Science and Human Play
The NIFP is following what nature wants us to know about play. We are looking to what the biological, social and physical sciences can tell us, so we can help unlock the transforming power of play. Play is as basic and as pervasive a natural phenomenon as sleep. Like sleeping and dreaming, it is ready to be examined as a whole. This page overviews how we will go about this task and what we expect may emerge from that work.
Advance of the Science of Play
A huge amount of existing scientific research — from neurophysiology, developmental and cognitive psychology, to animal play behavior, and evolutionary and molecular biology – contains rich data on play. The existing research describes patterns and states of play and explains how play shapes our brains, creates our competencies, and ballasts our emotions. The research from these diverse areas of science must be integrated to depict human play mechanisms as a whole. The integration work will reveal critical gaps where additional basic research is required.
Support and Guide Research
Through NIFP guided and sponsored research, develop a framework that clearly defines what constitutes the “state(s) of play,” physiologically. This framework could be expected to indicate relationships between and demonstrate the benefits provided by the various patterns (types) of play.
NIFP’s summer Research Assistant, Leo Sundstrom, proposed an investigation of how high school seniors are making the college and life choices that will set the vectors for their futures. He recognized that he and many of his fellow students are thirsty for guidance as college, career, and future opportunities approach. His proposal fit well with the Institute’s mission to apply science-based Play practices to improve lives.
Many college bound high school students are influenced by their parents’, teachers’ or peers’ images of ‘success’ and choose their college pursuits based on those influences. In contrast, if students were to follow the best practices of science-based Play they would choose their college pursuits based on their own innate passions and curiosities which would spontaneously keep them engaged for a lifetime.
The research consisted of Sundstrom conducting individual interviews of a cross section of seniors from his high school. The interview instrument was designed to have interviewees review their early lives (with family, friends and in private settings) to identify experiences in which they felt engaged, joyful and totally motivated from within. The interviews also asked them to explain their post high school plans or expectations.
The results are still being analyzed, but the data indicate that there is a disconnect between what these young people enjoy most and the direction in which they expect to go post high school (with some exceptions). Further, many of those interviewed indicated that the interview experiences opened their eyes to how they might alter their plans to better fit with their innate interests.
Though the sample is small and not randomized (a pilot study) we believe the findings are original and compelling. A research report is being prepared for submission to the American Journal of Play. Also, Dr. Brown expects to include Sundstrom’s findings in the course he co-teaches at Stanford From Play to Innovation.