Animal minds Intelligent Design

At Scientific American: Why elephants play

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An animal behaviorist offers to explain:

People tend to think of play as an activity one engages in at one’s leisure, outside of learning important skills needed to succeed later in life, such as hunting, mating, and evading predators. But although playing is fun for all involved—and fun for those who are watching—play behaviors evolved as ritualized forms of survival skills needed later in life, providing the opportunity to perfect those skills.

Engaging in play allows animals to experiment with new behaviors in a protected environment without dangerous consequences. The unwritten code of conduct surrounding play lets them explore many possible outcomes.

Animals learn the rules of engagement for play at a very young age. Among dogs, the bow is a universal invitation to engage in silliness that triggers the same bowing down and splaying of the front legs in the receiver of the signal—inevitably followed by chasing and pretend biting. Chimpanzees and gorillas motivate others to romp by showing their upper and lower teeth in what primatologists refer to as a play face, which is comparable to human laughter.

Caitlin O’Connell, “Play Is Serious Business for Elephants” at Scientific American

Okay. Anyone who grew up with cats will recognize this: Almost from the first time kittens can stagger around, they engage in play fights. Kittens find it hard to stop until they collapse from exhaustion.

One thing play probably does is enable the kitten to develop its neurology. The neurology is a potential until the connections are made.

See also: In what ways are cats intelligent? Cats have nearly twice as many neurons as dogs and a bigger and more complex cerebral cortex.

7 Replies to “At Scientific American: Why elephants play

  1. 1
    News says:

    At Scientific American: Why elephants play

    https://uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/at-scientific-american-why-elephants-play/

    Caitlin O’Connell: The unwritten code of conduct surrounding play lets them explore many possible outcomes.

  2. 2
    polistra says:

    Organized learning, whether in schools or OTJ, is exactly play. The trainer arranges practice sessions for the skill, and slips in typical mistakes or pitfalls without the possibly lethal consequences of mistakes in the real thing.

  3. 3
    mahuna says:

    “play behaviors evolved as ritualized forms of survival skills needed later in life, providing the opportunity to perfect those skills.”

    Sez WHO?? The article OPENS by saying that cats DO NOT play the same way dogs do. But if Play is an important part of ALL development, why would that be so?

    Clearly dogs PLAY so they can play with HUMANS. We now KNOW that dogs are SPECIALLY engineered for living as PARTNERS with humans. This is one of the distinctions between dogs and wolves, and so I assume wolves ALSO do not play the way dogs do.

    I get VERY much confused by these “1 step forward, 2 steps back” discussions of what we’re LEARNING from all these expensive studies. Unless of course the studies are ONLY about transferring MONEY to people with BS degrees who don’t wanna sell magazines door to door.

  4. 4
    Querius says:

    Mahuna @3,
    I was also taught the same about human and animal play behaviors in college. However, since then, I’ve decided instead that animals and humans engage in play behaviors because it’s so much fun.

    The Harvard Law of Animal Behavior: Under carefully controlled experimental conditions, animals behave as they jolly well please.

    -Q

  5. 5
    Seversky says:

    See also: In what ways are cats intelligent? Cats have nearly twice as many neurons as dogs and a bigger and more complex cerebral cortex.

    I think anyone who has adopted a cat as a companion will know just how smart they can be – when they choose. So, do cats have free will?

  6. 6
    Querius says:

    They think they do.

    A trick one of my sons used to play on our cat when she was pressed against the back door to be let in was to call her as he opened the door for her. This caused a serious psychological and perhaps philosophical dilemma for the cat. Yes, she wanted in. But the fact that she would appear to obey would set an unacceptable precedent for her both personally and as a representative of Felis catus. So she found herself trapped halfway in.

    My son would keep calling her to see how long he could keep her trapped before her resistance collapsed.

    -Q

  7. 7
    AaronS1978 says:

    Cats and dogs play different huh?
    To an extent

    They also have very similar styles of play to.
    Even cats play fetch YouTube it

    I’d argue they have more similarities then differences

    Their darwinsplain is to simple too

    Playing is also for social bonding
    Animals that play together often stay together

    I almost think if they learn some vital survival skill that would be more incidental then anything

    Play seems more to do with expending excess energy and development of muscular/skeletal structure

    And yes all of these can help with survival
    Remember darwinsplains consist of phenomena + reason it can support survival and BAM! SPLAINED!!! thanks Darwin you so cool and smarts

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