Pellis has spent his career trying to answer this question. A U of L Board of Governors Research Chair and the acting director of the Canadian Centre for Behavioural Neuroscience, he is one of the world’s foremost experts on play behaviour.
Over the years, Pellis and his collaborator, wife Dr. Vivien Pellis, have hung out with a variety of fun-loving animals – from Australian magpies to warthogs – to study their play habits. More recently, they have concentrated on observing rough-and-tumble play in rodents, and they have discovered that there are gradations of complication in their activities.
“The more evolved part of the brain, the cortex, seems to be involved when animals are seen making adjustments for their play partners’ strengths to keep the play fair,” says Pellis. “It’s interesting to observe that you’re not a fun playmate if you don’t play fairly.”
Further, Pellis says play appears to be crucial for training animals in how to behave in social situations as adults. “The core feature of cooperative social behaviour is reciprocity, and rough-and-tumble play encapsulates that,” he explains.
Other researchers have seen comparable patterns in primates – research that Pellis believes is important for our understanding of humans. “Humans are at least as sophisticated as rats or monkeys,” he says.
“Research indicates our not facilitating play is harmful for children. The world is getting more and more complicated, and these days, children are always at the mall or in structured situations. Are we doing them a disservice by not providing opportunities for unregimented and beneficial play?”
Sergio and Vivien are collaborating on a book, Making a Playful Brain, that will highlight the significance of their findings in play research.
To contact Drs Sergio or Vivien Pellis, please visit these websites:
To learn more about the Canadian Centre for Behavioural Neuroscience, please visit this website:
This story is reprinted from the recent issue of 'fiat' (Furthering Innovation and Teaching), a publication of the Research Services office at the University of Lethbridge. Please visit their website at http://www.uleth.ca/vprch
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