What is the state of play?

My initial response to the question posed to me is that the state of play, as a scientific field, is actually pretty healthy. By this I mean that psychologists, biologists, ethologists, neuros-cientists, educators, sociologists, and others are realizing that play is an important, if not critical, aspect of life and an exciting and diverse research field. The increased interest in play over the last decade has been remarkable, and it is on this issue I will comment. On the other hand, the state of play in our children and others in our society is dearly not so promising, as other commentators in this forum have noted. Even the mass media are replete with stories on problems with the lack of recess in schools, reduction in free play, and over emphasis on organized sports and training camps for preteens. Nature-oriented summer camps and exploration of the outdoors are on the decline. Targeted ath-letic, computer, and academically focused summer activities are emphasized by parents who are worried about the future of their children in an uncertain economic world, along with health, accident, and widely publicized fears of violence when children are left on their own to have fun. Too many adults also, it seems, focus more on watching shows and sports rather than participating actively in their leisure time. Here, I will discuss areas of play research with which I am most familiar the origins, meaning, and diversity of play in organisms throughout the animal kingdom. Since the publication of my book on animal play (Burghardt, 2005), the study of play and related phenomena in a wide range of species has expanded greatly, and progress is being made in understanding the origins, mechanisms, evolution, development, and experience of play on many fronts (Burghardt, 20156). These findings should be of interest to those working on basic and applied aspects of play in people. Although the situation is changing, too often scientists working on basic aspects of animal play are unfamiliar with exciting research on play in humans and human play researchers are too anthropocentrically focused on humans. This is especially true of work on pretend, sociodramatic, artistic, creative, and educationally directed play. Too often the active, locomotor, rough and tumble, and highly physical play is ignored, if not suppressed (Pe/legrini & Smith, 1998). But these types of play are what nonhuman animal researchers often focus on, and which are helping to understand the biological workings of play and the adaptive function of play (Pellis & Pellis, 2009; Penis, Penis, Louise, & Henzi, 2014). Indeed, study-ing social play may be critical to understanding the dynamics and evolution of communi-cation (Palagi et al., 2016). But the role of play in creative and innovative behavior in animals is also receiving attention (Bateson & Martin, 2013; Burghardt, 2015a).

My initial response to the question posed to me is that the state of play, as a scientific field, is actually pretty healthy. By this I mean that psychologists, biologists, ethologists, neuros-cientists, educators, sociologists, and others are realizing that play is an important, if not critical, aspect of life and an exciting and diverse research field. The increased interest in play over the last decade has been remarkable, and it is on this issue I will comment. On the other hand, the state of play in our children and others in our society is dearly not so promising, as other commentators in this forum have noted. Even the mass media are replete with stories on problems with the lack of recess in schools, reduction in free play, and over emphasis on organized sports and training camps for preteens. Nature-oriented summer camps and exploration of the outdoors are on the decline. Targeted ath-letic, computer, and academically focused summer activities are emphasized by parents who are worried about the future of their children in an uncertain economic world, along with health, accident, and widely publicized fears of violence when children are left on their own to have fun. Too many adults also, it seems, focus more on watching shows and sports rather than participating actively in their leisure time. Here, I will discuss areas of play research with which I am most familiar the origins, meaning, and diversity of play in organisms throughout the animal kingdom. Since the publication of my book on animal play (Burghardt, 2005), the study of play and related phenomena in a wide range of species has expanded greatly, and progress is being made in understanding the origins, mechanisms, evolution, development, and experience of play on many fronts (Burghardt, 20156). These findings should be of interest to those working on basic and applied aspects of play in people. Although the situation is changing, too often scientists working on basic aspects of animal play are unfamiliar with exciting research on play in humans and human play researchers are too anthropocentrically focused on humans. This is especially true of work on pretend, sociodramatic, artistic, creative, and educationally directed play. Too often the active, locomotor, rough and tumble, and highly physical play is ignored, if not suppressed (Pe/legrini & Smith, 1998). But these types of play are what nonhuman animal researchers often focus on, and which are helping to understand the biological workings of play and the adaptive function of play (Pellis & Pellis, 2009; Penis, Penis, Louise, & Henzi, 2014). Indeed, study-ing social play may be critical to understanding the dynamics and evolution of communi-cation (Palagi et al., 2016). But the role of play in creative and innovative behavior in animals is also receiving attention (Bateson & Martin, 2013; Burghardt, 2015a).

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