So whether it is a newer model that can actually talk with the child, or a classic cotton-filled brown bear, stuffed animals are here to stay for quite a while. While some people may see them as mere luxury items for child care, they do have significant importance with regards to the child’s well being and development. Remember: despite the fickle world we live in, the concept of the stuffed animal has barely changed since its early beginnings. That should tell you something.