Games People Play: The Roots of Play

By | June 9, 2012

The combat of these two red fox pups is as stylized as a fencing match and just as playfully serious.

What makes play so compelling? What makes play so much fun? If you look at children on animals playing, you will often observe ritualized enactments of basic survival behaviors, such as the chase, the hunt or predator evasion. Animals play instinctively as a means of practicing critical aggressive and social behaviors in nonthreatening ways. The example of puppies fighting involves practicing both aggressive behaviors to establish social dominance and submission. From a survival perspective it is as important for the young dogs recognize the signals of submission, lest every confrontation result in fatality and a weakening of the pack. I believe that it is this social aspect of play as well as its physical pleasures that make it so valuable.

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