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On Spontaneity in Behaviour, the Model (Fixed) Action Pattern and Play

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image of Netherlands Journal of Zoology
For more content, see Archives Néerlandaises de Zoologie (Vol 1-17) and Animal Biology (Vol 53 and onwards).

Although general agreement exists concerning the reality of the phenomenon of 'play', great difficulties arise when definitions are attempted, while experimental efforts to demonstrate the survival value of play conclusively have failed so far. This paper breaks a lance for the approach of problems on the nature and the possible functions of play from an evolutionary perspective. Play is seen as a derivative of a basic quality of the motor patterns forming the core of the species-specific behavioural organisation: the capacity to occur spontaneously as the result of endogenously generated impulses. This capacity, first recognized in locomotory movements and modal action patterns, has more recently also been found to underly the movements of fetusses and embryos. The survival value of prenatal motility is due to the important beneficial effects it exerts on morphogenetic processes in the early growth phases. Postnatally, repetitive spontaneous performance of motor patterns is characteristic for play. On the basis of literature data this article investigates, whether maintenance of spontaneity in the postnatal phase is likely to be of survival value. The answer is positive, and the beneficial effect can be expected to act on several different targets instead of on a single one. This considerably aggravates the task of designing cxperiments by which such functions of play can be conclusively demonstrated. The way in which here play is thought to have evolved also explains why most motor patterns performed in play do not differ essentially in shape from those shown in 'serious' behaviour.

Affiliations: 1: (Zoological Laboratory: Dept. of Behavioural Biology, University of Groningen, The Netherlands


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