Play-Fighting in Children
Studies of children show that aggression can be as much a part of life for humans as it is for many other mammals. Although the evolution of language and complex social customs and skills have provided alternative means for humans to resolve conflicts over food, territories, mates, and other resources, humans often resort to aggression when alternative methods fail. This is especially true for young children, who lack many of the social skills necessary for conflict resolution (e.g., Laursen, Hartup, & Koplas, 1996; Shantz, 1987). Moreover, when one considers social interaction among children and adults in many hunting and gathering cultures (the cultures most similar to those in which many human behavior patterns evolved), aggressive threats and actions are very much a part of life -- in hunting, in defense, and in achieving and maintaining status within the social group ( Archer, 1995; Eibl-Eibesfeldt, 1989). Therefore, some of the same selection pressures that operated for the development and refinement of fighting skills for other animals likely operated in the evolution of human behavior as well.
As is true for other mammals, play-fighting behaviors in children are similar to behaviors during adult aggression, but differ in structure, vigor, and intensity ( Aldis, 1975; Boulton, 1991a). Researchers who have studied play-fighting in humans generally agree that play-fighting is distinct from aggression and should be treated as a separate behavior system (e.g., Boulton, 1991a; Smith & Lewis, 1985).
Although the existence of play-fighting in humans has long been recognized (e.g., Groos, 1898; Hall, 1904), it was not until the mid 1960s that it received empirical attention. Blurton-Jones ( 1967), in an ethological study of children's behavior in a preschool classroom, was the first to apply Harlow's ( 1962) concept of rough-and-tumble play (play-fighting and play-chasing) to the behavior of humans. Since this time, most studies of play-fighting in children have been conducted by a small number of researchers, including Aldis ( 1975), Smith and colleagues (e.g., Smith &