Playfulness is an acquired skill, a new paper reports.
People can become more playful by engaging in simple exercises, a new paper reports. The team found that greater levels of playfulness are also associated with higher life satisfaction. One week’s worth of playfulness exercises was enough for the researchers and participants to notice the effects.
The player of games
“Particularly playful people have a hard time dealing with boredom. They manage to turn almost any everyday situation into an entertaining or personally engaging experience,” explains Professor René Proyer, a psychologist at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU).
If you know someone who gets bored easily but also squeals in delight at word or mental games, or someone who’s particularly curious, chances are that person is high on playfulness. Far from making someone silly, irresponsible, or undependable, the team cites past research from the MLU finding that playful adults have an eye for detail, can easily understand and adopt a new way of looking at an issue, and have a knack for making even monotonous tasks enjoyable and interesting for themselves.
In other words, it’s a pretty good skill to have. And it’s one you can train.
The team worked with 533 participants in collaboration with researchers from the University of Zurich in Switzerland and Pennsylvania State University (USA). They were randomly assigned to two experimental groups and one control (placebo) group. Each day for a week, they had to perform an exercise for 15 minutes before going to bed; each participant was assigned one of three exercises and was not aware that other groups were receiving different ones.
These were “think about three playful things that happened during the day”, to consider how they used playfulness “in a different way than they are used to (e.g. doing something playful at the workplace) [during the day]”, or to “reflect on playful experiences they have had over the day” either as observers or as actors. Those in the control group were asked to “write about their early memories from their childhood” for 15 minutes before going to bed.
All participants filled out a questionnaire before the experiment, at its conclusion, and on the second, fourth, and twelfth week after the intervention. The questions were designed to measure various personality traits.
“Our assumption was that the exercises would lead people to consciously focus their attention on playfulness and use it more often. This could result in positive emotions, which in turn would affect the person’s well-being,” Brauer explains.
The team reports that the exercises “increased expressions in all facets of playfulness, had short‐term effects on well‐being, and ameliorated depression” for all participants in the experimental groups. They also led to an increase in playfulness (as estimated from their answers to the questionnaire) and a temporary increase in reported well-being for the participants.
The findings warrant further research into how training to be more playful can help us in our personal, romantic, and professional lives.
“Our study is the first intervention study on adults to show that playfulness can be induced and that this has positive effects for them,” says Proyer. “I believe that we can use this knowledge in everyday life to improve various aspects.”
“This does not mean that every company needs tennis tables or a playground slide. However, one idea would be to allow employees to consciously integrate playfulness into their everyday work and, as a supervisor, to set an example for this kind of behavior.”
The paper “Can Playfulness be Stimulated? A Randomised Placebo‐Controlled Online Playfulness Intervention Study on Effects on Trait Playfulness, Well‐Being, and Depression” has been published in the journal Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being.