An 89-year-old psychiatrist and clinical researcher, the 89-year-old has spent more than 60 years researching the importance of play, not just in animals of all kinds, but in young and old alike.
His findings suggest that play is important to all of us on an instinctive level. In short, he believes that we are at our best when we are having fun.
In connection with Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s podcast “Chasing Life,” CNN spoke with Brown about his work and how embracing play increases enjoyment and reduces stress. Learned in detail.
This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
CNN: Why do we need play?
Stuart Brown: Like sleep and dreams, immune and digestive systems, play is part of what animals need for developmental cohesion and social belonging. Being deprived of play has detrimental long-term consequences.
Therefore, play is neither trivial nor frivolous. Important for physical and social health. I surveyed 6,000 of his individuals and delved into (and watched) their playing background. Giraffes, dogs, birds, bonobos, and human play itself begin to turn out to be natural phenomena. It seems that the higher an animal’s ability to learn, the more important play becomes for the development of that species.
CNN: You mentioned play is just as important for other animals. is that really a thing?
brown: is! For example, growing mice are very playful. From weeks 4 to 15, all they do is wrestle with each other and play roughly. you think it will be But lo and behold, these mice play almost indistinguishable from normal mice. This means that the wiring in the rat brain is subcortical. It is deep. Fixed. Given that rats have the same neurotransmitters in their brain stems as humans, it suggests that all highly playful mammals have the ability to play as a fundamental part of their instinct.
CNN: In the US, adults tend to separate work from play. is this a good idea?
brown: In an ideal world, work and play should be indistinguishable. If you’re a garbage collector in Brazil, it’s hard work and the pay isn’t great. But if you’re drumming or dancing between the pickups, you’re enjoying the work and experiencing the play. A job doesn’t always feel like a job because choosing a career is important and you want it to match your interests. Evidence from animal play and brain size is that nurtured play leads to competent learning and emotional stability, as well as many other good things.
Whenever possible, we should live a life where play is part of everything we do. When I was a kid, we used to sing when we cooked dinner. This allowed me to combine pleasure and work. I helped produce her BBC series called ‘Soul of the Universe’. In it, I interviewed various Nobel laureates, most of whom did not separate their work from their play. They were like kids on the playground when they talked about what they were doing in the lab.
CNN: How do children play differently?
amountn: Children need play from the beginning. Parents also need to consider when contemplating becoming a parent. You should also look at your own play life and explore the pleasures your offspring need to nourish. Instead of saying, “I want my son to be a lawyer or a doctor,” they should look at the child and say, “What brings this child a natural joy?” You may be tickled. You may be listening to music. Maybe it’s being tossed in the air or social contact with baby talk.
Very early on, you begin to feel the natural playfulness of your child. From there, parents should allow children to seek and perform many reinforcements based on their own natural play tendencies. We understand that parenting is complex and made up of all kinds of events. But play is a universal and powerful driving force for all children. Recognizing and reinforcing an infant’s natural play qualities, and seeing how innate talents are often linked to playfulness, is an important part of parenting.
CNN: How much do children learn through play?
brown: Curiosity and play are partly guaranteed to enhance the learning and abilities of developing children. Because learning to assess risk is definitely what children do through play. The more they play, the more they learn from others what constitutes their own body’s capabilities and how to socialize within that context. Good play is a learning language that requires time and exposure.
CNN: With the climate crisis impacting how we interact with the environment and the economy hurting for many, how can we incorporate play?
brown: Everything is happening around us, but play allows us to explore the possibilities. Innovation, creative problem-solving — both are related to satisfying our playfulness. One of the reasons I believe play is still such a big part of human nature is because it helps us cope with a changing world. If you are stubborn and persistent, there is no room for trying to check possibilities that otherwise do not exist.
Play is key to solving some of these tough problems we have. Empathy is partly learned through rough play in preschool. If you are not tolerant of people who are different from you, you are more likely to go to war.
CNN: How can each of us incorporate more playfulness into our daily lives?
brown: It’s important for all of us to prioritize what gives us joy. Whether it’s vacation memories or relationships, I think we all have the ability to reach into our minds and bodies and find playfulness. It’s an important part of being human. Even with financial and emotional trauma, there’s still room for banter, playfulness, and humor.
Play takes many forms. I have a neighbor who has a friendly dog named Cookie. Just this morning I went for a walk and Cookie and I made some eye contact. After that I felt great. These were playful moments. It can become part of every day. We need to think of play as if it were just as important as brushing our teeth, getting a good night’s sleep, or eating well. You need it all to thrive.
Matt Villano is a California-based writer and editor. His work has appeared in The New York Times, CNN, and more.