Evolutionary Origins of Play

There are several kinds of speculation about the origins of play:

(a) The first holds that play originates as a mutation and therefore an amelioration of dangerous adaptational conJicts. According to John Allman in Evolving Brains, this play mutation constitutes a pre-existing genetic function.

(b) Some scholars claim the most fundamental conJict arises between dangerous and mutually threatening opponents. In studies of such conJicts, 80 percent of the time creatures from ants to mammals actually engaged in defensive rituals or simply retired from the field of battle.

(c) Over time these defensive rituals have increasingly incorporated what we might call imitative representations both as a way of emulating serious conJicts and as a way to avoid engaging in them. Richard Schechner in Performance Studies gives us a multitude of cross-cultural examples of relationships between ritual performances and play.

(d) Gordon Burghardt asserts in e Genesis of Animal Play that mammals as a class of animal—one that survived the extinction of dinosaurs sixty-;ve million years ago—characteristically protected their young by developing play stimulation to replace other, more dangerous stimulations from which mammals now shielded their infants.

Obviously all of these interpretations can hold true at the same time.

To refine this conJict-reduction paradigm a little, it seems possible to me that even sixty-;ve million years ago, mammals adapted not only by using their ancient reflexive responses but also by using reflective responses, those which gave them time to consider their alternatives. In other words, they could think before they acted as well as act instantly.

The danger for them—and this would be true for early humans—was that they might choose the wrong alternative, thinking before they acted rather than acting instinctively, which given certain conditions could mean instant death. So over time mammals developed a third response, which we call play, that imitated conJict but removed its immediate dangers and reduced the tensions that accompany such conJict. This play also had the potential benefit of providing exercise of a kind that might subsequently help when real conflict occurred. Animal play theorists suggest something similar perhaps when they talk about how play has developed as a negative behavioral signal in creatures without language or without the ability to otherwise signal negation.


Folksonomies: evolution play

/pets (0.894626)
/pets/reptiles (0.800268)
/family and parenting/children (0.794765)

Evolution (0.965516): dbpedia_resource
Dinosaur (0.759564): dbpedia_resource
Mutation (0.660575): dbpedia_resource
Genetics (0.609956): dbpedia_resource
Natural selection (0.587619): dbpedia_resource
Time (0.583359): dbpedia_resource
Adaptation (0.559617): dbpedia_resource
DNA repair (0.553778): dbpedia_resource

 Play Theory
Periodicals>Journal Article:  Sutton-Smith, Brian , Play Theory, Journal of Play, Vol 1, Issue 1, Retrieved on 2021-02-28
  • Source Material [www.journalofplay.org]
  • Folksonomies: play