Human Playfulness and Mating Preferences Examined in American Journal of Play

American Journal of Play News Release
One Manhattan Square Rochester, NY 14607 585-263-2700

July 31, 2012

For Immediate Release

Contact: Susan Trien, 585-410-6359,
Shane Rhinewald, 585-410-6365,

Link between Human Playfulness
and Mating Preferences Examined
in Latest Issue of the American Journal of Play®

ROCHESTER, New York—Why do adults continue to play throughout their lives while most other mature mammals cease such behavior? A recent article in The Strong’s American Journal of Play by Garry Chick, professor and head of the Department of Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management and colleagues Careen Yarnal and Andrew Purrington at Pennsylvania State University, suggests playfulness may serve an evolutionary role in human mating preferences.         

Humans and other animals exhibit a variety of signals as to their value as mates, say the authors. Just as birds display bright plumage or coloration, men may attract women by showing off expensive cars or clothing. In the same vein, playfulness in a male may signal to females that he is nonaggressive and less likely to harm them or their offspring. A woman’s playfulness, on the other hand, may signal her youth and fecundity.

Of the many studies that have addressed influences on mating preferences, the authors observe, “not much research exists on the impact of playfulness as a desirable characteristic of potential mates in humans.” To remedy the situation, Chick and colleagues expanded on a previous survey that used a list of 13 possible characteristics of prospective mates that individuals might seek. To that original list, they injected the concept of playfulness by adding three new traits: playful, sense of humor, and fun loving. The authors tabulated results of surveys obtained from 164 male and 89 female undergraduate student subjects, ages 18 to 26.

Survey results support the authors’ initial hypotheses “that adult playfulness results from sexual selection and signals positive qualities to potential long-term mates.” Of the 16 items, a sense of humor, fun loving, and playful ranked second, third, and fourth among traits females sought in males. Males rated three traits characteristic of female fecundity as significantly more desirable in females than females rated them in males.

With respect to this research, say the authors, the fact that those sampled tended to rank sense of humor, fun loving, and playful at or near the top of the list of 16 characteristics does not mean that the mates they have selected or will select will actually exhibit these traits. In addition, the results may be skewed by the fact that most of the study subjects were college students from a western culture. 

Despite these caveats, “It seems to us that signaling one’s virtues as a potential long-term mate through playfulness is not far-fetched—nearly all our results support or are consistent with the idea, and none contradict it.”

Also, in this issue of the American Journal of Play:

“Play and Childhood in the American Past: An Interview with Howard Chudacoff.”  In this interview with the Journal, Chudacoff, professor of Urban Studies at Brown University and author of the acclaimed Children at Play: an America History, reflects on historic and contemporary influences on children’s play, and on the relationship between play and sports.

Indo Caribbean Immigrant Beliefs About Play and Its Impact on Early Academic Performance” by Jaipaul L. Roopnarine, professor of Child and Family Studies at Syracuse University, and Bora Jin, a doctoral candidate in Child and Family Studies at Syracuse University. The authors look at Indo Caribbean immigrant beliefs concerning the relationship between the amount of time children play and their early academic performance.

“Active Gaming: The Future of Play?” by Lisa Witherspoon, assistant professor in the School of Physical Education and Exercise at the University of South Florida, and John Manning, assistant professor of Early Childhood Education at the University of South Florida. The authors examine technology-driven games—especially active gaming—as an evolving form of children’s play and reflect on the diminishment of physical play in contemporary culture.

“Interpretive Reproduction in Children’s Play” by William A. Cosaro, professor of Sociology at Indiana University. The author looks at ways children create their own unique peer cultures, which he defines as a set of routines, artifacts, values, and concerns that children engage in with their playmates.

The American Journal of Play, an interdisciplinary scholarly journal devoted solely to the study of play, is published by The Strong in Rochester, New York. The Journal is available free online at