“Play and curiosity are exhibited by many mammals and by some birds and figure importantly in the learning of numerous activities. Play is especially characteristic of young animals, but the adults of many species also engage in it. Spontaneous curiosity, in which the animal actively seeks out novel situations for exploration, is exhibited by the young of mammals and some birds; indeed, they seem to be under the compulsion of some drive to do so. Carnivores and primates exhibit more curiosity than rodents, which gnaw novel objects and may hoard them. Monkeys inspect and manipulate such objects.
Play is difficult to define; it is usually easy, however, to distinguish a playing animal from one that is seriously occupied. An animal plays only when it is satiated and not preoccupied with other tasks. Play seems not to be dictated by immediate need but is extremely important in behavioral development. Only animals that spontaneously seek new situations on their own initiative play in the true sense. Invertebrates, fish, and amphibians do not seem to play. The taxonomic distribution of play among mammals and birds suggests that play is related to learning. Play involves interactions with the environment; this leads to the acquisition of knowledge about environmental features, including information about conspecifics and the animal’s own possibilities of movement. Play behaviour occurs only at particular times; progression to a second play activity takes place only after a certain level of skill has been achieved in the first. Much play appears to be fighting or fleeing behaviour, and usually it is easily identified as such. An animal that is play escaping or play attacking does not actually escape or attack. A rodent play fleeing into a hole, for example, quickly reappears. If a rodent’s flight is truly an effort to escape, it reappears only after a much longer interval. Play-fleeing animals often reverse roles quickly, and the pursuer becomes the pursued. Threat behaviour that is associated with real attack is missing, and there is strong reluctance to bite. Play tends to be highly repetitive. A dog may retrieve a stick many times or play fight until it is exhausted or until a more interesting activity distracts it.
Such play behaviour could mistakenly be postulated as the performance of immature instinctive activities. In many instances, however, this is known not to be the case. Much playful behaviour occurs at a time in an animal’s life when it is fully capable of serious activity. Play also involves the use of species-typical patterns of behaviour in various sequences that do not occur in serious activity.”
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