Play Is More Than Just Fun with Stuart Brown, M.D.

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Play is something that’s deeply embedded in our natures. It contributes to mood, to optimism, and to hope for the future. It enables us with the ability to persevere. A world without it would be bleak indeed. Stuart Brown points out, “Play is a fundamental survival drive of humanity without which long term survival of our species may be at stakeThere was no such thing as play deprivation among these highly successful people, so as one begins to get an array of data from Nobel Laureates on one end, homicidal people on the other and the rest of us in between, you begin to get a sense of the contributions that play makes to a life and you also begin to get a sense of what’s missing when it’s missing in a life.” He describes the work of anthropologist Peter Gray, who researched 150 hunter/gatherer tribes. Gray came to the conclusion that our human heritage is deeply imbedded in playfulness, which leads to not only empathy, but cooperation, sharing, and altruism, which has been, for a million years, how we as tribal creatures have been able to survive. Because play has been known to have serious consequences for the human spirit, Brown is concerned about the state of play in the world today. It’s all summed up in the research done by Bob Fagan with Grizzly bears in Alaska. When he and Brown were observing bears wrestling and “playing”, Brown asked, “Why do bears play?” Bob responded, “[It] prepares them for a changing world.” Brown goes on to say, “That’s what kids do when they’re playing. They are exploring something absolutely that’s new to them, that opens possibilities through their own imagination.” (hosted by Phil Cousineau)


Stuart Brown. M.D. is a pioneer researcher on the effects of play. He’s the founder of the National Institute for Play in Carmel, California. In 1987, he was the producer of the classic documentary film The Hero's Journey, the Life and Work of Joseph Campbell and executive producer and originator of the three part PBS series, The Promise of Play.

Stuart Brown, M.D. is the author of:

To learn more about the work of Stuart Brown go to

Topics Explored in This Dialogue

  • Why do we play
  • How his study of Charles Whitman, who killed 14 people on the Texas University campus, showed how play deprivation can lead to sociopathic actions
  • How the suppression of play suppresses compassion and the ability to connect with people
  • Why the opposite of play isn't work, but depression
  • What his encounters with animals taught him about the importance of play
  • How youngsters develop into bullies
  • What is the state of play in the world today
  • What positive traits are developed when kids are playing
  • What is the importance of integrating work and play

Host: Phil Cousineau      Interview Date: 2/3/2014      Program Number: 3496

Music Playlist

From Album: A Wish
Artist: Hamza El Din
1999 Sounds True Music #STA M110D

Opening Essay: Track 01 Greetings
Music Break 1: Track 01 Greetings
Music Break 2: Track 04 Griffin 2
Music Break 3: Track 06 Samai Husaini