Watching kids and dogs play is not an alien sight. However, what about a turtle or even a wasp? Well, it seems they play, too.
Gordon Burghardt, a psychology professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, has discovered that many animals-not just dogs, cats, and monkeys-need a little play time.
"I studied the behavior of baby and juvenile reptiles for many years and never saw anything that I thought was play. Then I had an epiphany when I saw Pigface, a Nile softshell turtle, batting around a basketball at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. I realized reptiles play, too," said Burghardt.
Burghardt is one of the first researchers to define "play" in people and also in species not previously thought capable of play, such as fish, reptiles and invertebrates.
Burghardt sums up his five criteria in one sentence: "Play is repeated behavior that is incompletely functional in the context or at the age in which it is performed and is initiated voluntarily when the animal or person is in a relaxed or low-stress setting."
According to Burghardt, by more accurately characterizing play and observing it throughout the entire animal kingdom, humans may better understand themselves.
"In animals we can evaluate more carefully the role of play in learning skills, maintaining physical and mental fitness, improving social relationships and so on than we can in people," said Burghardt.
"We can then develop ideas and apply them to people to see if the same dynamics are at work. For example, the role of play in lessening the effects of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children is being studied based on research in rats," Burghardt added.
The findings are discussed in the October issue of The Scientist. (ANI)