Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. Stuart Brown, Christopher Vaughan. Avery.

Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul Book Cover Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul
Stuart Brown, Christopher Vaughan
March 5, 2009

We’ve all seen the happiness in children’s faces while they play in the school park. With a blissful abandon of a golden retriever racing with glee across an open lawn. This is the joy of play. By definition is purposeless, all-consuming, and restorative. Plays is its own reward. And most important, it’s fun.

As we become adults, taking time to play feels like only a guilty pleasure – the distraction from “real” work and life. But as Dr. Stuart Brown, the leading expert on play behavior in this country, explains, play as anything but trivial. It is a basic biological drive as integral to our health and functioning as sleep or nutrition. When we play, we are open to possibility and the sparks of new insight and thought. Play provides the glue for our relationships and fuels our creativity. In short, we are designed by nature to flourish through play.

Dr. Brown has spent his career conducting more than 6,000 “play histories” of humans from all walks of life – from serial murderers to Nobel Prize winners and CEOs. In this book, he draws on his own clinical research and his observations of animals of play, as well as the latest advances in neuroscience, biology, psychology, and social science to illuminate the role of play as nature’s most advanced process for promoting brain development and social integration across species. As Dr. Brown explains, even the lowest creatures on the evolutionary spectrum have a play mechanism. But humans are the biggest players of all – we are meant to play throughout life. Whether it’s through physical activity, social interaction, competition, adventure, or art, our need to play is hardwired into our brains.

Beyond its role in our personal fulfillment, the benefits of play has profound implications for child development and parenting, for education and social policy, for business, productivity, and even the future of our society. Play offers an inside look at new research suggesting the direct role of three-dimensional object play in shaping our brains and that animal studies showing the startling effects of the absence of play. It also presents sweeping practical examples of arenas in which play can produce real results – including companies that are harnessing the power of play in the workplace to encourage innovation and schools that use play effectively to motivate their students.

A blend of cutting-edge science and inspiring personal stories, this book proves that play just might be the most important work we can do.

Stuart Brown, M.D., is a medical doctor, psychiatrist, and clinical researcher, and the founder of the National Institute for Play. A former clinical director at Mercy Hospital and Medical Center in San Diego, as well as an associate professor at the University of California, San Diego, he speaks regularly to Fortune 500 companies and groups across the country about the importance of play in our lives. Brown, who produced a three-part PBS series on play, has appeared on NPR and was featured in a front page cover story in the New York Times Magazine. He lives in Carmel Valley, California.