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UT professor defines play, discovers even turtles need recess
Date:10/19/2010

Seeing a child or a dog play is not a foreign sight. But what about a turtle or even a wasp?

Apparently, they play, too.

In fact, according to Gordon Burghardt, a psychology professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, many animals -- not just dogs, cats, and monkeys -- need a little play time.

"I studied the behavior of baby and juvenile reptiles for many years and never saw anything that I thought was play. Then I had an epiphany when I saw Pigface, a Nile softshell turtle, batting around a basketball at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. I realized reptiles play, too," said Burghardt.

Burghardt's findings are discussed in the October issue of The Scientist. To read the article and view Burghardt's videos of various animals playing, visit http://www.the-scientist.com/2010/10/1/44/1/.

The article, entitled "Recess," highlights Burghardt's five criteria for play. Burghardt is one of the first researchers to define "play" in people and also in species not previously thought capable of play, such as fish, reptiles and invertebrates. Topics raised in the article appeared in Burghardt's book, "The Genesis of Animal Play -- Testing the Limits."

Burghardt sums up his five criteria in one sentence: "Play is repeated behavior that is incompletely functional in the context or at the age in which it is performed and is initiated voluntarily when the animal or person is in a relaxed or low-stress setting."

According to Burghardt, by more accurately characterizing play and observing it throughout the entire animal kingdom, humans may better understand themselves.

"In animals we can evaluate more carefully the role of play in learning skills, maintaining physical and mental fitness, improving social relationships and so on than we can in people," said Burghardt. "We can then develop ideas and apply them to people to see if th
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Contact: Whitney Holmes
wholmes7@utk.edu
865-974-5460
University of Tennessee at Knoxville
Source:Eurekalert

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