According to researchers from the University of Virginia and Rutgers University, children—including babies as young as 11 months old—prefer the company of animals to playing with toys. The study, which appears in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology, says that, when given the choice between playing with animals or attractive new toys, children spent more time with the animals—even those that many adults consider scary, such as spiders or snakes. Children also asked more questions and gestured more in the presence of animals, showing greater interest. Researchers say the results of the study suggest that children benefit from having companion animals in their lives. “Our research develops the idea that animals may be a good instrument for learning,” says Vanessa LoBue, who helped with the study.