Smith, Peter K. (ed)
Play in Animals and Humans.
Basil Blackwell, Inc; Oxford, England, 1984
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From the Cover   Contents
This book is about play behaviour: what it is, what it is for, how we describe and study it, how it evolved.... The last 10 years or so have seen a great burgeoning of interest in these questions among both psychologists and zoologists. This book draws together work on both animals and children to show what has been achieved. It illustrates how much of this research coheres around the theme of development: play seen from the perspective of the evolutionary development of a species and play seen as a crucial aspect of individual development.... Combining general theoretical accounts of play behaviour with detailed discussion of research on particular species (including kittens, monkeys and rodents), Peter K. Smith sets out to inter-relate this work on animal behaviour with psychological research on human play, among young children, those of school age and adults. The topics covered include fantasy play, imaginary companions, object play, problem solving, rough and tumble play and children's games.
Contents  top

Editor's preface.

Part 1: Evolutionary origins of play

Part 2: The study of play in mammals Part 3: Reflections on animal and human play Part 4: The study of children's play Part 5: Varied perspectives on play and games in humans Notes on contributors.

Chapter Abstracts

Burghardt, Gordon M. On the origins of play. Smith (1984), p. 5-41.

Abstract: Was the origin of play behaviour connected with the evolution of endothermy, and the benefits and costs of vigorous exercise? Burghardt considers the use of the concepts of 'energy' and 'surplus', and he makes a strong case for their relevance in considering the apparently discontinuous origin of play between the reptiles and early mammals; young reptiles may channel extra food or energy into growth; whereas young birds or mammals may channel it into fat, and perhaps into 'behavioural fat', i.e. energy-consuming activities such as play. Burghardt speculates that the play of early mammals would be based on behaviours essential to their reptilian ancestors. Energy and surplus resources are ctitical concepts in play theory that merit attention; play originated from boredom and deteriorated behaviour.

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Byers, John A. Play in ungulates. Smith (1984), p. 43-65.

Abstract: Byers suggests that research concerning the functions of play will make the best progress when it attempts to trace descent with modification, in an effort to support the following hypothesis: play originally appeared in the mammals as a form of motor training, and in many modern species still retains this function. In some taxa, play too has become specialized, in response to new selection pressures associated with morphological or behavioural specializations, and now genuinely has multiple functions. He argues that motor training is the most plausible ancestral function of play and that, with the morphological and behavioural specializations that accompanied the mammalian radiations, play probably became modified to the extent that it now has new and different functions in some groups; the ungulates show such a progression... distribution of play motor patterns across families suggests that locomotor-rotational play, which mimics flight, appeared first and was followed by social play, which mimics adult agonistic competition.

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Martin, Paul. The (four) whys and wherefores of play in cats: A review of functional, evolutionary, developmental and causal issues. Smith (1984), p. 71-94.

Abstract: 4 different sorts of questions that can be asked about a behaviour pattern: 'what is it for?' (function); 'how did it evolve?' (evolution); 'how did it arise during the ontogeny of the individual?' (ontogeny or development); and 'what are the proximate factors eliciting and controlling it?' (proximate causation or control); this review will comment separately on the play of cats in relation to these 4 questions... 2 complementary styles in the study of animal play: the structuralist approach, which emphasizes the form and temporal patterning of the motor acts used in play; and the functionalist approach, which stresses the biological consequences of play; differentiating between these is particularly useful when discussing definitions of play.

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Hole, Graham J. and Dorothy F. Einon. Play in rodents. Smith (1984), p. 95-117.

Abstract: reports of animal 'play' fall into at least 3 general categories: first, play with objects; secondly, locomotor play; and, lastly, social play; of these 3, only the latter 2 are unequivocally known to occur in rodents; accounts of object play in rodents concern behaviours which most researchers would call'exploration'... consider a number of rodent behaviours which have at some time been claimed to be 'playful', and assess the evidence for these claims.

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Chalmers, Neil. Social play in monkeys: Theories and data. Smith (1984), p. 119-141.

Abstract: Chalmers discusses the relationship between theory and data, taking examples from the literature on monkey social play, since it illustrates many of the problems that currently exist in the field of play research. He argues that the major problem in the field of play at present is neither a lack of theory nor a lack of data, but a mismatch between the two. The chapter is divided into four main sections, dealing respectively with (1) definitions and descriptions of monkey social play; (2) the proximate causes of social play; (3) the ontogeny of social play; (4) the functions of social play.

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Muller-Schwarze, Dietland. Analysis of play behaviour: What do we measure and when? Smith (1984), p. 147-158.

Abstract: reviews and highlights many of the problematic issues in the study of animal play; reinforces the suggestion (P. Martin, 1984) that some of the benefits of play may be immediate; conclude ...that juvenile behaviour such as play should not be considered as just a means of achieving the goal of adult behaviour; there may well be a trade-off between immediate, short-term, and long-term benefits; illustrates the difficulties of comparative studies and of assessing the costs and benefits of play. urge the search for potential early benefits of animal play; have to decide what aspects of play to measure; generalizations are difficult or impossible at present; different studies of the same or related species have recorded different behaviours at different ages of the animals, and under varying degrees of confinement... as an example of the use of natural history data, a preliminary comparison of 3 species of deer tries to relate play to the social organization, reproductive strategy and ecology of each species; role of experiments on play is also briefly considered.

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Fagen, Robert. Play and behavioural flexibility. Smith (1984), p. 159-173.

Abstract: attempts to show how social play might foster behavioural flexibility, especially as the individual develops in an interactive way with the environment; the extension to human play is suggestive and at times made explicit... develops recent theories on the evolutionary stability of cooperative encounters in animals to suggest certain constraints on social play; it should be most complex and cooperative in group-living species where juveniles stay together and repeated encounters are likely; argues that social play may well be the best way that a young animal has to develop flexible spatial skills vis-a-vis a changing environment... emphasizes that the interaction between individual and environment is a mutually interactive, or dialectic, one; the distinction between social play and physical or object play is thus lessened.

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Wolf, Dennis Palmer. Repertoire, style and format: Notions worth borrowing from children's play. Smith (1984), p. 175-193.

Abstract: interaction between individual and environment, and the way in which this may enhance flexibility, are part of the theme of this chapter, based on the development of symbolic play in children... (discusses) 2 ways in which human play may be generally different from animal play; one is that much human play is symbolic; it is consciously symbolic (the child knows that he or she is in pretend play) and thus is different from the presumably unconscious symbolism that may be involved in animal social play (Fagen) or the metacommunicative use of play signals; the other is that human play is culturally transmitted, varying in different societies; however, given what we are learning about traditions in animals ...and about intra-species variation in play behaviour ..., there may well turn out to be less of a discontinuity in this latter respect than presently appears... Wolf delineates 3 types of variety in children's play; 'repertoire' refers to different types or modes of play (such as object, motor, fantasy) which are species-typical; 'style' refers to individual variation in choice of play modes; 'format' refers to intra-individual variations in the detailed form of play and how it is structured in relation to goal-directed activity; Wolf suggests that these may be useful concepts to take from human play back to animal play.

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Smith, Peter K. and Tony Simon. Object play, problem-solving and creativity in children. Smith (1984), p. 199-216.

Abstract: discusses research on object play in young children; review (11) tightly controlled experimental studies which have tried to connect play experience with objects to later problem-solving or creativity. after presenting the details of 11 relevant studies we will consider how strongly various methodological reservations apply, discuss whether any consensus in findings is emerging and conclude with suggestions as to how future progress might be made; the 11 studies chosen all share the same common feature that some children are given a form of play opportunity with objects while others are given some non-play experience(s); the effects of these experimental manipulations on subsequent problem-solving or divergent thinking are then compared... consider 3 aspects of experimental design in relation to the findings: (1) the nature of the independent variables; (2) the nature of the dependent variables; and (3) the possibilities of experimenter bias.

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Partington, John T. and Catherine Grant. Imaginary playmates and other useful fantasies. Smith (1984), p. 217-240.

Abstract: discuss the significance of the imaginary playmate fantasy within the context of other fantasies, social behaviours, general development, and coping throughout life; our concern about this topic is paralleled by changing interests toward fantasy among educators and psychologists... our review will attempt to answer the following questions; what is the imaginary playmate fantasy; who engages in such a fantasy; when does the fantasy occur; where does the fantasy fit within the actor's behavioural and imaginal repertoire; why is the fantasy important, both to the individual, and to those of us interested in human experience, adjustment, and actualization... the imaginary playmate fantasy occurs frequently among young children; for emotionally disadvantaged children this fantasy provides a buffer against the terror of disintegration; for normal children in non-threatening situations, the fantasy appears to facilitate social development by making possible the practice of play frame negotiation. reviews one aspect of children's fantasy play: the imaginary companion phenomenon; most of the information here is based on interviews with children and parents, and the analyses are usually correlational or employing multivariate statistics.

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Humphreys, Anne P. and Peter K. Smith. Rough-and-tumble in preschool and playground. Smith (1984), p. 241-266.

Abstract: rough-and-tumble play in human children is a characteristic play mode but, the authors argue, it has not received the psychological attention given to object and fantasy play; although direct references to animal play are few, much of the methodology runs parallel to animal research: describing the forms of the behaviour and it's distinction from real fighting; the causes of the sex differences; and considering the functional significance of the behaviour in terms of why the predisposition to enjoy this play mode was selected for; the provisional functional hypothesis reached by Humphreys and Smith (that rough-and-tumble originally functioned as practice for fighting and hunting skills), even if correct, does not of course mean that it still functions in this way, or that other effects of this form of play may not now be culturally of greater importance... (the authors) supplemented their observational study with sociometric interviews with the children, to gather data on partner choice. 5 main issues are considered in this chapter: what do the terms 'play-fighting' or 'rough-and-tumble' play include; how do these forms of play change with age; how distinct are play-fighting and serious aggression; why are there sex differences in play-fighting; what is the developmental significance of rough-and-tumble play.

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Parker, Sue Taylor. Playing for keeps: An evolutionary perspective on human games. Smith (1984), p. 271-293.

Abstract: applies concepts from evolutionary biology and Piagetian theory to examine the structure and content of human games, and to explain sex differences which are characteristically found; provides an ambitious framework for categorizing both the structure and content of human games, from infancy to adulthood; structural analysis is based on Piagetian theory, assuming that the development of logical thinking ability will be paralleled by the development of game structure and complexity; content analysis covers social and object contingency games, make-believe games, agonistic exercise games, and games with rules... argues that most or all play and games incorporate play attack or fear, and rul-mediated competition; and that they practise skills, including competitive skills, for later use; leads her to hypothesize that sex differences in the frequency and complexity of (in particular) agonistic exercise games, and games with rules, are products of sexual selection, as preparation for male-male competition; ends with predictions about the types of games likely to occur in different societies.

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Lancy, David F. Play in anthropological perspective. Smith (1984), p. 295-303.

Abstract: utilizes a cognitive approach (to predict the types of games likely to occur in different societies); using anthropological data gathered on 10 traditional societies in Papua New Guinea, he correlates game complexity with cognitive test scores and an index of societal complexity... concludes that play groups in small tribal societies may not facilitate the maximum expression of game complexity (due to the limited number of children who can play together).

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Sutton-Smith, Brian and Diana Kelly-Byrne. The idealization of play. Smith (1984), p. 305-321.

Abstract: develop the importance of cultural ideas in a different sense; how they have affected the attitudes to play and games of both academics and the public generally; argue that over the last century, factors such as the work ethic, the social status value of team games, the toy industry, and also academic play theories, have tended to idealize play as being voluntary, of positive affect, egalitarian, flexible and functional; they argue that these characteristics are not necessary for play; they describe how a good deal of playground activity involves struggles for power, attack and defence, chase and escape... (the authors) are sceptical about the functional view of play as practice for adult activities; they argue rather for an autonomous world of childhood, in which play can threaten conventions and express subjective worlds not permitted by adults.

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