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Play develops similarly in chimps and humans, research finds

Nov. 16, 2011
Courtesy of Public Library of Science
and World Science staff

Chim­panzees play and de­vel­op much the same way as hu­man chil­dren, ac­cord­ing to new re­search.

Two baby chimps playing. The one on the left is bit­ing a foot of his play­mate. (Cred­it: Eli­sa­bet­ta Pa­la­gi)


The work, to be pub­lished in the Nov. 16 is­sue of the on­line jour­nal PLoS One, can shed light on the role of hu­man play be­hav­ior, said study au­thors Elis­a­betta Palagi and Gi­ada Cor­doni of the Uni­vers­ity of Pi­sa in It­a­ly.

The re­search was the first to com­pare the de­vel­opment of play be­hav­ior in humans and chimps, our clos­est evo­lu­tion­ary re­la­tives, in a stand­ard­ized way, Pelagi said.

The re­search­ers found that chim­pan­zee sol­i­tary play peaks in in­fan­cy, and the time spent in so­cial play is about the same be­tween in­fants and ju­ve­niles. But the type of so­cial play changed quite a bit as the an­i­mals grew up, in terms of meas­ures like com­plex­ity and play­mate choice, Pelagi and Cor­doni said.

As­sess­ing these be­hav­iors in light of pre­vi­ous stud­ies in hu­mans, they found that both spe­cies show sig­nif­i­cant de­vel­opment in play be­hav­ior from in­fan­cy to ju­ve­nil­ity, and both con­sist­ently use play­ful fa­cial ex­pres­sions to com­mu­ni­cate and build so­cial net­works. The re­search­ers al­so an­a­lyzed play­mate choice and found that both hu­mans and chimps pre­fer peers for play part­ners. 


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Chimpanzees play and develop much the same way as human children, according to new research. The work, to be published in the Nov. 16 issue of the online journal PLoS ONE, can shed light on the role of human play behavior, said study authors Elisabetta Palagi and Giada Cordoni of the University of Pisa in Italy. The research was the first to compare the development of play behavior in chimpanzees with that of humans in a standardized way, Pelagi said. The researchers found that chimpanzee solitary play peaks in infancy, and the time spent in social play is about the same between infants and juveniles. But the type of social play changed quite a bit as the animals grew up, in terms of measures like complexity and playmate choice, Pelagi and Cordoni said. Assessing these behaviors in light of previous studies in humans, they found that both species show significant development in play behavior from infancy to juvenility, and both consistently use playful facial expressions to communicate and build social networks. The researchers also analyzed playmate choice and found that both humans and chimps prefer peers for play partners.