Academic journal article American Journal of Play

Play, Playfulness, Creativity, and Innovation

Academic journal article American Journal of Play

Play, Playfulness, Creativity, and Innovation

Article excerpt

Play, Playfulness, Creativity, and Innovation Patrick Bateson and Paul Martin New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013. Notes, references, index. 162 pp. $34.99 paper. ISBN: 9781107689343

Patrick Bateson and Paul Martin's Play, Playfulness, Creativity, and Innovation is a fine short book, especially for two groups of readers of this journal: those who want an introduction to some of the most recent work on play in animals and its relevance to understanding play in the human animal, and those interested in the relationship of play with creativity. Both topics are currently important in biology and psychology. In eleven short chapters, a great number of topics are addressed. Recent years have seen a resurgence of interest in the play of nonhuman animals. Scholars and practitioners primarily focused on play in humans, especially children, should be aware of this rapidly accumulating body of knowledge. Those studying nonhuman animals are also becoming more aware of the important contributions from work on human play. Psychologists such as Anthony Pellegrini, Peter Smith, and others have facilitated these connections, particularly in relation to rough-and-tumble play and social play in general, although the literature on object, artistic, and physical play provides useful linkages as well. This book complements these efforts in that its focus moves largely toward play as a source of creativity. However, it does not shy away from broader issues, especially in the earlier chapters.

The first four chapters provide a brief overview of the history, biology, functions, and evolution of play. Brief and selective, the information is up to date and authoritative overall, but I think the authors stumble a bit in covering the definition of play and in their central distinction of play and playfulness. While the criteria they posit for recognizing play in diverse species and contexts are useful, their assertion that my own criteria makes "problematical" claims about function and internal state is simply untrue. In fact, I developed my criteria precisely to avoid claims about either, which previous definitions of play typically did not.

This is not merely a personal quibble since the authors make as one of their central claims that not all play is playful and thus we need the concept of "playful play," a kind of play that explicitly involves a mood or motivational/affective state. Such states are internal and, of course, difficult to assess in animals without anthropomorphically regressing to the idea of their having "fun" or of being enmeshed in the moment. This makes any claims that turtles, fish, or insects are being "playful" virtually impossible at the behavioral level. Thus, while Bateson and Martin accept data showing that spiders engage in sexual play, they dismiss it as not playful play for no apparent reason other than an uncritical anthropomorphism. Fortunately, this issue is not central to the second major focus of the book-creativity and innovation-although it can even enter into descriptions of human behavior as play.

The next six chapters give an overview of creativity research in people, novel behavior in animals, individual and group creativity, pretend play, creativity, education, humor, dreams, and drugs. These topics are all tied together in a fascinating final chapter that suggests directions for future research. Here the authors assert a critical distinction between creativity and innovation that other scholars might challenge, especially pertaining to animals and children. For example, Bateson and Martin review the literature claiming that play is an important precursor to creativity and that creative individuals are playful. …

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