Play is essential to our growth and development when we are children and a source of joy throughout our lives, but it is still a largely untapped channel for innovative ideas in the workplace. Play is crucial for full neurological and personality development. People whose childhoods were play-deprived experience lasting deficits across a range of intellectual, emotional and interpersonal measures.
Play is crucial for full neurological and personality development
Play has deep evolutionary roots, is present across all cultures and many species and is deeper than gender. Play precedes human culture. Animals played before humans showed them how. Scientists believe that even dinosaurs played with bones. Play connects us with the deep functioning of the rest of the universe and other living beings. And in species such as crows, dolphins and chimpanzees, among others, playfulness correlates with higher forms of cognitive intelligence and problem-solving ability.
What is Play? Play is a behavior which is freely chosen, personally directed and intrinsically motivated. The National Institute for Play defines play as a state of being that is intensely pleasurable, and energizes and enlivens us. It eases our burdens, and renews a natural sense of optimism.
Play unleashes creativity and imagination. Play shifts us out of the linear processes that characterize our conscious analytical minds, and carries us into the realm of both conscious and unconscious imagination. Recent research has established that play unleashes and strengthens our problem-solving abilities as nothing else can. Brain imaging scans show that immersive play maximizes the firing of right brain neurons, which are involved in lateral thinking, innovation, and artistic and scientific creativity.
Play reduce mistakes, improves mental agility, attention span and information processing skills. A 2010 study published in Scientific Mind showed that surgeons who play video games make actually three times fewer errors than those who don’t and that video games can improve mental agility. Those who play video games a few hours a week have better attention span and information processing skills than non-gamers.
Play improves confidence, social intelligence and sensory skills. The same research found that white-collar professionals who play video games are more confident and social, and that when non-gamers agree——for the sake of research——to spend a week playing video games their visual perception skills improve, while boosting hand coordination, depth perception and pattern recognition.
Play improves focus and sleep. One study found that 150 minutes of playtime per week—about 20 minutes a day—improved adults’ sleep performance by 65 percent. Research has also established that play keeps you functional when under stress and refreshes your mind and body.
Play is implemented in progressive schools and universities, scientific research centers and innovative companies. After scientists at the University of Washington Department of Biochemistry repeatedly failed over 10 years to piece together the structure of a protein- cutting enzyme from an AIDS-like virus, they called in the Foldit players. The scientists challenged the gamers to produce an accurate model of the enzyme. They did it in only three weeks.
After years of research, Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, concluded that play is no less important than oxygen; it's a powerful force in nature that helps determine the likelihood of the very survival of the human race. If we choose to leave our childlike things behind, science now tells us that we not only deny our essential humanity, but we also cut ourselves off from a tremendous reservoir of creativity that has the potential to make us happier and make us more effective contributors at work.
Scientific Research Papers and Sources.
- Proyer, René T. (Oct 19, 2017). A multidisciplinary perspective on adult play and playfulness. International Journal of Play, 6(3), 241-243.
- Petelczyc, C., Capezio, A., Wang, L., Restubog, S., & Aquino, K., (2017). Play at work: An integrative review and agenda for future research. Journal of Management.
- West, S., Hoff, E. & Carlsson, I. (Fall, 2016) Play and Productivity. Enhancing the Creative Climate at Workplace Meetings with Play Cues. American Journal of Play, 9(1).
- Magnuson, C. & Barnett, L. (2013): The Playful Advantage: How Playfulness Enhances Coping with Stress. Leisure Sciences: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 35(2), 129-144.
- Buchsbaum D, Bridgers S, Skolnick Weisberg D. & Gopnik A. (2012). The power of possibility: causal learning, counterfactual reasoning, and pretend play. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci., 367(1599), 2202-12.
- Yarnal, C. & Qian, X. (Summer 2011). Older-Adult Playfulness: An Innovative Construct and Measurement for Healthy Aging Research. American Journal of Play, 4(1).
- Gosso Y., Otta E., Morais M., Ribeiro F. & Bussab V. (2005). Play in hunter-gatherer society. In A. A. Pellegrini & A. Smith (eds.), The nature of play: great apes and humans 213–253. Guilford.
- Smith, P. & Noopnarine, J. (2019). The Cambridge handbook of play: developmental and disciplinary perspectives. Cambridge University Press.
- Sahlberg, P. & Doyle, (2019). Let the children play: How more play will save our schools and Help Children Thrive. Oxford University Press.
- Henricks, T.S. (2015) Play and the human condition. University of Illinois Press.
- Bateson, P. & Martin, P. (2013)Play, playfulness, creativity and innovation. Cambridge University Press.
- Brown, Dr. S. with Vaughan, C. (2010). Play: How it Shapes the brain, opens the imagination, and invigorates the soul.
- Bekoff, M. & Byers, J. (2004) Animal play: Evolutionary, comparative, and ecological perspectives. Cambridge University Press.
- Sutton Smith, B. (1997). The ambiguity of play, Harvard University Press.
- Huizinga, J. (1955) Homo ludens. A study of the play-element in culture. Beacon Press.
Conferences and Interviews
- Henricks, T.S. (Spring, 2015). Play: A basic pathway to the self. American Journal of Play 7(3).
- Brown, Dr. S. (May, 2008). Play is more than just fun. TED, Pasadena California.
- The Promise of Play, PBS, July 2004, produced by Dr. Stuart Brown, MD.
- National Institute for Play. NIFplay.org/science/overview
- Encyclopedia of Play Science. Scholarpedia.org/article/Encyclopedia:Play_Science
- Journal of Play. Journalofplay.org
- The Strong National Museum of Play. Museumofplay.org