April 23, 2009

Play, humor needed to overcome aggression

A U.S. psychologist says from a developmental viewpoint, fierce competition is a step back in human development.

In an article published in the American Journal of Play, Dr. Peter Gray of Boston College suggests early hunters and gatherers made cooperative living possible by using play and humor to overcome innate tendencies toward aggression and dominance.

Play and humor were not just means of adding fun to their lives, Gray says in a statement. They were means of maintaining the band's existence -- means of promoting actively the egalitarian attitude, intense sharing, and relative peacefulness for which hunter-gatherers are justly famous and upon which they depended for survival.

Gray says the most important skill for social life is how to please other people while still fulfilling one's own needs and desires.

To play well, and to keep others interested in continuing to play with you, you must be able to see the world from the other players' points of view, he says.

Play still serves children, who even when playing pickup baseball or card games, have relatively little concern for winning, Gray says.

It is the presence of adult supervisors and observers that pushes play in a competitive direction -- and if it gets pushed too far in that direction it is no longer truly play. Gray says.