Aug 19, 2010

The Science of Play

Why do we play, an activity that is, by its definition, without an immediate objective? Does play serve an important purpose in humans and in other animals? The science of play draws from the work of neuroscientists, evolutionary biologists, ethologists, and psychiatrists, among others, and many researchers are studying the appearance of play behaviors in other animals in an attempt to understand what role it may play in brain development.

In our show about Laughter, neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp talks to us about tickling rats. He went on to tell us in our interview about his experimental work tracking changes in brain structure brought about by play in rats, and surgically inducing ADHD in rats and observing what effects ample play, or a lack of it, had on their behavior and their brains.

The New York Times Magazine took on the huge subject of 'play' in the February 17, 2008 issue, and mentions Dr. Panksepp's interest in play as it relates to ADHD. He spoke with us about his plans for studies with children in D.C.

We have long recognized that mammals other than humans engage in play behaviors...

...but only recently has experimental evidence emerged that play may extend into the realms of birds and reptiles. Gordon Burghardt, who told us about snakes who play dead in our Deception episode, conducted a series of 31 experiments over the course of 2 years with Kraken, a female Komodo dragon raised at the National Zoo in Washington, DC, to observe her interactions with a variety of objects, with and without her keeper present, and sometimes marked with different scents. Her behavior with food or blood-scented items differed from her behavior with other objects, and this video of her stealing a handkerchief from the pocket of her keeper Trooper Walsh is an example of behavior that looks suspiciously like a puppy playing.

If you're not getting enough play in your life, fear not! The all-ages Come Out And Play Festival 2008 is coming to NYC June 6-8.

-More on the National Institute of Play
-Gordon Burghardt's book The Genesis of Play and his website

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