Campus Life

Annual PUBlic Professor series opens with examination of why play is so important for children

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.

On Thursday, September 20, University of Lethbridge neuroscience professor, Dr. Sergio Pellis, will present his work, A Journey Through the Fields of Play, as the kick-off to the 2018/19 season of the Faculty of Arts & Science’s PUBlic Professor Series. The free event runs from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Sandman Signature Lethbridge Lodge and is open to the public.

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.

Pellis received his PhD in animal behavior/ethology in 1980 from Monash University, Australia. He spent 1982-1990 at the University of Illinois, Tel Aviv University and University of Florida where he received post-doctoral training in behavioural neuroscience and movement analysis. He has been a professor at the U of L since 1990 with the main focus of his research being on the role peer-to-peer play has in the development of social competence.

The Faculty of Arts & Science launched the PUBlic Professor Series in September 2014 as a way to engage the community through a monthly, thought provoking series of pub-style talks that brings a range of experts and researchers from across the arts and sciences to the community. These talks provide insight into issues of popular interest to the general public, and in turn provoke questions and spirited conversation.

Further talks scheduled for 2018/19 feature Dr. Maura Hanrahan (geography), Dr. Amy Shaw (history), Dr. Alexander Darku (economics), Dr. Tom Johnston (geography) and Dr. Hester Jiskoot (geography). Details on each of their presentations can be found at: PUBlic Professor.