Saturday, January 22, 2011

What We Learn from Animals: How to Play

LuLu, the world's most beautiful dog during a November blizzard in Seattle

Brenda Peterson

What We Learn from Animals: How to Play

Author, "I Want to Be Left Behind"
Whenever I'm feeling blue or stressed, I drag out the cat toys or toss the squeaky ball with my neighbor's husky. Watching my Siamese and Tuxedo cats leap, pounce, and pirouette mid-air, I'm suddenly smiling -- and most, importantly, not taking myself so seriously.

LuLu and author at an Oregon beach mid-winter

I have always placed a high value on play. Once, a friend decorated my birthday cake with the inscription. "I play, therefor I am."
I've always considered my decades of studying and encountering wild dolphins, as an apprenticeship to play, learning the lessons of another intelligent species that spends three-quarters of their lives playing. What are our big-brained mammal cousins learning during all the playtime that might teach us how to better survive the stresses of our lives?
Dolphins, like many other species, learn vital survival skills from play -- astonishing navigational teamwork with their family "pods," communication abilities that at times seem almost telepathic, and a buoyant resilience. We humans respond to dolphins with a surge of pleasure and sometimes joy. 
In Hawaii, I watched even a boat of scientists burst into laughter when a pod of spinner dolphins flew over our bow, twirling like silver corkscrews.

 Our frivolity reminded me of the recent research by Jaak Panksepp, a professor of psychobiology, who documented that animals laughed before humans. Panksepp has studied the happy chirps of rats when playing or tickled. "Human laughter has robust roots in our animalian past," Panksepp said.

In a National Geographic article on "Animals at Play," physician Stuart L. Brown concluded that play is an indicator of psychology health, well-bring, and even survival. Brown cited primatologist Jane Goodall's decades of chimpanzee research in Tanzania's Gombe National Park. Dr. Goodall has described chimpanzees as champions of play. She noted that a sure sign of depression in orphaned chimpanzees was that they stopped playing at all.
Read the rest of this Huffington Post at the above link. And come back here later when I can figure out the technology --  for more video and play photos!

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