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Leonard, M.R. (1943). Toward a Social Psychology of Human Play: Steuart Henderson Britt and Sidney Q. Janus. J. of Social Psychology, XIII, 1941, pp. 351–384.. Psychoanal Q., 12:602-603.
Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing: Toward a Social Psychology of Human Play: Steuart Henderson Britt and Sidney Q. Janus. J. of Social Psychology, XIII, 1941, pp. 351–384.

(1943). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 12:602-603

Toward a Social Psychology of Human Play: Steuart Henderson Britt and Sidney Q. Janus. J. of Social Psychology, XIII, 1941, pp. 351–384.

Marjorie R. Leonard

The purpose of this study by Britt and Janus is '(a) to examine the theoretical considerations of play, (b) to evaluate some representative empirical studies, and (c) to suggest some problems for further investigation'. There is no attempt by the authors to present a rigid definition of play, 'instead, they have included representative studies of what various investigators have called play, and have made no sharp distinction between play, games and amusements'.

Five theoretical considerations of play were found:

1. The biological, which considers play the result of 'surplus energy' or 'the resulting activity of unused muscles', but omits any explanation of the form taken by play or of where surplus energy arises.

2. The psychobiological, which seeks the real essence of play in instincts

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either as a sort of recapitulation of the history of the race because of many resemblances between children's play and the customs of primitive men, or as a preparation for future adult activities. 'Play is the agency employed to develop crude powers and prepare them for life's uses' (Groos).

3. The psychological: Under this heading the authors have grouped those studies which appear to be primarily descriptive of various aspects of play and the attempts to discover the stimuli which effect it and investigate its functional meaning for the child. In many instances the main question appeared to be whether or not it was an instinct or 'the interaction of organism and environment that develops a certain activity which has been termed play' (Langfeld).

4. The sociological, which stresses the inadequacy of studying play 'apart from the stimulus of the crowd'.

5. The clinical, in which the psychiatric and psychoanalytic viewpoint are presented.

The authors review studies which are typical of five methods of study: observation, questionnaire, playquiz (modified questionnaire), experimental studies and clinical (psychiatric) studies. They discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each and suggest nineteen problems for further investigation. Among these, questions concerning the relation of play to environmental factors predominate. No doubt this is in part due to the fact that the authors are particularly interested in the sociological viewpoint, but it also signifies the lack of attention in this direction in studies which were made up to this time.

Psychoanalysis has already made important observations concerning one problem suggested by the authors, which have not as yet been recorded in a paper devoted specifically to that question, namely, 'Is there any evidence for the canalization of drive with respect to play, that is, do certain "drives" lead to related forms of play?'

A survey such as this serves to point out the many approaches to a single topic but perhaps its outstanding result is to bring home the realization of how few authors made any attempt to observe the caution wisely prescribed by Margaret Lowenfeld, 'Play in children is the expression of the child's relation to the whole life, and no theory of play is possible which is not also a theory which will cover the whole of a child's relation to life'.

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Article Citation

Leonard, M.R. (1943). Toward a Social Psychology of Human Play. Psychoanal. Q., 12:602-603

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