Roughand Tumble PLAYJoy System

Among the genetically ingrained emotive systems of the mammalian brain, perhaps the most ignored has been the one that mediates playfulness. We can now be certain that certain mammals possess PLAY systems, largely subcortically situated, that encourage them to indulge in vigorous social engagements that probably promote socialization and the relevant forms of brain development (Panksepp, 1998a). It would be perplexing if the human brain did not contain psychobiological processes homologous to those found in other mammals that facilitate such joyful, emotionally positive behaviors and feelings of social exhilaration. Such systems are especially active in young animals, helping to weave them into their surrounding social structures, promoting many skills, including winning and losing gracefully. As animals mature, these systems may promote social competition and dominance urges, although the database on such developmental transitions remains modest.

Touch is essential for triggering normal play, and recent work suggests that animals besides humans also have "tickle skin," stimulation of which facilitates playful moods. A laughterlike process has been identified even in laboratory rats (Panksepp and Burgdorf, 2003). Although our understanding of these brain systems remains incomplete, the implications for psychiatry may be profound. For instance, if new, affectively positive neurochemicals are discovered, they may find a niche in the treatment of depression. Linkages to the etiology of attention deficit hyperactivity disorders (ADHD) have also been proposed and evaluated in animal models with promising results (Panksepp et al., 2002, 2003). One idea that now needs to be tested is that abundant access to rough-and-tumble play during early development may facilitate maturation of frontal cortical executive processes, perhaps by inducing genetic transcription of neuronal growth factors (Panksepp, 2001).

If that turns out to be the case, as preliminary data suggest (Gordon et al., 2003), it is possible that sustained access to vigorous, emotionally positive, social engagement during early childhood, from three to six, when rough and tumble is highest in our species (Scott and Panksepp, 2003), may help diminish ADHD-type symptomatology, which is steadily increasing in our culture (Panksepp et al., 2002, 2003). As Plato said In The Republic (Section IV) "our children from their earliest years must take part in all the more lawful forms of play, for if they are not surrounded with such an atmosphere they can never grow up to be well conducted and virtuous citizens."

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