Original article:

Does playing pay? The fitness-effect of free play during childhood

Evolutionary Psychology 12(2): 434-447 Werner Greve, Institute for Psychology, University of Hildesheim, Hildesheim, Germany, wgreve@uni-hildesheim.deTamara Thomsen, Institute for Psychology, University of Hildesheim, Hildesheim, GermanyCornelia Dehio, Institute for Psychology, University of Hildesheim, Hildesheim, Germany


Evolutionary developmental psychology claims that the sequences and processes of human development, in fact the mere fact of ontogeny itself, have to be viewed as evolutionary products. However, although the functional benefits of childish behavior (child playing) for cognitive and emotional development have been shown repeatedly, claiming evolutionary adaptiveness of playing in childhood suggests that childish play supports evolutionary success in mature stages of development. This hypothesis is tested in a study with N = 134 adults (93 females; age range 20-66 years). Participants were asked to recollect their play experiences during childhood in detail, and to report their current developmental status with respect to several aspects of social success. Results show that the opportunity for and the promotion of free play in childhood significantly predict some indicators of social success. Additional analyses strive to explore mediating processes for this relationship. In particular, the mediating role of individual adaptivity (flexibility of goal adjustment) is investigated. Results suggest that freely playing in childhood promotes developmental resources, in particular individual adaptivity in adulthood, which, in turn, promote developmental success.


child play, adaptive value, adaptivity, social success

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Evolutionary Psychology - An open access peer-reviewed journal - ISSN 1474-7049 © Ian Pitchford and Robert M. Young; individual articles © the author(s)

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