A Journey Through the Fields of Play
Dr. Sergio Pellis, Department of Neuroscience
In the decades since the end of the Second World War, the opportunity for children to engage freely in play has gradually declined. Two overt reasons for this decline are the desire to ensure that children spend more time in more ‘useful’ activities, such as formal learning and to avoid unnecessary risks of physical and psychological injury.
Over the same decades, however, the prevalence of psychopathology, including depression, anxiety and feelings of alienation among children, has increased. Is this a coincidence? There is a growing body of experimental evidence from studies done with non-human animals that suggests not.
Engagement in play is a powerful antidote against anxiety and some forms of play provide experiences during childhood that alter the brain mechanisms that enable animals to deal adaptively with the unexpected challenges of life. That is, play at a younger age produces more resilient adults. The same may apply to people.
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