38 shades of play: Commencing a digital event on the science of a diverse and pervasive behavior

We all know what it means to play. We play badminton, we play with others, we are playfully exploring an environment…. Come to think of it, there is so much to playing, what does it mean to play?

According to the Oxford English dictionary, the verb “play” has 7 different meanings, ranging from “Engaging in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose” to “Allowing (a fish) to exhaust itself pulling against a line before reeling it in.” Many of those 7 different meanings, in turn, come either with or without an object, and if they come without an object they can still be adverbial. Altogether, Oxford provides 28 definitional examples for the verb “play”, plus another 10 for the noun “play”. In case you forgot, the noun applies to light (“the artist exploits the play of light across the surface”), markets (“our policy allows the market to have freer play”), and personal ruin (“a young nobleman, ruined by play”).

On top of that, consider the fact that play is not limited to humans. Animals play, too. Sometimes on their own, and sometimes because humans put them on skis or on surfboards, as you can see here:

Clearly, play is a fundamental and pervasive behaviour of living organisms. No wonder that Carl Jung opined that “The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct.”

Our next digital event, which commences Monday 15 January, is therefore dedicated to the scientific examination of play in all its forms.

The digital event coincides with the publication of a special issue of Learning & Behavior dedicated to The Evolutionary and Psychological Significance of Play. The issue was guest edited by Alex De Voogt (American Museum of Natural History) and Lance Miller (Chicago Zoological Society). The articles in this issue will remain free to access by the public for a month. Here are the titles of the articles and their first authors. They can be accessed from this landing page:

Beginning on Monday, 15 January, we will be discussing some of those articles here in our next digital event. The following posts, listed in the likely order of their publication, will contribute to the event:

  • Alex De Voogt and Lance Miller will provide an overview of the articles in the special issue.
  • Cindy Dell Clark will bring to bear her anthropological expertise on the morality aspect of play (New Jersey style).
  • Marek Špinka will ask what keeps the concept of “play” connected together, ask given all the diversity in form and variation in function?
  • Gordon Burghardt will provide some reflections on the state of play research and future directions inspired by the special issue on play and the diverse topics and approaches covered by these leading scholars.
  • Heather Hill, one of our Digital Associate Editors, will conclude by providing an integrative commentary on the special issue, to which she has also contributed a paper.

I look forward to this event and I hope many readers will join us in our exploration of play next week.


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