We all know what play is, but if I asked you to define it, could you? Wikipedia defines it as “voluntary, intrinsically motivated activities normally associated with recreational pleasure and enjoyment.” So basically it’s stuff that we do for fun.
Recently, I stumbled onto a TED Talk by one Stuart Brown, titled Play is more than fun. In it, he describes an amazing account of a hungry polar bear change its mind from wanting to eat a husky to playing with it. At first, the polar bear is in a predatory state, but upon seeing the husky with its tail wagging, the polar changes into a more playful mood. Brown defines play as “a process of nature that’s within all of us,” would explain why I always cheer up when I see my dog wag her tail.
Play can be pretty important for our survival too. In an experiment done with two groups of rats, the group that contained rats who played naturally made smarter decisions compared to the group that contained rats who did not play. When introduced to a cat scent, both players hid, but the the non-players never came out of hiding, whereas the players explored the environment. In fact, abnormal brains have been observed in animals that have been play deprived.
Stuart Brown attributes human playfulness to neoteny. Neoteny means the retention of juvenile characteristics, and human beings are the most neotenus creature. I heard somewhere that humans spend the longest time of any animal growing up, which is good and bad; animals learn better in childhood, but are weaker and less independent. Neoteny explains human curiosity, which is the basis for play. It is important for adults, not only children, to participate in play, in its many aspects.
According to The National Institute for Play, founded by Stuart Brown, play has very many positive effects. It leads to better health, helps with learning, and maybe most importantly, makes life fun. I’m a naturally playful (though some friends say immature) person, and I’m relieved to learn that it has very positive benefits. As Discover Magazine says, “Finally a good excuse to goof off.”