Comparative Psychologist to Speak About the Evolution of Play

April 20, 2007
By Juliet Dana '09

Professor Gordon Burghardt of the University of Tennessee College of Arts and Sciences will present an informal lecture on the evolution of play behavior in a variety of species— including humans—Tuesday, April 24 at Noon in Carleton College’s Olin Hall, room 102. The event is free and open to the public.

An expert on the origins and evolutionary significance of play in humans and animals, Burghardt is the author of the ground-breaking book, “The Genesis of Animal Play: Testing the Limits” (MIT Press, 2005). The book questions the significance of play in our understanding of evolution, the brain, behavioral organization, and psychology. Is play essential to development? Is it the driving force behind human and animal behavior? What is the proper place for the study of play in the cognitive, behavioral, and biological sciences?

Using the comparative perspectives of ethology and psychology, “The Genesis of Animal Play” goes further than other studies in reviewing the evidence of play throughout the animal kingdom, from human babies to animals not usually considered playful. Burghardt finds that although playfulness may have been essential to the origin of much that we consider distinctive in human (and mammalian) behavior, it only develops through a specific set of interactions among developmental, evolutionary, ecological, and physiological processes. Furthermore, play is not always beneficial or adaptive.

Burghardt is Alumni Distinguished Service Professor in Psychology and professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Tennessee. He is a coeditor of “The Cognitive Animal” (MIT Press, 2002), past president of the Animal Behavior Society, and editor of the Journal of Comparative Psychology.

Burghardt’s appearance, which promises to be both entertaining and stimulating, is sponsored by the department of psychology at Carleton College. For more information and disability accommodations, call (507) 646-4372.