During his 2008 TED Talk entitled ‘Play is more than just fun‘, Stuart Brown tells the audience about an experiment scientists did with rats. [By this, I’m not condoning animal research, just sharing an insight that truly hit home for me.] He said that rats, indeed all animals, are hard-wired to play at a certain stage in their life as part of their development. In rats, this takes the form of squeaking, wrestling and pinning each other down.
In this experiment scientists suppressed the play instinct in a group of rats, skipping this stage in their development. The control group was left to develop naturally with the play stage intact. The scientists then presented a fear trigger to the two groups of rats. Both groups of rats ran and hid from the trigger, as you would, but what happened next shook me. The rats who’d had the play stage of their development crept out of hiding after a short time, explored the area to find out if the threat had moved on and got on with their lives.
The rats who hadn’t experienced play never came out. And they died in hiding. Continue reading