Stuart Brown, a physician, psychiatrist, clinical researcher and the founder of the National Institute for Play, has made a career of studying the effects of play on people and animals. His conclusion is that play is no less important than oxygen, and that it’s a powerful force in nature that helps determine the likelihood of the very survival of the human race.
Dr. Stuart Brown came to research play through research on murderers–unlikely as that seems–after he found a stunning common thread in killers’ stories: lack of play in childhood. Since then, he’s interviewed thousands of people, including Nobel Prize winners, to catalog their relationships with play, noting a strong correlation between success and playful activity. His new book, Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, describes the impact play can have on one’s life. Brown reveals that play is an essential way humans learn to socialize. Beginning with the very first play interactions between mother and child, and working up to adult relationships between couples and co-workers, Brown describes how play helps brain development and promotes fairness, justice and empathy.
With the support of the National Geographic Society and Jane Goodall, he has also observed animal play in the wild, where he first conceived of play as an evolved behavior important for the well being and survival of animals, especially those of higher intelligence. Through the National Institute for Play, he hopes to expand the study of human play into a vital science — and help people everywhere enjoy and participate in play throughout life.
Stuart Brown TED Talk: Play is more than just fun
Work and play are mutually supportive, he argues, noting that play increases efficiency and productivity (playful folks, he claims, are also healthier). Sprinkled with anecdotes demonstrating the play habits of subjects as diverse as polar bears and corporate CEOs, Brown and co-writer Vaughan (The Promise of Sleep) present a compelling case for promoting play at every age. The authors include helpful tips for bringing play back into grownup lives, including being active, spending time with others who are playful and rethinking the misguided notion that adult play is silly or undignified.
Stuart Brown summed up the importance of play in a recent interview:
“From an evolutionary point of view, research suggests that play is a biological necessity. There is evidence that suggests the forces that initiate play lie in the ancient survival centers of the brain, the brain stem, where other anciently preserved survival capacities also reside. In other words, play is a basic biological necessity that has survived through the evolution of the brain. And necessity equals importance. But one of the strongest arguments for the importance of play is how strongly we identify ourselves through our play behavior. Play is who we are.”