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  1. David Elkind

Published Online: 30 JAN 2010

DOI: 10.1002/9780470479216.corpsy0688

Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology

Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology

How to Cite

Elkind, D. 2010. Play. Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology. 1–2.

Author Information

  1. Tufts University

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 30 JAN 2010


The concept play is much like an inkblot, open to many different and quite varied interpretations. Nonetheless, the idea that play is a basic and vital human disposition has been recognized by a wide variety of writers. Philosopher Friedrich Schiller regarded play as crucial to the human experience (Schiller, 1967). For Schiller, play is the activity that allows humans to realize their highest aspirations and ideals. Johan Huizinga titled his book Homo Ludens (Huizinga, 1950) and argued that play was a defining human characteristic. Play, he contended, is the driving force in the evolution of civilization. Other writers on play make the case that it as a major dynamic in linguistics (Derrida, 2007), in literature (Wilson, 1990), and in game theory (Callois, 1961/2001). These diverse approaches to the meaning and purpose of play help to explain why psychologist Brian Sutton-Smith (Sutton-Smith, 1997) titled a book The Ambiguity of Play. The present article, however, will concern only those theories that have direct psychological implications and relevance.


  • activity;
  • child behavior;
  • interpersonal interaction;
  • play;
  • playfulness