The Underrated Importance of Being Playful

... and the very different signals it sends to men and women.

Posted Aug 06, 2015

Pinkyone
Source: Pinkyone

What if, I wonder, playfulness were in fact a survival skill, one more basic to the endurance of the species than even sharper eyes or teeth or claws, stronger muscles, or larger brains? It seems to me that of all the habits of mind and heart that help us adapt to change, none is more powerful than playfulness—because, I surmise, when you are playful, you are more responsive; you are ready to change and change again, to try some different way of being, some other strategy. You are even ready to let go of one goal for the sake of another, or to abandon purpose and seriousness, or to look silly. 

And you’re sexier, too.

Garry Chick, Careen Yarnal, and Andrew Purrington wrote an article about playfulness in adults, called "Play and Mate Preference Testing the Signal Theory of Adult Playfulness." The article discusses Chick’s theory:

“... Darwin’s concept of sexual selection ... is not only relevant to adult play and playfulness but also permits the generation of testable hypotheses. Specifically, Chick postulated that play and the personal characteristic of playfulness, among adult humans, sends signals, or messages, to the opposite sex of important information regarding the signaler’s suitability as a long-term mate. Moreover, the content of the signals sent by males and by females differs. Through play and playfulness, males signal their nonaggressiveness while females signal their youth and fecundity.”

The study concludes:

“… adult play is therefore a signal that conveys nonaggressiveness (tameness?) to females when exhibited by males. And, because it is so characteristic of juveniles, female play and playfulness communicate youthfulness, health, and, hence, fecundity to males.”

Perhaps playfulness helps to assure the survival of our species.

My favorite part of the article comes at the very end:

“In an ultimate sense, play has helped make us who we are, as adults; and in a proximate sense, it has made being an adult much more fun than it might have been otherwise.”

The italics are mine. The significance is yours to keep.

About the Author

Bernard De Koven is the author of The Well-Played Game. He writes on theories of fun and playfulness and how they affect personal, interpersonal, community and institutional health.

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