Play, at least from an evolutionary psychological perspective, isn’t always smiles and unicorns. Watch any group of children playing, and you’ll see them push the boundaries. Boys will typically escalate “rough-and-tumble” play until someone expresses pain. And while girls stereotypically are less physically aggressive, their play often involves psychological components, such as, teasing, gossip, and exclusionary clique-formation.
While adults typically intervene when boundaries get pushed during play, it’s important to understand that this is vital aspect of play. All mammals engage in this type of play, especially as juveniles. Watch two dogs playing, and the snarling and tugging will continue until one of them yelps. Similarly, a group of children will escalate rough-housing until someone says, “Hey, that hurt,” or a few tears are shed.
Typically, the play pauses at this point. The hurt and hurter both learn something about...
by Jonathan Peters, PhD
Chief Motivation Officer, Sententia Gamification
Science shows that the bigger your brain, the more you play and the more complex your play is—at least compared with other animals. From dogs to dolphins, the bigger the brain, the more likely you are to play.
Neuroscientists have hypothesized that the evolutionary roots of play lie in our need to deal with the social dynamics that come from a complex world with expanding social groups. As our brains grow, so do our interactions with our environment and culture.
Scientists assume that play programs the higher brain regions such as the neocortex. If this were true, then the desire for play must lie in more ancient regions of our brains. In fact, when the neocortex is removed from rats early in their lives, they play as much as any rat. But when lesions are cut in the thalamic somatosensory project areas of the brain (ancient parts of...
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