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Playfulness May Be Nature's Way of Helping Romance Bloom: Study

TUESDAY, Aug. 7 (HealthDay News) -- When it comes to human courtship, a little silliness and kidding around might help ensure success, scientists say.

Unlike other mammals, that tend to get down to business as they seek a mate, humans keep their sense of "playfulness" with each other well into adulthood, according to researchers at Pennsylvania State University.

That injection of fun into the courtship ritual may be rooted in human evolution, they noted, and people who possess more playfulness may be demonstrating positive qualities to potential long-term mates.

"Humans and other animals exhibit a variety of signals as to their value as mates," Garry Chick, professor and head of the department of recreation, park and tourism management, said in a university news release. For example, "just as birds display bright plumage or coloration, men may attract women by showing off expensive cars or clothing," he said.

"In the same vein, playfulness in a male may signal to females that he is nonaggressive and less likely to harm them or their offspring," Chick said. "A woman's playfulness, on the other hand, might signal her youth and fertility."

In conducting the study, the researchers surveyed college students, including 164 men and 89 women, ranging in age from 18 to 26. They asked the participants to rank a total of 16 possible characteristics they might seek in a potential mate, including "playful," "sense of humor" and "fun loving."

Of all the characteristics, "sense of humor" was the second most important quality to women in the men they sought. Ranking third and fourth respectively among the women were "fun loving" and "playful."

Meanwhile, the men were more likely than the women to seek a mate with the following traits: "physically attractive," "healthy," and "good heredity." The researchers pointed out that these qualities are a sign of female fertility.

"The fact that the subjects tended to rank 'sense of humor,' 'fun loving' and 'playful' at or near the top of the list of 16 characteristics does not mean that the mates they have selected or will select will actually exhibit these traits," Chick stressed.

"In addition, the results may be skewed by the fact that most of the study subjects were college students from a western culture," he added. "Despite these caveats, it seems to us that signaling one's virtues as a potential long-term mate through playfulness is not far-fetched. Our results suggest that adult playfulness may result from sexual selection and signal positive qualities to potential long-term mates."

The study was published online in the August issue of the American Journal of Play.

More information

Stanford University provides more information on natural selection.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

SOURCE: Pennsylvania State University, news release, Aug. 3, 2012

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