Current Biology reviews the biology of fun

January 5, 2015, Cell Press

Cover of Current Biology's Biology of Fun Special Issue. Credit: Current Biology 2015
Current Biology celebrates its 25th birthday with a special issue on January 5, 2015 on the biology of fun (and the fun of biology). In a collection of essays and review articles, the journal presents what we know about playfulness in dogs, dolphins, frogs, and octopuses. It provides insights on whether birds can have fun and how experiences in infancy affect a person's unique sense of humor.

"Fun is obviously—almost by definition—pleasurable, rewarding, but in a way that is distinct from the pleasures of satisfying basic needs, such as the drives to reduce thirst or hunger or to reproduce," says Current Biology Editor Geoffrey North. "The articles in this special issue consider examples of what appear to be fun and play in a broad range of animal species and the insights that can be gained into how the behaviors might contribute to evolutionary fitness."

How do we get our sense of humor?

Psychologists Vasu Reddy and Gina Mireault, of the University of Portsmouth and Johnson State College respectively, offer a comprehensive overview of how, in infancy, reactions to absurd behavior like pulling hair or blowing raspberries, as well as teasing others, offer a window into how aware young children are of others' intentions. "As [infants] discover others' reactions and, indeed, others' minds, they also discover the meaning of 'funny', a construct that varies across and within cultures, regions, families, and even dyads," write the authors. "Infants become attuned to the nuances in humour through their social relationships, which create the practice of contexts of humorous exchange." The scientists note that children with atypical patterns of development may exhibit different senses of humor compared to their peers.

Why do adult apes play?

Based on her observations of a wild bonobo community, primatologist Isabel Behncke of the University of Oxford makes the case that play in bonobo adults could be a key adaptation that underlies social bonding and intelligence. She describes how bonobos in the Wamba community of Central Africa naturally engage in chasing, hanging, and water games despite differences in age and sex. "Play makes individuals more adaptable because it makes them more social; and more successful in their sociality as a result of being more adaptable," Dr. Behncke writes. "Life-long play is a bridge between sociality and adaptability."

Does playfulness spur creativity?

Ethologist Sir Patrick Bateson of the University of Cambridge wants to know why playfulness is so connected to creativity in the realms of science, music, and business. Working with behavioral biologist Daniel Nettle, he asked over 1,500 people to rank their creativity and then provide up to ten potential uses for a jam jar or paperclip. Those who considered themselves the most playful were most likely to provide many uses for the items. "Play is an effective mechanism for encouraging creativity since creativity also involves breaking away from established patterns of thought and behavior," Dr. Bateson writes.

Explore further: Playfulness may help adults attract mates, study finds

More information: www.cell.com/current-biology

Related Stories

Playfulness may help adults attract mates, study finds

August 3, 2012

(Phys.org) -- Why do adults continue to play throughout their lives while most other mature mammals cease such behavior? According to researchers at Penn State, playfulness may serve an evolutionary role in human mating preferences ...

Feeling entitled leads to more creativity, study shows

November 14, 2014

New research has discovered a highly sought-after byproduct of entitlement – creativity. The finding is outlined in the paper "Deserve and Diverge: Feeling Entitled Makes People More Creative,"by Emily Zitek of the ILR ...

Recommended for you

How stem cells self-organize in the developing embryo

January 16, 2019

Embryonic development is a process of profound physical transformation, one that has challenged researchers for centuries. How do genes and molecules control forces and tissue stiffness to orchestrate the emergence of form ...

60 percent of coffee varieties face 'extinction risk'

January 16, 2019

Three in five species of wild coffee are at risk of extinction as a deadly mix of climate change, disease and deforestation puts the future of the world's favourite beverage in jeopardy, new research warned Wednesday.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.