Peter Gray, PhD presenting at the Ancestral Health |Symposium 2012 (AHS12)
The Role of Play in the Development of Social and Emotional Competence: Hunter-Gatherers, 1950s America, and Now
Children in hunter-gatherer bands, wherever they have been studied, were free to play on their own, essentially from dawn to dusk, every day. Here I will describe the cultural context for such play and explain how, through free play, hunter-gatherer children acquired the cultural skills, social values, and personal character traits essential to adult success.
By its very nature, play promotes cooperation, egalitarian relationships, democratic decision-making, personal autonomy, and self-control—all of which were key to hunter-gatherers’ survival.
I will also present evidence that, over the past 50 or 60 years, opportunities for free play have declined continuously and dramatically for children in the United States and other modern cultures. Over these same years—by standard, unchanged measures--anxiety, depression, helplessness, and narcissism among young people have increased continuously and dramatically.
I shall argue for a causal connection between the decline of play and the rise of emotional and social disorders in childhood and adolescence.
Peter Gray, Research Professor of Psychology at Boston College, is author of an introductory psychology textbook, now in its sixth edition.
He is also author of many articles on the role of free play in children's education, in hunter-gatherer times and today, and of a forthcoming book on that topic.